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When teachers reject the Internet

My former Post colleague Tracy Thompson has two daughters in a Washington area school district. I promised not to say which one. It doesn’t matter since the issue she raises involves all high-tech schools, of which we have many.

People aren’t using the new web features designed to help families. Is it because parents like me are techno-phobs? Not entirely. The reluctant participants that concern her are teachers.

Both of Thompson’s kids have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They have trouble getting their work done. Her school district, like several in this area, has web sites where parents can see what assignments their children have. That way they cannot be fooled by sly evasions when they ask their children, sitting in front of the TV, if they have any homework.

Thompson was delighted to discover the web homework schedules when her older daughter was a sixth grader. Disappointment followed when, she said, “I found out only about half of her teachers used it. Some teachers were weeks behind in updating the info. My older daughter is off to high school next year and has matured amazingly over the past three years, so I don’t have to worry that much about her stuff anymore—but now my younger daughter is in third grade, and I am in my second year of trying to get her teachers to use the web.”

The year started well. The third grade teacher, like many of her colleagues, had the information posted and regularly updated. But after three weeks she was transferred and her replacement failed to create her own site. Tracy volunteered to do it for her. The teacher was appreciative, but had trouble keeping it current.

Thompson’s daughter announced on Thanksgiving break she had no homework. Her mother was suspicious. She emailed the teacher. No answer. Two days after school resumed, she sent another message, cc’ing the principal. The teacher was discontinuing the web site, the principal replied. She felt it was not a useful tool, too much of a bother when she had different assignments for gifted and regular kids. So how could parents keep track of assignments if the teacher rejected the instrument designed to accomplish that?

Last year’s teacher, Thompson said, kept her website up to date only after Thompson complained to the principal twice. She has a signed agreement from the district to provide an online homework schedule, under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. But some administrators ignore that and say websites aren’t a priority because students need to learn responsibility.

“ADHD kids learn responsibility but on their own timetable, which does not track with everybody else’s,” Thompson said. One administrator suggested they give the child a zero for the missed assignment. Thompson said that might, in theory, impress the student two months later when she got her report card, but for now “it means nada.” The best immediate consequence, she said, would be doing the homework, but a parent can’t make that happen if the assignment is a mystery.

I am sure some teachers see this as one more chore added to an already long day. But wouldn’t it save time otherwise spent fielding parent calls or dealing with their children’s incomplete work? Other school districts told me they get few complaints like this, but make sure principals take them seriously.

When that doesn’t work, what should parents do? The wonders of computer-based 21st century education fade quickly if the information doesn’t get online.

Follow Jay’s blog all day, every day at

For all the Post’s Education coverage, please see

By Jay Mathews  | December 20, 2009; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  21st century education, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, homework online, section 504, teachers fail to post assignments  
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I think you are 100% correct. Teachers should use every resource at their disposal to help students remain current with their homework. Parents have a similar responsibility. I find it very hard to believe that teachers would not be supportive in posting assignments, if it's an easy process. Indeed, such posting should be easy. However, just because it should be easy does not mean that it is. I'd love to hear the teacher's perspective as to why they are not posting assignments. It's always important to hear two sides of an issue.

Andrew Pass

Posted by: ap1123 | December 20, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

As a middle-school teacher, I always post assignments online on our district's website. A few thoughts: 1) Online posting of assignments needs to be paired with the student taking responsibility for writing down assignments in his/her planner. What should be a support is becoming a crutch for many kids. 2) We post our assignments at least a week in advance, so sometimes in order to respond to students, we need to change assignments(posted online and posted in the classroom). Parents trying, I suppose, to be prepared, print out all the homework on Sunday evenings and then we get emails from "confused" parents when their child's planner shows something different than what the website showed several days ago. Check it daily, please, parents, and read thoroughly, before you dash off an indignant email. 3) ap1123, it's not difficult to post assignments, so much as it is overly time-consuming and annoying. My husband is a programmer and he agrees that the website my district uses is the most ridiculously click-happy website he's ever seen. Not that it excuses teachers from using the site, but to answer your question- it isn't exactly user-friendly from a teacher perspective, which is an issue that I hope the website will address.

Posted by: uva007 | December 20, 2009 11:00 PM | Report abuse

I am a 7th grade teacher in the DC area. Posting homework online is not supposed to be the first place to record homework. The purpose of posting it online is for students who are absent or something of that nature. Parents are turning this into an extra job for already overworked teachers. I try to make sure my website is is updated often, but if it is not, the child should have their homework written down.

Posting online is not the only responsibility that teachers have. You might say why not update during our planning period, put you should realize most of our planning periods are taken up with meetings and other responsibilities.

Instead of harping on teachers about not updating their websites, maybe work more with your children to follow classroom procedures and write down their homework when they are told to do so. Maybe if there was a consequence from home for not seeing the homework written down in the planner, the students would get the hint. Everything is not a teacher responsibility.

Posted by: EyeTeachMath | December 21, 2009 12:17 AM | Report abuse

I must have missed the part of the article where you went to get the teacher's explanation for what is going on. I'm not sure reporting a former colleague's gripes, especially one who at a minimum bends the principal's ear whenever she doesn't get what she wants, is exactly responsible reporting.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | December 21, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse

I must be in the same district as uva007 because the site we use is absurdly time wasting. Several years ago I used it quite a bit but it took at least 3 clicks just to finish posting something. When I have to weigh how I spend my time as a teacher, this is low on my list. There are so many, more important things for me to do for my students.

I think, Jay, we may be back to the homework discussion here.

