Technology for helicopter parents
September 18, 2009 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Your mother has eyes in the back of her head. Chicago Public Schools sends parents a text message when their child is not in class or the kid's grades slip. Mayor Daley attends a demonstration. Chicago is not the only school district to use this technology. It's used in Calloway County, Kentucky. Memphis, Tennessee, and Saratoga Springs, New York, to name a few. It's not just used for monitoring your kids' grades. In San Antonio, you can also monitor the presidential propaganda that's fed to your kids! But what if you want to monitor the text messages your kids receive? Radar alerts you when a "suspicious" person texts, calls, or emails your kid.
posted by desjardins (36 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, as much as this seems to be a voluntary program for "helicopter parents", I almost feel like at least the attendance one should be mandatory. And you get a text every day until you respond. The text subject would be, "PAY ATTENTION!!!" Of course, this wouldn't be fair to a lot people in certain situations so hence the "amost feel" part.
posted by cimbrog at 10:13 AM on September 18, 2009

Radar alerts you when a "suspicious" person texts, calls, or emails your kid.

Does penis enlargement spam count as "suspicious"? If this technology has the potential to bring the Won't-Someone-Please-Think-of-the-Children lobby down on the heads of the spammers, then I cannot endorse it strongly enough.
posted by rkent at 10:16 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Man, I'd love to be in charge of sending creative texts or emails to parents about their kids.

"Remember the Alamo? Emily couldn't."

"Jake's latest math test score was "X". His GPA prior to the test was "Y". Use 12x-14y/2=15 to see why you should make an appointment to see his math teacher, Mr. Resnick next Thursday...."

"Ethan answered "Was it Ghostbusters 2?" to every question on a test. Please schedule an appointment to see me at your earliest convenience."

"Mr. Rosenwaffel (Your daughter's Chemistry teacher) was demonstrating adhesives. Tara stuck to blackboard. Come quickly. Bring acetone."

"They say Ignorance is Strength, but Johnny Failed Orwell and that's DoublePlusUngood."

Etc., etc.
posted by zarq at 10:18 AM on September 18, 2009 [25 favorites]

Memphis, Tennessee Missouri
posted by bunnytricks at 10:18 AM on September 18, 2009

I can see the usefulness of the attendance and grade notification programs. If its automated well, it would certainly take some burden from the school administrators.

The Mobile Watchdog thing I have issues with. If your kid isn't mature enough to manage their own social life, don't give them a damn cell phone. Of course the site claims that the kids know they're being monitored - so they're just going to do all illicit communication off-grid anyway.
posted by lholladay at 10:20 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not sure why wanting to know if your kid cut class is "helicopter parenting".
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:21 AM on September 18, 2009

Tracks attendance, eh? I remember that, we all took turns signing each other's names on the attendance sheet. I remember trying to explain the garbage-in garbage-out to a consultant once. I tried to emphasize that even if we put RFID tags at every entry point there will always be a chance something is not read or something is erroneously read and that high value items should be checked by hand and doing this was not a waste of labor. He countered with his proposal: two RFID readers at each entry point. I countered with the obvious fact that if an RFID chip is broken or isn't scanned it will never be read and what do you do if one reader says it passed and the other said it didn't. He smiled and replied that it was a simple fix, place two RFID chips on each package (luckily they kept checking by hand).

Technology has a way of instilling false confidence in people. People understand that an attendance sheet can be fake and will immediately discount its authenticity if it is questioned, but a boolean value gives the sense that some sort of mathematical truth has occurred.
posted by geoff. at 10:24 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

> Her preference is to set the trigger to notify her when any grade falls below 80 percent, a “B.”

And then there will be the psycho parents who will set their preferences at, say, 90%. And the ones who use their child's slipping grades as a reason to yell at school teachers and administrators because it's their fault mommy/daddy's little genius isn't performing up to their expectations. And in a few years parents with kids in university will want this sort of service available to them.

An honest question: aren't report cards enough information for parents? And if not, can't they just keep an eye on the marked tests/reports your child brings home?
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:25 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

And in a few years parents with kids in university will want this sort of service available to them.

That would be illegal.

BF has had to explain this a thousand times to parents who want their kid's grades, who then counter with "But then how can I know how my kid's doing?!"

"Ask them."

"But what if they won't tell me?!"

"then you wont know."

