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Originally published August 14, 2009 at 3:07 PM | Page modified August 15, 2009 at 4:16 PM

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The Source: improving online communication in Seattle schools

The Source is a critical online link between the Seattle School District's teachers and families. The challenge is to get most, if not all, teachers online.

SEATTLE's school district is in negotiations with its teachers union; one of the key things that ought to result is a commitment to dramatically improve online communications with parents.

The key way to do this would be to require all teachers to contribute to The Source, the district's Web site used by teachers to post grades, test scores, class assignments, attendance and a host of other information that keeps parents clued in.

At the elementary level, the best thing about The Source is that it has practically eliminated the proverbial "I don't remember my homework assignment," excuse so often used the night before said assignment is due.

The business of learning goes beyond the classroom. A parent informed that their child will be studying the solar system can supplement lessons with a trip to the planetarium or to the backyard for stargazing.

Middle- and high-school students can check their grades, ensure credit for homework turned in and be reminded of missing assignments. The Web site is view only; students cannot change or alter its contents.

Posting student information on The Source is far easier and takes less time than answering individual queries from parents and students.

Problems lie in consistency. Out of six classes, feedback via The Source might be given on three or four. Teachers only have to use The Source twice a quarter.

That is not enough. Missed assignments, poor attendance and other problems need to be addressed immediately, not a month or two later.

Well-informed parents and students can take ownership of their part of education. Parent and community outreach efforts already invoke this principle. Employing technology offers another smart approach.

The Source ought to be accompanied by strict expectations about what parents and students can expect to find there. Part of the bargain ought to be teachers can expect prepared students and informed parents. No excuses; accountability must go both ways.

The Source is one avenue to better communications and academic performance. It doesn't completely resolve the challenge of parent involvement; some families do not have computer access at home or read English well. But enough families are calling for greater consistency and usage of The Source to make improving the Web site a priority.

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