Posted by: Jenny04 | December 21, 2009 7:45 AM | Report abuse

And now for a completely different point of view. My son has ADHD; he is in 10th grade. If I could find a school that did not use, or the require the use of, computers AT ALL, I would send him in a heartbeat.

As it is, his school, like most others, posts homework assignments, and has on-line research tools,etc., that he must access. The problem? Try keeping a teen, much less an ADHD teen, from straying on the internet. And yes, we have tried blocking, and everything else. They will find something entertaining on the internet, no matter what. And I would love to say to him- if you aren't doing your homework, I will remove your internet privileges. But then you've guaranteed that yoiur kid will fail because they need access.

Every parent I know has this problem. Kids say they need internet access for school (and they do) but then they are completely distracted from their homework once they log on. I spend most of my time yelling at my kids to get refocused. It's one of the biggest challenges of 21st century parenting, in my opinion.

Ms. Thompson, get your son a planner. You can have the teacher check the planner as part of a 504. Or make him take responsibility and email the teacher if he forgets something.

The internet creates more problems than it solves.

Posted by: trace1 | December 21, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Dear Jay and Parents: How about a reality check. This issue is simple:

(1) Time. I teach three preps, 6 sections. Each period is a separate page on the school's gradebook (and communication web site). So I have to update 6 separate, click happy pages.

(2) Place. I don't have my own classroom with a desk and a computer. I share an "office" with five people. We have one computer. (Now ask about the phone - 8 of us share a line. No voice mail.)

(3) Use. Even after doing all this, only
about 1/3 of the parents actually log on. Yes, parents, we can track this, too.

And this is a a major suburban school system and my situation is better than most.

Posted by: altaego60 | December 21, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Teachers/Schools/Districts, posting homework, pdf's, worksheets, course readings, announcements, calendars, activities, meetings, grades, assignments, schedules, flyers, budgets, agendas, etc. is here to stay and will continue to play an increasing role in K-12 education. Welcome to the 21st century.

Posted by: motherseton | December 21, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Another "Teacher Parent Failure to Communicate" article. Ho Hum.

Posted by: motherseton | December 21, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Write about the tsunami of online courses revolutionizing K-12 education.

Posted by: motherseton | December 21, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Just terrific posts, and on a very stressful wintry Monday morning. Thank you, particularly those of you who saw the other side so clearly. I will have to ask Tracy what she thinks of trace1's interesting and persuasive argument against encouraging computer involvement for some teens.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 21, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

The posting of assignments online does seem rather silly to me. There was a time, I believe, not too long ago, when the ability to post assignments online did not exist. Yet kids still had homework and I believe many got it done. Parents also monitored their kids' progress as well. So while the Internet may be helpful in this regard, it can't be considered necessary or required. Furthermore, kids who lie to their parents about homework get caught. It's rather unavoidable. And, frankly, it's a wonderful experience for a child and a parent to have. Much better to work that one out in 5th grade than during one's third year of college. I think that if teachers want to use the Internet, great. If it can be shown that doing so increases student achievement, even better. That would at least be a rationale for making everyone do it. But until such time, I imagine the reason many teachers don't do it is simply because it is not all that valuable -- to them, their students, or their parents. We are, in this country, egaged in an all-out battle against thinking, independence, choice, etc. -- all the ways young human beings mature. And this, I think, is why the kids I work with these days are the most immature I have ever seen. Except for being over-sexualized by the media, kids are years behind in their ability to reason ethically and morally. They have little sense of action and consequence. And the more we choose to monitor them, and do that thinking for them, the less likely they will be to have the experiences in their lives that will lead to maturity. This goes for parents, too, most of whom seem to have lost the ability to teach their children any of the quaint moral lessons parents of previous generations seemed to be quite capable of. In this case, rather than using a teacher, a computer, and a parent's snooping, why not invest in actually having a good relationship with your child that involves honesty and respect for a parents' values about education?

Posted by: StevePeha | December 21, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I can see how a teacher would feel like detailed posting of assignments take the consequences of not following classroom instruction away from the child.

Am I the only person who thinks that a parent who emails a child's teach over Thanksgiving break and expects a reply may be expecting too much of the teacher?

Posted by: RedBird27 | December 21, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Parents: Always remember this when you deal with teachers...

Take the work you do in your regular 9-5 job. OK, now don't do any of it between 10 and 3. How much do you get done daily?

I'm not saying that teachers shouldn't do their work... I'm just saying that you have to cut them some slack on time.

Posted by: someguy100 | December 21, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

We just dealt with an issue like this in our district and it turns out that the 504 system is including more and more modifications for parents rather than their children with disabilities.

There are plenty of ways to stay updated on a student's progress adding more responsibilities to teachers is not helpful.

Posted by: postmichael | December 21, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse


Thanks for getting to the issue. Which would be a greater priority, posting online or teaching students in our hyperactive world to use technologies, and not be misused by them?

By the way, many or most would answer that question differently than I would. But those of us who seek some balance can face headlines implying we are Luddites. If a basketball coach uses a zone, not a full course press, the presumption is that he knows his players and has made an informed decision.

Posted by: johnt4853 | December 21, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

When my daughter was in 5th and 6th grade, the teachers assigned students to enter the homework assignments online at the end of each day. It wasn't always perfect or complete and sometimes didn't get done.

Now, the school system provides access to the teachers' gradebooks online. Unfortunately, assignments usually do not get entered until the day they are due (or later) so it doesn't help with homework.