And then they leave in a confused haze.
posted by The Whelk at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

zarq, I'm sorry but you so went over the 160 character limit there.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I once heard an assistant principal say of parent demand for increased progress reports "weighing a pig more often doesn't make it any heavier".

I do think the text messages for student absences is a good idea, though; often parents have just forgotten to call to say their child is sick and it helps make them more responsible as well. There's also the fact that it's a safety issue; if a child doesn't show up for school, you don't know where they are which is terrifying for both parents and school employees. If a child doesn't come home at the end of the day and the parent believed they were at school, they are going to ask, perfectly reasonably, why the school didn't contact them. In most cases it's either that a parent forgot to make a call or that a kid's skipping, but making sure that the kid is accounted for is not a bad idea.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2009

Memphis, Tennessee Missouri

Damnit. Someone txt my mother that I fail at reading comprehension.
posted by desjardins at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2009

Wait notifications of grades slipping down to a B? Shouldn't most students be getting a C?
B=Above Average
D=Below Average

Or do people still not understand what average means?
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:36 AM on September 18, 2009

And in a few years parents with kids in university will want this sort of service available to them.

Already done.
posted by desjardins at 10:37 AM on September 18, 2009

zarq, I'm sorry but you so went over the 160 character limit there.

Yeah, I know. That's why I said "creative texts or emails". :)
posted by zarq at 10:41 AM on September 18, 2009

Or do people still not understand what average means?
It really depends on the district. My school district sent out progress reports if you were making anything less than a B. Or if you dropped more than ten percentage points, regardless of what your grades were.

Oh yes, the helicopter parents reigned supreme.
posted by honeybee413 at 10:45 AM on September 18, 2009

Wait notifications of grades slipping down to a B? Shouldn't most students be getting a C?
B=Above Average
D=Below Average

Or do people still not understand what average means?

Seriously, when I was a kid, I had serious explaining to do if a C ever turned up on my report card. Even B's generated questions, depending on the subject. Pressure? What pressure?
posted by Karmakaze at 10:55 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is nothing new. When I was growing up here in Madison in the '90s, we got robocalls from our assistant principals. My brother and I can still do it, pitch-perfect, in the voice of one Lee "Fadeaway" Callaway:

"[pause] GOODEVE-ENING. Your [pause] TENTH grade SON or DAUGHTER was reported missing in one or more classes today. [pause] Please make a note of it."

Of course, they did them at the same time every night, so they were super easy to intercept, and as you only got one call per day it was especially easy to skip out on, say, dental appointment days. Plus the calls were so vague that despite our two-year age difference I remember blaming it on him multiple times. I was such a sweet little thing that nobody noticed when I spent 15 straight hours of spring semester Spanish in the library.

So, clearly, it isn't foolproof by a long shot.
posted by Madamina at 11:09 AM on September 18, 2009

I'm not much of a helicopter parent, but I find the progress reports very handy.

See, my son - the smart and funny boy that he is - couldn't tell you at lunchtime what he had for breakfast. He's just that scatterbrained. Now, he deals with it well most of the time with his planner and so on. But sometimes, he just forgets things. So, as a result, he thinks he's doing awesome, but in reality, he's getting a C.

So, you know, I get the progress report and can see what's going on and work with him on it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm absolutely sure some parents are using this to make their kid's lives hell. But, it's a nice tool for those of us trying to raise well adjusted adults.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2009

It sounds like a good idea, but my experience has been otherwise. Working robo dialers from schools hinge on several things, including the child supplying the school with the right phone number and the school being sensible enough to use it intelligently. Case in point 1: I got robo calls from Clifton Park High School (a hellhole) in Baltimore for an entire year for a kid I had never heard of - he pretty much never went to school. Drove me crazy. And case in point 2: the robo dialer at Asheville High School, where my son went, wasn't much better. It called both my cell phone and my work phone and, for kicks, sometimes my elderly mother's phone to report a) absences, both real and unreal; b) bomb scares, even during the memorable spring when they were having like two a day; c) club meetings, even arcane ones like the 11th Grade Girls Choir and Chess Get Together; d) sporting events and e) rumor control over things that got published in the paper: "Despite what you may have read in today's Asheville Citizen-Times, let us reassure you that the science club is not meeting next Tuesday at all!" It was just as annoying as the Baltimore version and I stopped listening to its messages early on.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:20 AM on September 18, 2009

And I thought I had it rough 20 years ago when my stepfather was Vice-Principal of my high school. The teachers didn't even bother handing me the "You're in deep trouble, Mister" sheets. I shudder to think of the texts that would've been sent to him on any given day.

