I don’t use the “parent portal.”

There, I’ve said it, branding myself a deadbeat who spurns the tool purported to give us parents an illuminating window into our children’s world. That’s how teachers and administrators and parents themselves tout the portals, which first arrived in the Minneapolis Public Schools in 2008.

I remember well the dividing line, because that was the year my daughter went to South High. Before that, no portals, at least not at Barton Open School. After that, portals — first in high school, then middle school, and now, I’m told, all the way down to preschool.

Before, those tardies, missed quizzes, skipped journal entries and other minor infractions were in her world. After, they were in mine, down to the grading rubric for every project and the contact info for every teacher.

What are we parents to do with this access? Well, we dutifully check the portal, and for a time the results are gratifying or at least banal. Straight A’s and an A+ in art, the occasional B in industrial mechanics, but who really needs to use a jigsaw? (I know, everybody who wants a decent job in high-skilled manufacturing, but I’m an English major and didn’t realize.)

Then one day, freshman year, there it is — a D in Language Arts at midterm. I click on the class detail. Six vocab quizzes failed and an incomplete essay — on “The Scarlet Letter”!

“How could she flub an essay on that outdated piece of prudish nonsense?” I think. I mean, “on that classic examination of shaming and double standards in society?”

I spring into action.

I e-mail the teacher, ask for an appointment. I scold my kid, drive her to the meeting. I monitor her follow-through and nag her on the deadlines. And then one day, I check the portal again, and the bright and shaming MISSING symbols are gone.

But what has she learned? That Mom (or Dad) will place the difficult phone call, hound her and otherwise avert the natural outcome of her actions if she is left alone. Which is: She gets her act together and passes the class, or she doesn’t, and then she learns how that feels and decides which path to take next.

After many iterations of this scenario, and many discussions with other parents doing the same, I am convinced: We parents should quit using the parent portal. We should stop e-mailing when the Spanish V test is skipped or the technology policy is unfair.

Dare I say it? We should let our kids send those e-mails, or better yet, talk to their teachers in person. We already passed chemistry or honors English or remedial math, or we didn’t. So now it’s their turn.

I don’t romanticize the older generation’s parenting methods. But I do know this: there were no parent portals, and so the only time you received “guidance” from your parents about school was when you did something horribly wrong. Then you felt it: the wrath of Khan. It was undiluted by constant reminders about the little things, which were unknown to them. And you never did the big thing again.

It takes courage to opt out. I sit in parent-teacher conferences today, for my younger son, and when the teacher asks how often I check the portal, I reply primly: “In our family, we feel it’s best to empower the student to be responsible for his own studies.”

I get the look — slacker parent — but I smile gamely and ask for their view on the Collins writing method.

At least I won’t see any negative comments posted on the portal, because I don’t check it.


Beth Ewen of Minneapolis is a business journalist.