Of course, students should take responsibility for their homework. But when my son writes down #7 on page 134 and there is no #7 because it really was #4 and a classmate says do all of the questions (which are clearly beyond the level of the class), then it would be nice to know exactly what the assignment is. I think each student with the help of his/her parent and teacher(s) should work collaboratively to find the best strategy(ies) for accessing homework for the individual student and teacher. Whether it is having a separate set of textbooks at home (we had this luxury one year), online posting of assignments, a reliable homework buddy (sometimes can be difficult to find), teacher initialing the agenda book (it helps if the teacher reads what the student writes because the '#7' example above was in a class where the teacher signs my son's agenda book), etc.

Posted by: mgribben | December 21, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I remember discussing this with you before.
There are two versions of this story posted online:
this version and the "print" version which is longer available.
When I click on my browser's history for the print story, it brings me here.
I don't mind there being two versions, but maybe the links could be maintained.
(And maybe provide a link to the print version on your blog posting.)

Posted by: edlharris | December 21, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

You've got to love the virtual head-scratching that practically screams out of this post.

Computers, and more recently high-speed digital communications, has worked an ongoing revolution in the business world, less so in government but when it comes to education no one has a clue.

Since public education's never seemed to achieve the sorts of gains common to the use of computers in business it ought to be a subject of considerable interest. Not the use of computers in education, that's been an area of intense interest for about four and a half decades, but why the use of computers has been a uniform failure.

And I use the word "uniform" as it's defined in a decent dictionary.

Does anyone know of a single instance of successful application of computers to education?

I'm not referring to "computer skills" like touch-typing, using a search engine or saving a file in a directory. I'm referring to the implication - always an implication - that education in its totality will be improved. That kids will learn better, faster, more. The six million dollar kid.

Anyone have any examples of that?

Posted by: allenm1 | December 21, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Districts need to use decent software first off. I wish I could work on my schools website over break. I have some things I need to update - except I'm on Vista at home and it is impossible to update the website if you are on Vista.

It makes me sick when I hear from other teachers that they don't have a computer to use. I have 3 desktops and 4 laptops in my room for my kids. I use my personal laptop for most of my stuff, but have to get on a school computer to do certain things.

Next year parents will be able to log into our gradebook. I'm wondering if my current method is going to work or if parents are going to chomp at the bit and want grades updated daily.

I don't count every activity as a grade. So I evaluate activities all week. Then on Tuesdays I look at all the activities for each subject (this can be paper worksheets, larger projects, and class observations in running notes for hands on things in Math and Science) and record the grades for the activities that represent what the students have learned. Wednesday we send home the weeks work in a folder along with a behavior chart.

Posted by: kaherbert | December 21, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Good Lord. If you need to keep track of assignments for elementary schoolers online maybe you're giving them too much homework. And if a high schooler can't keep track of their own homework without a parent hovering over their shoulder, then you've failed that child in a significant way.

Between this and the posting of the gradebook online, parents now have more access to school stuff than ever. Perhaps this is somewhat good; if a kid is having trouble the parent can intervene. But many parents I know use every D on a pop quiz to harrangue the child about school, harass teachers about homework grades, and keep in a kids face to the point where a bright child doesn't really need to take responsibility for their own work, obviously their parents will do it for them. What ever happened to learning from failure? Are we so paranoid about education that we do not allow kids to learn from mistakes, i.e. taking that C in Algebra because they didn't do their homework, then finding out that your parents will ground you, just like they said they would?

Posted by: Mazarin | December 21, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Of course, this is a two-way street. During my first year of teaching I went out of my way to create a class website and spent hours updating grades and such. After three months, only two parents had logged in.

Posted by: coreybower | December 21, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Another good question from sharp-eyed edlharris, which allows me to share some inside the Post procedures. Since I started this blog to carry everything I write, we have had as you say two online versions of what I write for the paper---the blog version (which I put up myself, often from an earlier version that includes stuff we cut for space in the version in the paper) and a second version which a computer automatically places on the web site along with other stories that run in that section of the real newspaper. This was a problem, my editor and I felt, for two reasons: 1. Reader comments were spread over both versions, meaning I had to check both to make sure I did not miss any great questions like yours. 2. In the last few months, with the remaking of the Post organizational chart and newsroom to reflect our much increased emphasis on the web, as the future of the Post and of our revenues, we have become to look at daily page views very carefully. The fact that I had a second version of some columns posted elsewhere in our web site meant that the blog wasn't getting credit for all of the page views I was getting, and it was difficult to get the page view counting machines to recognize that. My editor decided to change the program in a way that leads anyone who searches for my name and clicks on the non-blog version to go to the blog version, so all of those hits are counted. It has made a significant difference in the number of page views I am gettinng and that means they are more likely to let me keep doing this, which is my number one priority. (My pay is not affected. I just want to be able to keep writing for the Post, at least the web Post, when I really retire and head off to Calif.)
If you think what we have done is a problem for readers, please share your thoughts with me here, or via and I will raise them imnediately with my edtor.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 21, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I see nothing wrong with requiring the teacher to keep the website up to date. The reaction of the principal is out of line and the principal should be either removed from the position or disciplined.

We are talking about a student with a disability (ADHD). This child needs help (accomodations) getting through school. ADHD may not be listed as a disability code on theforms but when the students falls two grades behind then the school will code him and put in place an IEP. If the school and the parents decide that the website is the best way to implement the IEP, then the teacher has no choice but to keep the website up to date. The alternative is for the teacher to sign the students assignment book everyday to verify that the homework was correctely entered by the student. It seems that updating the website means the teacher does this checking just once, and not for every special education student in the class.

As long as the school systems want to place special education students in the regular classes and eliminate special education classes then they have to be willing to support the students in the regular ed class and must have the backbone to discipline teachers who don't give the proper support.

This article shows a classic case of the school system wanting their cake and eating it. In the end the only person hurt is the special education student.