[8:08 am] ur son late 2 1st pd
[9:04 am] yr son in soc. studies just said our st8 motto is more rock less talk
[11:57 am] tell yr son 2 stop organizing doo-wop in the caf
[11:59 am] actlly they're quite good at duke of earl
[12:14 pm] As much as I encourage the younger generation to put classic material in their own perspective to further their own appreciation, I draw the line at your son's claim that Chaucer would have been a "kicka-- rapper". It is not only impudent bu
[1:48 pm] he's been making out in the darkroom. AGAIN.
[2:46 pm] pls have yr son return the thermos of liquid nitrogen. it is not a toy.

posted by Spatch at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2009 [17 favorites]

If this technology has the potential to bring the Won't-Someone-Please-Think-of-the-Children lobby down on the heads of the spammers, then I cannot endorse it strongly enough.

Um, when you click a button the spam goes away.
posted by Zambrano at 11:33 AM on September 18, 2009

Parent engagement, especially in Chicago public schools, is a big problem.
Part of the problem with helicoptering is that a parent thinks they’re actually doing something. When in fact the attention is, mostly, counterproductive. But for most parents the problem is a lack of engagement and/or encouragement. Many kids aren’t told how important school is, or, if they are, they aren’t shown by taking the time to discuss the work beyond “how was school.”
Plenty of reasons why – in some cases economic. Some parents, especially single parents, are busting their asses putting food on the table and they need to be cut some slack so they can spend more time with their kids. That sort of thing aside though – there are cultural factors at play.
Many kids don’t get the guidance as to how important school is – and whether they get told to do well in school or not – such guidance has to be done properly.
Part of this is cultural. Offhand, many Mexicans (and by that I don’t mean Latinos or Hispanics generally, I mean specifically people from Mexico) have a sort of reverence for teachers and education and feel a bit like they’re intruding on the teacher’s work if they do enrichment sort of stuff outside class with their kids.
That’s a cultural thing. Education in Mexico is different than in the U.S. So too with Japanese folks. If it ain’t rote learning, it looks like bullshit.

All that aside though - the first step though is getting asses in seats. In Illinois that’s how the money is allocated – you student census. So the kids being in class – pretty big thing there. And a lot of parents don’t hold up that end.
I’m not laying blame there. Some school districts are pretty poor and have ½ ass bus service (if any). Kids might have to walk through tough neighborhoods and parents don’t want to put their kids through that. Or the kids job (such as it is) is a substantial portion of the family income. Reasons vary.

But as it is, schools, at least in the Chicago area, have not done a very good job of ‘splaining how critical it is to have kids in school as a sort of cost-benefit thing.
So as an opening shot, this isn’t bad. It’s not great. But it does insinuate itself into a large portion of the culture that depends on texting, – and in some areas the plans are such that it’s cheaper to text, etc. than call – and it’s more expedient.

It’s a very realistic response to the current cultural/technological landscape (at least out here), so it’s not just for the helicopter parents to pile on.
Daley’s a prick, but he’s right that it’s another way for parents to take responsibility for and be involved with their child’s education every day of the year.
The more schools can facilitate that, the better off education in general will be, but the better off, specifically, education funding in economically depressed areas will be.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:55 AM on September 18, 2009

Now that I am old, I approve of this use of new technology to keep parents involved in their kids school performance.

And I'm really, really, glad they didn't do this when I was in school. Because I regularly spent my second period study hall playing Galaga at the gas station down the road.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:20 PM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Giving parents access to their child's complete grade records at any time is generally a good idea. Now, the "helicopter parents" will be a pain in the ass regardless of what system is in place. But at least fewer parents can complain at the end of the year "I had no idea Adolf was failing art class!"

