For two years, during test runs and slow roll-outs to a fraction of its campuses, the Dallas Independent School District promised that its much-ballyhooed Parent Portal would be The Future of Education. This was how parents were going to get deeply, profoundly involved in their kids' school lives, by using the Internet to keep tabs on their attendance, homework assignments, grades, you name it. The district has long been quite proud of the portal: When DISD Chief of Staff Arnold Viramontes left in February, then-superintendent Michael Hinojosa said it would be part of his legacy. And when Hinojosa followed him out the door a few months later, it was mentioned in the district's farewell press release that "grants from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ... established a Parent Portal for parents to monitor the progress of their students."
This was supposed to be the school year during which the Parent Portal finally expanded to all campuses -- which I completely forgot till a few days ago, when a friend and fellow DISD parent asked me, "Is your Parent Portal working?" (Which, in retrospect, sounds like something you really shouldn't ask people.) As a matter of fact, no. None of them are. So sayeth the DISD's website:
Dallas ISD's successful Parent Portal is temporarily inactive until a more cost effective solution can be developed.
The Parent Portal has proven to be an effective way to involve parents in their child's education. The district remains committed to the concept because of its impact on parent involvement and student achievement and is working diligently toward re-implementation. The goal continues to be to implement the Parent Portal to all schools during the 2011-2012 school year, more than likely later this fall.
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DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander says the district hopes to get it back up in coming months: "We hope it'll be back up in November, at the latest December." I asked what happened. He said it became "cost prohibitive for us to roll it out under the previous platform, so we're looking at alternatives."
Which sounds so like the DISD: The future is now ... no, wait, it's tomorrow. But truth is, launching the Parent Portal is the least of the district's issues with the digital endeavor. Because those parents to whom I've spoken who used it last school year complained that it's not terribly effective even when operational. The reason: Its success is dependent in large part upon teachers who actually plug in the data. And many of them don't.
I asked Dahlander if that problem will be rectified when the Parent Portal ever gets plugged back in.
"That'll be something we need to work through as we bring more schools online," he says. "And you're adding on an additional responsibility. It'll take time, so even when we get it up and going, there's no guarantee they'll post this. We'll have to say: 'This is a responsibility, and it's important to parents. They need it, and it'll help the parents of your children in your class. And most important, it'll help your students.' And that's something every teacher should desire."