For those of you who have not had a special education student you will not understand what I'm writing, for the parents who have had an ADHD child you know what I'm saying.

This is not a question of students learning responsibilities it is a question of a student learning to compensate for a learning disability. Some will learn quicker than others. When we learn to swim to we just jump in the deep end of the pool and sink or swim. If that was the approach then we would have many deaths by drowing, but no we recognize that soem are slower learners than others and we adapt our swimming lessons.

Please do the same here, allow the schools and parents to adapt how a students gets organized and allow for the different paces. Does this create more work for the teachers, absolutely yes, but think about all the extra work the parents have.

Posted by: renny2 | December 21, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Mazarin wrote:

"And if a high schooler can't keep track of their own homework without a parent hovering over their shoulder, then you've failed that child in a significant way."

Wow - if only it were that simple. Many teenage boys (and some girls) have had trouble keeping track of homework since public schools were introduced in this country. Most scientists would say that it very likely has less to do with parenting than with the immaturity of the frontal lobe of the brain, which controls planning, impulse control,and reasoning.


The frontal lobe doesn't fully develop in many males until early twenties. Just because kids are struggling with heavy workloads doesn't mean parents are failures. Some of it is biology.

Oh, and to tie it back to today's discussion. That limited impulse control that is well-documented in teens makes it very hard for them to stay focused on an internet-linked computer.

Posted by: trace1 | December 21, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I just logged onto my Blackboard site (which I have figured out a way to automatically update itself) and out of the 110 students I have, the amount of students who have logged in this year can fit on one hand. Mind you, that is just logging in, not actually looking at the assignments. Parents often complain that Blackboard is hard to navagate and personally I think it is very user un-friendly. It takes 1-2 hours to update the site, which is why I spent ONE DAY of my time on the weekend to figure out a way to update it automatically.
If the parent with ADHD kids is worried about them not getting/bringing home homework, then I suggest creatin your own homework assignments. My parents did that, and often times their assignments were more difficult than any real homework I had. The result? I never "forgot" or lied about not having homework. I know that ADHD is a disability, however her story also sounds like an avoidance issue. The lesson she is teaching is that other people will provide a Plan B for them when they cannot do the job themselves.

Posted by: zeptattoo | December 21, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Sure teachers would do right by parents to use the homework site. But before we slam those who don't, consider that putting homework assignments on line is one more thing in a long list of one more things that teachers are told to do without compensation. Two years ago, when my older daughter was in third grade she got a weekly assignment sheet every Monday that parents were required to sign. Requiring her teacher to then post assignments on line would have wasted time better spend grading and lesson planning (or for that matter having a life). If that extra job of posting had taken just an hour a week, over the course of a school year that would have meant 36 hours or an extra week of work for which she would not have been compensated.
There's a bigger issue here: "How much homework is a third grader getting that her mom needs to log on to keep up?" If it's that much maybe that's what the mom should take up with the principal.

Posted by: thatssomecatach | December 21, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

These are clerical chores. If they become an expected part of what schools offer parents, then teachers should have secretaries to carry out these chores.

Posted by: efavorite | December 21, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I don't see why it's the parents' responsibility to keep track of the STUDENT'S homework. If the child copied down the assignment wrong and has confusion about what exactly is required, he/she can do what I did back in the Stone Age of the 1980's: pick up the phone and call a friend.

If a child has a documented LD, then part of the IEP ought to be the teacher doing a quick 1 minute glancing over of the student's planner at the end of the day/class period to make sure everything got copied down correctly.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | December 21, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

"Mazarin wrote:

"And if a high schooler can't keep track of their own homework without a parent hovering over their shoulder, then you've failed that child in a significant way."

Wow - if only it were that simple."

It generally is. By high school, a child should be able to manage multiple tasks without constant reminders from parents and teachers. I managed it, lots of my friends managed it. Lots of kids do manage it, with jobs and sports and such added into the mix. I'm not talking about elementary school kids, here, who do need help to develop the skills needed for time management. I think that was the point of my post; if you've done all the hard management work for your kids all through elementary and middle school, then they likely don't have the skills to get along without you in high school.

Put another way - if your kid can't manage their homework in high school, how the heck are they going to manage a lot more than that in college?

Posted by: Mazarin | December 21, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I guess you missed the point of my post. College kids can indeed manage more than high school kids, in part because the part of the brain that controls planning and impulses is more fully developed.

That is why we don't allow young kids to vote, own firearms,etc.

You admit that elementary school kids need help with time management, but seem to think high schoolers should have no problem. We disagree. And neuropsychologists would disagree with you, too.

Lots of kids need help with the demands of school work. It does not mean parents have failed.

Posted by: trace1 | December 21, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't think this article is well-titled. Teachers don't reject the internet, and many others have made comments to the effect that others do - either because their kids get distracted once on line, or in their frustration with the absence of other, actually simply options like a planner.

I see this as more a case of the homework battle continuing. The three-way battle rages between parents, teachers and children. There are many battle scars alogn the way, but the war is being lost no matter what.

I am a high school teacher and mother of two boys with disabilities. I am therefore a veteran of the homework battles I fought with my boys for the past 11 years, and with students for the past 6 years. My battles with parents have been few, and that is mainly because I take what I think is a pragmatic approach to homework. If I assign it, and you do it, it will help you learn. If you don't do it for whatever reason, you miss an opportunity but there will be others.

Homework is not high stakes, and should never be the cause of battles or the reason for using a website or email or any other method to communicate. The communication needs to be about the learning, not compliance. When we get beyond the obsession with compliance and use all our collective tools, internet based or paper, to facilitate learning we will make more progress.