So as a teacher, I appreciate it. (It also serves as an incentive to keep on top of grading.) As a parent, I never use it because my child is not the slacker I was in high school and she makes sure she gets straight A's because, with a teacher and a public defender for parents, she knows she will need scholarship money. So "Infinite Campus," as we call the system in Denver, is how she keeps track of her grades.
posted by kozad at 1:32 PM on September 18, 2009

One day in high school, I walked into the school office, and the secretary said, oh, Kate, you're here! Your mother called looking for you, but Mr. Dubas marked you absent from 1st period (I had an excused in-school absence for a school play or something, which he surely forgot about because taking attendance was not his strong suit), so I told her you were absent. That was a fun phone call. Hope all the parents of the kids in Mr. Dubas' class give their kids cell phones for direct check-in, just in case.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:14 PM on September 18, 2009

In Scotland the schools use a service called groupcall to do the same thing - automatic SMS if absent, exam results to pupils and even to request what the pupil has had for lunch!!! A bit OTT.
posted by d4v1dr0b3r7s0n at 2:37 PM on September 18, 2009

I'm a product of the Calloway County School System (partially - they can't take all the credit)! Go Swamprats! Lakers! Their system doesn't sound too intrusive - just making info available electronically, which I generally support.
posted by jeoc at 4:04 PM on September 18, 2009

Letter grades are best interpreted as measures of competence (in a subject or on a test) - not an indicator of performance relative to classmates.
posted by unmake at 4:47 PM on September 18, 2009

Man, and I thought I had it tough because a good half-dozen of my classmates had parents who were my father's coworkers. How do kids get away with anything these days?
posted by rifflesby at 6:46 PM on September 18, 2009

I think your kid just failed remedial civil rights awareness.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:09 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Um, when you click a button the spam goes away.

I believe the poster was suggesting it is inappropriate for small children to recieve spam texts encouraging them to, for example, grow larger penises and was likely to be aware that the child concerned could delete them. That is missing the point somewhat.
posted by biffa at 11:44 PM on September 18, 2009

Many parents are afraid of letting their kids walk to school these days (previously on MeFi...). One reason is fear of the Etan Patz scenario, where a six-year-old kid is sent to walk two blocks to the bus stop alone for the first time, doesn't show up at home after school, and is never seen or heard from again (and, whoops, the trail is already way cold by this point). Taking for granted this particular flavor of weirdo abduction is statistically low on the list of risks, it's a vivid enough story to give any parent pause. It still seems like having the means to know "I'll get a message if my kid doesn't show up at school" might actually make some parents feel bolder about letting their kids walk to school, thus being less of a helicopter.
posted by robla at 12:27 AM on September 19, 2009

Our district sends out notices and automated calls when a kid is not in school, though not til the end of the day. I'm not sure about the grade drop-off, though. I'm willing to let the report card tell me. Plus a lot of teachers are in touch or will chat by e-mail if a problem arises.

Meantime, the parents in our district are about to fight the school board, which, for unstated reasons, wants to lower the grade minimum from 70 to 65 for graduation. We suspect it has to do with the fact that there's a lawyer on the board whose business relies on representing parents of special-ed kids and he's behind the scenes, arguing for lowering the grade.
posted by etaoin at 5:43 AM on September 19, 2009

Our school district has an online gradebook and online lunch program that sends emails when parameter X is met. For example; if a GPA goes below Y, or if lunch funds drop below X. (In the lunch room, the kids key in a 7 digit number to pay for their meals, rather than using cash.) I don't know that they have an online component for emailing about absence, but I do know they take it very seriously, and will call a parent at every listed phone number if a child is out and they haven't gotten a call about it.

By the same token, my friend has a son who is in the autism spectrum, but fairly functional. However, he has missed more days than the allotted 3 per year, and she and her husband were pulled into court to explain why they shouldn't have the child remanded to Child Protection Services...which I think is ridiculous, given that the district couldn't make room for him in the program designed for kids with learning disabilities, but instead, chose to isolate him, put him at a table by himself in a regular 1st grade class, and forbade him from interacting with the other kids in his class because his behavior could turn violent when he wasn't able to make himself understood. It's all kinds of fucked up. After the court incident, the mother quit her job and chose to homeschool, rather than have her kid be isolated and ridiculed, which was making it REALLY hard to get him to go to school. Rather than take the chance that they lose custody because the district won't offer him special ed programs, she had to pull him out of school altogether.

I can tell you, from interacting with a lot of the homeschool parents in our area, that a fair number of them have pulled their kids out of school because of the ridiculous "Go to court for tardy, lose custody for being sick" tracking policies of the district.
posted by dejah420 at 8:53 PM on September 20, 2009

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