After several years of my children attending government schooling I have experienced many types of communication, most of which are very ineffective. The school, it seems, receives feedback from parents requesting the school to communicate more so parents stay well informed. The school then proceeds to communicate ad abundantiam as if the school were participating in a court case where it was attempting to drown the opposing side with huge piles of documentation.
Each week I typically receive a newsletter for each of my children in school. This newsletter summarizes what was taught in the classroom that week. It is usually 2-3 pages long. It says things like “we worked on multiplying two digit numbers this week”, “we worked on identifying the noun and verb in a sentence..” and so on. Also sent home are monthly newsletters, of similar length, for art and music. In addition to these newsletters is a quarterly newsletter from the principal describing other activities occurring in school.
So much communicating? How could I not be happy?
My main concern, which I believe is the main concern of most parents, is simple: how is my child doing? Is my child struggling in comparison to the rest of the class? Is there an area my child is excelling? Does my child show interests in certain areas over other areas? None of these questions are answered in the multiple newsletters.
Imagine, if instead of all the useless newsletters the teacher simply sent home a weekly note with one or two sentences that read something like: “Ed is struggling with identifying nouns. He seemed to really enjoy the astronomy lesson.” This is effective communication. I can take action with this information. Knowing my child has an interest in astronomy would allow me to work some noun identification exercises into discussions with him about astronomy.
Two sentences per child. That's all I want. In a classroom of 20 students the teacher would have to write 40 sentences a week. This is still less than the weekly newsletters.
What troubles me even more is the newsletter format being used in report cards. This greatly reduces the amount of work the teacher has to do when filling out report cards. The section of my daughter’s report card where the teacher was to comment on my daughter’s performance had something like: “Erin did well this year in school. In math we covered addition and subtraction of large numbers. Sentence structure was covered in English where the students learned to put together complete sentences during writing. In science….” The first sentence was the only sentence that pertained to my daughter and even then it was not very informative. The one time I am actually supposed to receive feedback on my child’s performance and the teacher uses what amounts to a form letter (a.k.a. a newsletter) to minimize her effort.
My wife and I tired of government schooling so our children are attending private school for the first time this year. It only took four days before the first newsletter landed on the kitchen table. Sigh. I naively thought things would be different with a private school. So far, not good.