Posted by: emily7833 | December 21, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

It's up to the principal. At my kids' parochial school, the principal told the teachers that they were to post homework assignments on the website by 4:30 p.m. each day. It's part of every teacher's job description now. The teachers have been very cooperative and consistent in keeping the posted assignments up to date.

Posted by: pundito | December 21, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

If the website is too big of a pain to use, why not just pop off a broadcast email to all parents like this:

Dear Parents,
The homework assignment for today is:
1. Math, p 112, even problems
2. Reading, read story on packet and answer questions
3. Social Studies, p 135, first 5 questions

Your Child's Exceptionally Lazy Teacher

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | December 21, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I see blackboard listed, I use, I think it is very simple to use, couple of clicks and I have posted homework.

What other sites are easy to use and post hw?

Posted by: teachdr | December 21, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I have a 5th grader and a 1st grader. Both write their assignments in their planner. No homework is posted online. What is the big problem? My daughter tells me that the kids who are notorious for 'forgetting' homework have to get their planner signed by the teacher after they write the assignments down and then signed by mom/dad when they do the homework. Why would this be a problem?
In the rare event that one of my kids somehow loses track of what was assigned, there is another really amazing tool you can use. It is called the telephone. Have your kid pick it up and call a classmate who is known to be responsible. They will likely be able to verify which math problems are to be solved.

Posted by: 1Reader | December 21, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I know it can be frustrating for parents not to have the information they need to help their schildren achieve success in school, but let's ease up on the teachers.

If the teacher wants to maintain a web site...great. But in my school division time is limited. Planning time is eaten away with duties, meetings, and more meetings, calling parents, meeting with parents, and taking professional development courses and somewhere you have to squeeze in a bathroom break or two.

After contract time, you say, on my family's time? Have we forgotten that teaching is a job? It is a profession. It is a career. We are not Peace Corps volunteers...or nuns. The lousy salary is not enough to put us on call 24/7. Do lawyers keep websites for that day's clients to respond to see what action has been taken since the client left the office? How about doctors...are their websites updated daily with the actions and consultations concerning your diagnosis?

It takes time to maintain a web site....more time than you think. We have developed this mindset that teachers are somehow volunteers, should not expect higher pay, should feel lucky to have a job, and are less than loyal employees if they complain about their lack of "family time."

If school districts and parents want us to grade papers, develop creative and stimulating lesson plans (daily), and maintain websites along with our other responsibilities....then they need to hire us secretaries.

Posted by: ilcn | December 21, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I agree 100% with trace1 about OVER-use of the Internet in the schools. It is not merely difficult, it is impossible to keep a high school student focused on an Internet assignment. Face it, it's the biggest time sink every invented. I can't stay focused myself, with the whole World Wide Web at my fingertips. I would like most homework assignments to involve books and not to need computers at all.

Posted by: los22 | December 21, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a teacher, but many of my family and friends are, and I would like to have more information from the teacher's perspective. We do know that the teacher came in partway through the year (so she's already a bit behind) and we know that she has students of varying abilities in her classroom (gifted, regular, ADHD) and is trying to tailor assignments to individual abilities - how many different classes is she teaching, and how much prep time is she allocated? Is this the first year that she's teaching this grade level/subject, so is she having to do all of her lessons from scratch and probably not sure of exactly how much material she's going to be able to cover in a given week? How easy is this web software to use? Can the teacher update the software from home, or does she have to do it from a school computer?

It should be easy enough to do a quantitative analysis of exactly how long it would take this teacher to post an average day's worth of assignments (for all of her classes) on the web, and then figure out what percentage of her alloted prep time is spent doing this activity. Then we could have an interesting discussion as to whether her time is better spend updating the website or refining her lesson plans.

Also, I'm assuming that even rich suburban school districts don't provide their teachers with blackberries, so why this mother thought that the teacher would respond over Thanksgiving break, I can't imagine. The presumptuousness is rather stunning, actually.

Why didn't this mom just call some of her daughter's classmates parents, if she was so concerned? Also, if her daughter was flat out lying to her parents after repeated questioning, I think that they have a much bigger problem on their hands than a teacher who is too overwhelmed to post homework on a website.

Posted by: lizbeth1 | December 21, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm a high school teacher, and consider myself fairly tech-savvy (and tech-friendly). That said, parents need to understand that school districts' commitment to technology rarely matches their equipment/budget realities. On top of this, the software choices available to schools are some of the most cumbersome and non-user friendly programs produced. Veteran teachers have watched their districts jump at every new fad and tech-tool, only to leave teachers high and dry in terms of training and support.

Please give your teachers the benefit of the doubt. Yes, some are stubborn and just don't want to bother with the latest tools. And plenty are overworked and uninterested in adding another task to the plate. But many of us are balancing a real desire to help our students with the reality of failing equipment, insufficient training, and little support.

(That said, I finally bypassed our district's system and set up an unsanctioned - and functional - site through Google.)

Posted by: tourney345 | December 21, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I agree...I find that the teachers want parents involved in their kids' work, but on their terms. I have a special ed kid in high school and each teacher has a page just for grades, homework etc. Some teachers are great and others are just plain lazy. I found that the drama teacher was far more responsible and responsive to my concerns that the so-called "special ed" teachers. I had the IEP revised to require these teachers to keep their grades on my kid updated and I have to constantly hound the teacher to do that. I remind them that this is a legal document and could be evidence in court, but the teachers really don't care. Yet, when something goes wrong and the teacher contacts me, they don't get it when I tell them unless I am informed by them, I don't know what's up.
This is my last year as a public school parent. I'm counting the days...

