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Oddchester: A lesson in trust? School software lets parents snoop

The rise of online grade tracking systems, like Skyward, means that today's kids will never feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from getting away with changing a report card grade from a B- to a B+ using only a black pen and a small ruler.

Also, they will never experience the personal satisfaction derived from effectively forging your mom's signature on a progress report.

Skyward, for those of you who don't spy on your kids, is the Rochester Public School District's software package that allows students (and parents) to see every test score, homework grade, and required parental paperwork, and then empowers me to constantly question my kids about whether they've turned in their South America Mapping Project.

It's an app that lets you badger your kids about homework in real time!

I have never been a big spy-er.


Sure, I will tell you it's because I implicitly trust that my precious children have, through our guidance, been equipped with the life tools necessary to make mature and thoughtful decisions.

Really, it's because there are plenty of things about my kids I just don't want to know.

The whole "no secrets in our house" philosophy is a terrible and misguided idea propagated by parents who have idealized their childhood selves.

I, fortunately, recall a number of questionable things I did as a kid and, believe me, my parents had no desire to know. Like all good families with kids who grew up in the 1970s, even when my parents did discover something weird going on, we all simply pretended it never happened.

When I was 12, I came home from school to find that my stepmother had cleaned out my closet, and had clearly discovered my hidden stash of notebooks. I can only imagine how mortified she was when she opened the dozens of three-ring binders.

And then realized that her 12-year-old boy had apparently spent hundreds of hours, by himself, playing a dice baseball game of his own invention, all while keeping meticulous statistics of the hundreds of imaginary "players" through thousands of imaginary "games."

Neither of us have ever mentioned it.

Recently, when Lindy and I were getting rid of our 14-year-old son's bunk beds, Lindy found something disturbing hidden under Henry's mattress. "Good Lord!" she said, leafing through the pages. "Henry's going to be embarrassed his mom found this."


Lindy had discovered Henry's notebook full of copious, hand-written notes on his Rubik's Cube solves.

So, yeah, there is plenty of stuff we don't want to know about our kids.

And, please, don't "come clean" with your now-elderly parents by confessing your weird childhood incidents. They don't want to know what you did in your room as a 13-year-old.

Last year, at Christmas, I told the story how, as a teen, I went "bumper skiing," in which you hold onto the back bumper of a car and slide along a snowy road. My brother and sisters were laughing, but my dad looked very much like he was about to spank me.

Previous to discovering online snooping, I was relegated to — sucker alert! — looking at report cards made of paper that only gave us results after the kids' classes were over.

Skyward has turned spying into more like watching one of your items selling on eBay. Henry's math grade is up to 89.7! Come on, people, bid it up!

Skyward, at least, has made me more involved in my kids' school activities.

A few months ago, when I went to pick up daughter Emma early from her third-grade class, I had to sign her out through the office. In order to sign out your child, Washington Elementary requires that, among other things, you write down the name of your child's teacher.


When I chose not to fill in that blank, one of the office workers asked me the name of Emma's teacher — a woman my daughter adores, the very person to whom we entrust our daughter's education and safety for seven hours a day.

I drew a blank. Finally, I said, "Oh! Miss Nelson."

There is, it turns out, no teacher by that name at the school.

Sorry, Miss Miller.

Later that day, when I mortified my wife with that story, she informed me that Miss Nelson is the name of the teacher in a book Emma was reading, called "Miss Nelson Is Missing."

Which makes me think, hey, I knew what book my daughter was reading! Maybe I do know a lot of stuff about my kids!

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