Infinite Campus ... No Place to Hide

November 16, 2012

Children's activities and their performance are surveilled while in school as never in the past. The campus is everywhere and even follows them home.

An aggressive and successful software company is selling database systems—euphemistically called Student Information Systems (SIS)—to schools that provide daily updates to a child's parents via the Internet of what happened at school that day. Here's how the Infinite Campus company describes its contribution to American education:

Infinite Campus is focused on the future. We have provided a continuously evolving student information system (SIS) since our first customer implemented in 1996 – at no additional cost to customers. We are now the largest American-owned SIS managing more than 5 million students in 43 states. Our suite of products is designed for efficient use of student data allowing educators to focus on what really matters: improving education for students.

Is it really all this rosy for students and their families? No, not quite. Among other charming features of the Infinite Campus is the fact that a late assignment—late by a day or even hours—is usually coded as an "F" for the course. Once the assignment is turned in, the "F" may be changed, or it may not, at the discretion of the teacher. And in the meantime, the parent checks Infinite Campus on the web, and all hell breaks loose at home. Children might be punished by their parents for their "failure"; in No-Pass—No-Play schools, students may be excluded from extra-curricular activities (some of which are the only reason students are tolerating the incessant punishment of modern schooling).

Homework has become, at the least, an irritant in millions of homes in America, and, at worse, the cause of family strife and even abuse. The call to common sense sounds like this:

A child who has been boxed up six hours in school might spend the next four hours in study, but it is impossible to develop the child's intellect in this way. The laws of nature are inexorable. By dint of great and painful labor, the child may succeed in repeating a lot of words, like a parrot, but, with the power of its brain all exhausted, it is out of the question for it to really master and comprehend its lessons. The effect of the system is to enfeeble the intellect even more than the body. We never see a little girl staggering home under a load of books, or knitting her brow over them at eight o'clock in the evening, without wondering that our citizens do not arm themselves at once with carving knives, pokers, clubs, paving stones or any weapons at hand, and chase out the managers of our common schools, as they would wild beasts that were devouring their children.

Think that the disruptions of homework are a modern problem? The above quotation is from the article "Against Homework" that was published in Scientific American in 1860.

In the early part of the previous century, a writer in the Ladies’ Home Journal called homework "barbarous." One hundred years ago, Los Angeles joined other school districts in abolishing homework for Kindergarten through grade 8. Today, the situation is worse, and hardly anyone opposes more and heavier homework—hardly anyone in the U.S., that is. In October 2012, President Hollande of France called for the abolition of homework in the schools of his nation. But the U.S. appears to be doubling down on homework in the hope that PISA scores will rise and ipso facto the balance of trade will shift and the nation's economy will surge forward leaving China and India (this century's economic threat) in the dust.

In this hysterical atmosphere, people—including educators—are acting like fools. I rarely get personal in this blog, but forgive me if this time I get something off my chest.

I have two grandchildren in the public school systems of Colorado: one in grade 6, the other in grade 10. Both are frequent victims of the Infinite Campus and the campaign to defeat the world's other economies. Last night my daughter received an email from her daughter's (my granddaughter's) grade 6 teacher; Rosie was failing Language Arts. The accused was called before the court and confronted with the accusation. Rosie protested, claimed she most definitely was not failing, and pulled up her record on Infinite Campus. The Language Arts grade was a C+. My daughter immediately emailed the teacher asking "What's up?" This morning's mail brought the response.

Dear [Rosie's Mother]
I have sent emails to all parents whose children are currently earning a C, D or F in Language Arts indicating that they are failing the class. This is my way of motivating the students who still have a chance to earn an A or B in the class.

As is often said, you can't make this stuff up.

It would be easy to attack the actors involved here: a teacher with a bizarre sense of how to motivate children; a principal, perhaps, pushing the staff toward higher and higher test scores to avoid public humiliation; a company peddling software that they think focuses educators on "what really matters."

But the larger point is this: Educators, parents, and even young children are caught up in the madness of the age of accountability. Childhood is dead. Everyone is constantly surveilled. There is punishment enough for all.

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Education in Two Worlds

The views expressed by the blogger are not necessarily those of NEPC.

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Gene V Glass

Gene V Glass is currently a Senior Researcher at the National Education Policy Center and a Regents' Professor Emeritus from Arizona State University. Trained originally in statistics, his interests broadened to include psychotherapy research, evaluation methodology, and policy analysis. He was...