Posted by: kodonivan | December 21, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse


I could not help but chuckle at the irony of edlharris' issues with the double posting of your article/blog, which was itself about a teacher's problems for not redundantly posting homework assignments online that were given in class.

As a high school teacher I appreciate the comments by ilcn and was completely offended by the assumption of afsljafweljkjlfe that the teacher was "exceptionally lazy" because he/she did not post homework every night. Given the time restraints on most teachers, those things that are redundant to what was done in class usually end up at the bottom of a very long list.

As a parent of three, I understand how helpful it can be to have the homework online. At the same time, I realize that it is unrealistic to expect it to be up every single day. Therefore, I consider it a Plan B while my kid's own responsibility is Plan A and that is not always easy to pull off. While my son seems to have no problem remembering when to submit his fantasy football lineup or who is out for that week, he does not always have a complete homework assignment list. We have worked with that by using "old school" methods like calling friends and withholding privileges and he is doing a much better job of getting things in order.

I would have to agree with the comment that this does not seem to be about a teacher rejecting the internet as much as a teacher prioritizing things differently than what a parent (who looks for a response over Thanksgiving "break") expects.

Thanks for getting a very lively discussion going!

Posted by: tkraz | December 21, 2009 5:46 PM | Report abuse

renny7: you hit the nail on the head. I would suggest that you parental units who don't have a special ed kid, lay off those of us who must have this contact with the school to even have a clue what is going on. In my case, my stepson has zero short term memory and if I don't have access to information, then I cannot ensure that homework and other assignments are done.
My youngest child who attends parochial school and is required by the school to maintain her planner for homework, etc. Catholic schools do an excellent job educating those kids to be responsible. Kids get it, or face the consequences. Her school is very much in the computer age and the middle school teachers do the website thing. The younger kids are still doing pencil and paper, primarily to teach responsiblity. That school has no students with learning disabilities.

Posted by: kodonivan | December 21, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse


You are always going to get worse and worse teaching because technology and ALL is being piled on to the poor teacher. Look at the turnover rates and you'll see. Then look at how long it takes to become a halfway decent teacher, especially in math and science. I say homeschool your kids if you can. That's the best remedy. And if your child gets a great veteran who's stuck it out, kiss the ground they walk on!

Posted by: Playitagainsam | December 21, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

I run a small school in Charlottesville and we have developed a system, through trial and error, that answers some of the issues for both teachers and parents here. At the end of every day, our students have a 40-minute study hall. Their first responsibility there is to fill out their planners if they haven’t done so already. Their homework is on the whiteboard, they fill in the day for all their subjects (they have homework in 4 of 5 classes virtually every day), and then their study hall teachers initial the day. As we believe that developing good organizational habits is a critically important part of a good middle school education, we insist that the boys do this. No matter how organized they are, they have to do their planners every day. We are trying to inculcate a lifelong habit of keeping a planner. As a backup system for the students and as a system of alerting the parents to the daily homework expectations, one of our teachers sends an email to all our parents at about 3:00 every day with the day’s homework for each class. He collects it from us or from the whiteboards at the end of each day so there is no confusion. It allows the parents to keep up with the daily work and it is ideal for students to keep up with work when they have been absent or sick. Both boys and parents are carefully instructed that the homework email is not a substitute for the boys’ responsibility for knowing their own assignments. The email is sent to parents only and parents should only allow it to be consulted under extraordinary circumstances. If a child forgets his planner at school, we don’t think he should not have the opportunity to do his work. But we try to make it clear that this is a part of their education—being responsible for their work. Our experience in other schools has been that other systems such as relying fully on the boys or posting on websites tend to be flawed. We give one of our teachers this responsibility in order to keep everyone prepared and informed. Our parents tell us that this regular communication is one of our best features.

Posted by: toddhbarnett | December 21, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm. I don't know what happened to my earlier post, but here it goes once again.

When I was a classroom teacher, I was ordered to stop using "schoolnotes" to post assignments and ordered to use "blackboard".

"Schoolnotes" was very easy to use and I did so daily.

"Blackboard" (the site of choice for Fairfax County - probably involving a kickback for some central office hack) is VERY unfriendly, cumbersome, and time-consuming.

With "schoonotes", a teacher simply posts assignments for each class and does so on the same 'page' for all the classes.
With 'blackboard', the teacher must enter each student into a specific class, and then keep opening each different class and entering the assignment. Everything (assignments as well as notices of other activities, meeting, etc.) must be entered in duplicate. Small wonder that so many teachers can't find the time in their busy day to be the data entry clerk too.

Mrs. Thompson might try the old-fashioned method of checking homework: give her daughter an assignment book and have the teacher initial what the child has written for the assignment. We've all done this in the past (before the 'benefits' of computers) and it is quick and easy for the overworked teacher, instills responsibility in the child, and satisfies the parents' need to know.
It's not tech-savvy or 'progressive', but it IS effective.

Posted by: segeny | December 21, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

I would like to ask the parents who are complaining about teachers not posting homework online a question.

What is your child doing in class when the teacher says "Write down your homework?" Maybe you should work on them with following directions.

It might be a lot to have any student, special ed or not, just randomly write down homework at any time during a class period. But when a teacher takes time out of class and says write down your homework, and gives the students time to do so, the problem is then not the teachers, but the child and the parent.

Being a teacher, I refuse to walk around and check 120 planners everyday. Parents need to start taking some responsibility. Or better yet, how about you volunteer at your school and help the teachers with updating their websites, if it is that important to you.

