Bureaucracy in Motion

06/16/2015 06:27 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

NYC's Department of Education (DOE) has been working hard under this new administration to encourage family engagement and to help build stronger bonds between families and schools. At least that's what they say they're doing. A new (basically impossible) plan was rolled out last week, with less than ten days remaining in this school year, which can (more likely will) inconvenience hundreds of thousands of families and the staffs at the schools their kids attend.

NYC families are just finding out that in order to access their kids' test scores and grades going forward, they need to:

1. contact their schools
2. come in person to present identification, their child's student ID number and a valid email address in order to get
3. a temporary password to NYC Schools Accounts, the DOE's new system meant to share student grades, test scores and attendance with families.

NYC Schools Accounts is replacing Aris Parent Link, a web-based system that the DOE abandoned last December. When it was disabled no information whatsoever was provided to families about what would be taking its place. For parents who didn't think to copy information from Aris, nothing has been available for over 5 months.

The DOE's launch press release sent out June 3 noted that while Aris cost the DOE $95 million dollars over seven years and was vastly underused, NYC Schools Accounts was designed in house and will be far less expensive to maintain. That's great. But while saving money is a boon, it's hard to comprehend who possibly green lighted this project.

There are over 1.1 million children in the NYC public school system. While many families have more than one child, that's still thousands upon thousands of families who will now need to visit schools to gain access to their children's official records. For many, arranging time to show up at schools before the end of next week will be challenge, if not an impossibility. Many parents work full time during school hours. For others whose children live far from school (especially in high school, where kids can apply to schools in any borough) parents are now expected to travel from, for example, Staten Island to the Bronx to sign up for an account. There could be childcare, or health concerns as well.

How about parents who don't have acceptable forms of ID? To sign up for the last system, letters with temporary passwords were sent home with each child. No identification was necessary. Not all parents have passports or driver's licenses - things necessary with this new system to gain access.

What about email addresses? As one of the PTA presidents at Brooklyn Technical High School, I know firsthand that a significant number of Tech families don't use email. The NYC Schools Accounts webpage suggests where to sign up for email accounts, but what about the families without computer access? Which leads me to wonder both how are families being notified about this new system in the first place and what will parents do for information if they're not online?

What about families for whom English isn't a first language? Who's translating, both to get them into schools and then to facilitate the process once they're there?

For many families, especially those in 4th and 7th grade, access to state ELA and Math test scores is of utmost importance. Those, which are generally released in August, factor greatly in the middle school and high school processes--they are often a barometer for which schools students will be applying to. As the middle/high school searches start early in the fall of 5th and 8th grade, families need as much information as possible to make informed decisions. And, while many schools have their own online systems tracking test scores, attendance and transcripts, parents should always make sure the information matches that on the DOE site.

While this is an imposition on families, what about for schools? With mere days left in this school year, schools have to notify families, deal with emails and phone calls requesting appointments, the visits themselves, not to mention systems that will need to be set up to implement all of the above. Whether a school has less than 400 students or well over 5000, is there staff available to pull this off? What an extraordinary burden at the very end of the school year.

Lastly, who's to say the system is up and running smoothly. Aris was problematic at first and had kinks that needed to be worked out. NYC families and schools have less than 10 days to make this all happen.

One can only think the logistics of this weren't thought through. Or, this is a misguided, poorly timed attempt to get parents and staff working together. Regardless, building a partnership between families and schools is a great idea. But this isn't how to do it.