Running Schools in the Modern World

PictureOur first day school paper work haul.

It was the first day of school today in East Penn, and with it came all the hope and excitement that comes with every new school year.  I’m glad some things never change.  But some other things?  Well, let’s just say we are loooong overdue for some changes.  I was reminded of this when my newly-minted 3rd grader came home with his bulging stack of notices, forms, and paperwork for my wife and I to fill out.

Here’s the thing– this pile of paper looks exactly the same as the pile I used to bring home when I was in the public schools well over twenty years ago.  I counted no fewer than 7 different forms that require my signature, and 4 different forms that ask for my phone number.  There is even one that asks me for my phone number in two different places! Not only do all these forms ask for the same information, it is all the same information I provided multiple times last year.  And the year before.  And the year before that.

What gets me is that computers make all of this work outdated and unnecessary.  The schools could easily collect all the information they need on a single form, one time.   Once in the computer, this information could be shared quickly and effortlessly with the different teachers and programs that require it.   Why is a large part of student record-keeping in our schools still handled as if computers had never been invented?  The issue at stake here is more than just the hassle of filling out forms.  Computerizing these records would save hundreds if not thousands of hours of teacher and staff time sending out, receiving, sorting, filing, and retrieving all these sheets of paper.  This translates into more instruction time and less personnel costs.  Not to mention a reduction in the printing budget.

For new students, collect the information on one form.  For returning students, print out last year’s information for parents to review and update.  Better yet, send the information by email (like the district already does with report cards) and ask for a simple email confirmation that the data is correct.  Then print a single paper form for only those families who don’t respond via email.  These are not cutting-edge ideas that require the latest technology. They are commonsense suggestions to bring our schools more fully into the modern world.

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