Posted by: EyeTeachMath | December 21, 2009 9:28 PM | Report abuse

The K -12 teaching profession must be the only profession where anyone and everybody can weigh in and tell a teacher how to do his/her job. Managing one's homework assignment is not the teacher's job. It is the student's responsibility to write down assignments in a planne,agenda or notebook. Teachers have enough to do on a daily basis. Updating daily websites for homework assignments is time consuming and not very teacher friendly. Time is not something that teachers have a lot of. They do not have personal assistants or clerical staff who can manage the clerical duties of taking attendance and lunch counts; collecting field trip monies; ordering scholastic books; creating quizzes, tests, and lessons that accommodate every child, grade papers, oversee lunch and recess behavior,...manage websites, and TEACH. Teachers have to do many tasks at home, after the school work day, when they should be spending time with their own families. Some parents should get a life and stop turning our public education system into a welfare system. Some of you want every thing. Just because one teachere has the time to sit at a computer and update websites, doesn't mean that they all do. Some teachers do have a life outside of school. Tell your child to write the assignment down. I'm sure the teacher will not mind initialing the student's agenda to note that the assignments were properly written down. We tend to forget that we who now have school-aged children did not have the covenience of techology to take over simple, every day tasks. Yet, we turned out okay.

Posted by: jfaul006 | December 21, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Just another way to helicopter-parent. I think that it's absurd that this was written in a 504 plan. Where's the student responsibility in all this?

Posted by: lizae | December 21, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Is it not better for the child to learn that not doing homework and misleading parents has a consequence at a younger age rather than later, or do the parents expect to continue to control all aspects of the kid's life through the child's retirement? Ok CONTROL is what this is really all about. The parents want it so bad, and will do anything to get it. The kid defers, they check the web site, The teacher does not play along they go to the principal. The the therapist resists, they get a specialist. The judge does not care, they appeal. Catch a clue

Posted by: mamoore1 | December 21, 2009 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I left out about the part where the boss fires them and the sue, what a way to damage a child.

Posted by: mamoore1 | December 21, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

To jfaul006: Very well said, and thank you...

Another point: Not all families have computer access. I work in a district serving many poor and functionally illiterate families who may not own a computer, or may be unable to read online materials. As such, I must always consider who will have the access, and it is never everyone. So posting online will provide a convenience for some, but not likely for all. Hence we are back to the snail method of writing down assignments, or providing an assignment sheet once per week.

I teach elementary school and every year I give out my email address and ask parents to please contact me about anything on their minds at any time. Though I prefer the convenience of electronic communication, generally only two or three parents regularly communicate with me using email. The broadcast email is a great idea, but not every family provides me with an email address to make use of that method either.

It's never as simple as we think it should be.

Posted by: Incidentally | December 22, 2009 12:43 AM | Report abuse

I wish I had the guts to do the following: a) continue to post the hw on the board for students to copy in their planners;and b) sporadically post on the hw site which will email parents if they register. That way when parents got the email with the hw posted for the day, they could check their child's planner and reward/punish as they saw fit. I think this spot check method is a good way of training young people to use their planners. I wish parents of middle schoolers would back me up more about this kind of training rather than worrying about the student's 7th grade grade.

Posted by: pittypatt | December 22, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I would love it if teachers posted homework online, it would help my ADD kid tremendously. However, I also recognize that at least at the school where my daughter attends in the District, the majority of parents do not have daily online access and this would be a waste of time for the teacher. The school planner has worked with teacher ensuring she writes it down. However for the first time my child was sent home with digital homework as well as print homework for over the break with a code she could log into and do problems specifically related to areas she is weak on. What I worry about is that it will just create another circumstance where kids who were behind will fall further behind.

Technology issues generally for teachers are just low priority, there are just too many battles to fight. Why do I make such a sweeping statement, most innovative websites they can create like Blogspot or Wordpress are blocked by filters; they work with very little technology support how many people can really imagine not having their company help desk (I know half our computers at the school are out for some problem); teachers education does not emphasize and on the whole the personalities that seek to be teachers are more people oriented than screen oriented. These issues coupled with the digital divide (yes that still exists). It is likely that only teachers with a very high demand by parents will be using these type of systems and it is not yet clear to me that they contribute more to education, even if they are more convenient for parents. I think there needs to be more complex thinking by Jay, and all those that care about eduction in thinking about how technology does or does not enhance the classroom.

Posted by: Brooklander | December 22, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I am both a middle school teacher and a mother of two ADHD students and I have to agree that this is a touchy subject for everyone. Teachers have many responsibilities that include trying to get students to stay engaged in learning and turn in assignments on time. This is not a parent responsibility but something parents can help support. Real interest in your child's education includes being ready to follow through on getting them ready to take responsibility. Sometimes they will not succeed, and that is how they will learn to do better in the future.

We use both the internet and a hard copy planner that is checked by each teacher to remind students of missing classwork and homework. The students, not their parents, are responsible for making up any missing assignments or they will have a failing grade that will be visible at home in the electronic grade book. This is your child's failing grade and as a parent you need to set expectations and follow through with reasonable consequences for failing to meet expectations. This is how we can teach responsibility.

Now most middle school and high school teachers assign work each day for each student. So do the math: five sections of 30 students time five assignments each week. 750 assignments graded and posted each week. And this is not our only responsibility as a teacher. Testing, meetings, planning, and sometimes we even get time to teach.

I think that the internet can help support communication and give better feedback for parents. I ask that parents remember that we are all people who can always improve.

Posted by: tnteacher1 | December 22, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

A parent had trouble posting this, so sent it to me. Sorry for the shaky state of our web site today. I had trouble posting myself.
From the reader:
You have no idea the level of frustration this causes. 90% of my children's teachers have been completely tech ignorant.  They won't even respond to email.  They can't use a simple laptop effectively. Homework online? A pipe dream.  And yes, the irony is the multitudes of technology tools the administration pays for, only to sit vacant and idle.  My teen goes to a TECH highschool and I periodically check the many different teacher online tools, where they are supposed to post homework, test reviews. About 1% use. One parent coordinator told me my best strategy was to print out my unanswered emails, bring them to school (20 minutes away by subway) and place them in their mailboxes.  This is an engaged parent trying to help their child and it is wall after wall, using arcane systems.  What other profession would allow this level of stagnation?  Why can't kids submit digital documents online?  Why can't they download worksheets instead of losing them and placing them in overstuffed folders. Where can I see graded tests? This stuff is basic and it is maddening.  There are so many inefficiencies for both the parent, the child, AND the teacher, which simply exist because teachers don't care to learn.  The kids are on Facebook talking about homework. The parents and students are online and we are connected, and this is where the teachers should be.  Period. 

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 22, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

As a middle school teacher who updates her website multiple times a week, I agree that it is an excellent tool for keeping parents and students on track with happenings in the classroom. What I fail to understand is why parents get upset when the homework in their child's agenda differs from the assignment posted on the site, even when lesson plans state that they are subject to change. Also, parents nitpick over every single thing posted on the site, but yet do not complain about my colleagues who do not post ANYTHING on their websites. So essentially, by using and updating my website on a regular basis, I'm being punished because the parents email me or call the principal every time I do something different than my plans state. How is that helping anyone, parents, students, or teachers??

Posted by: laurad803 | December 22, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

To the parent who had trouble posting:

Doesn't the trouble you had submitting your comments answer many of your questions? Can you imagine requiring 100 or more students to submit digital documents online and the technical troubles that some of those students would encounter and the excuses that would follow? Would it be any different if everything was online and needed to be downloaded? While I see it as a viable option, I hardly think we are ready to fully go there.
As a teacher I am working very hard to incorporate technology in many ways but I have learned not to put all my eggs in that basket. I teach in a "traditional" classroom setting and in a computer based class and see the difficulties of keeping my students on task in each. Just because my students are on Facebook does not mean that I need to be there with them. You should be extremely happy that your child is talking to others on Facebook about homework. I know I am happy as a teacher any time they take the discussion outside of the classroom! While I think it is pretty inexcusable not to use email these days I can see the reluctance to jump in completely. As a matter of fact, I would much rather have my kids' teachers taking advantage of as much face to face time as possible with them and working through their strengths and weaknesses. I want my children to learn how to interact with adults and their classmates in person while at the same time learning personal responsibility.

Posted by: tkraz | December 22, 2009 11:12 PM | Report abuse

I would strongly urge all readers to check out and take to heart the comments of jfaul006 (from December 21, 2009 9:39 PM).

In addition, consider the following:

1. TECHNOLOGY FAILURES: The teacher's school server might be on the blink -- frequently. Same for the DISTRICT (central office) server.

2. HUMAN ISSUES: Teachers (heaven forbid!) are sometimes absent. Sometimes, like other working adults, they have to leave immediately after work, not to address work items until they report the next day. The FIRST line of defense should always be the student's own log entry into his/her Homework Planner. There should always be a comparison made between the hard-copy entry and what's electronically posted. The world shouldn't end if the school's server or website goes down. Parents of academically successful students know how to navigate this obstacle.

3. ECONOMIC ISSUES: Until school districts can commit to paying teachers fairly for the extra work thay cannot REALISTICALLY perform in a prescribed workday, it would behoove them to appeal to the teacher's motivation, as opposed to stressing compulsory aspects of technology use. Even the best of teachers shouldn't be expected to use time- and labor-intensive technology when they remain uncompensated to do so beyond reason.

3. INTERPERSONAL ISSUES: BE NICE TO YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER(S). The positive, supportive relationship you establish at the START of the quarter/semester/year can go a lonnnnng way in getting your child to learn and succeed. Read your email 2 or 3x BEFORE you send a complaint or other missive to a teacher. Remember that the teacher's first priority is to attend to the students, not your email. Allow a minimum of 24 hours for any reply that you expect. Treat your child's teachers like YOU'd want to be treated in the same role.

While all parents do not enjoy Internet access, it only makes sense to try to find a way to get it and use it for the child's (AND parent's) benefit.

Technology should be a tool, NOT a crutch. Teach your child HOW (not what) to think, so that he/she will not be rendered totally reliant upon any technology.

Posted by: ntlekt | December 23, 2009 2:07 AM | Report abuse

Someone speaking for parents here. My 5th grade son has no learning disabilities at all, just a perennial inability (or lack of desire) to write down assignments. His teacher is busy with over 20 students in class and can't necessarily check every agenda book to make sure everything is written down. I teach college and use Blackboard, so I know the time involved. And not having the proper equipment is bad, and I sympathize with the increasing workload of teachers. But what would teachers prefer instead of the internet? I can find out at the end of each quarter when his grades are bad, but that doesn't do him much good. Should I call them every day? Come to school every day to watch my son write down his assignments? You see the dilemma. Comments suggest that I should just work with my son to ensure that he has his assignments, but that's a meaningless generality. What exactly should I do if I can't use the internet?

Posted by: hawstonverizonnet | December 23, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

"What exactly should I do if I can't use the internet?"

Do what you should have done all along--hold your son responsible. Your son's teacher can take a couple seconds to sign off on his planner, and you require your son to bring home the planner with the teacher's initials. If he doesn't, you ground him or give him some other consequence. Furthermore, as suggested above, you can invent your own homework assignments if he fails to come back with the real thing.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | December 23, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

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