Stop sending home paper notices!

Stop wasting my money and use the channels that most parents access every day. Welcome to 2011, when paper should be an anachronism.

I have 5 kids (yes, 5), four of whom are in various levels of school, all the way from third grade through their first year in college. No matter where they go to school or what grade they're in, they all have one thing in common: they bring home notices about anything and everything on paper.

Obviously, the college student isn't bringing home notices about bake sales, but he's a commuter student, so I still see the piles of paper schedules, handouts, and bulletins for classes and activities sitting on his desk. At least his university communicates with him primarily via email, but the Blackboard system for which both my tax dollars (it's a state university) and my tuition checks pay is woefully underutilized.

I'll focus more on the younger kids, though, since the volume of what gets sent home suggests a much larger systemic problem. Every sheet of paper that comes home represents dead trees, energy usage, toner costs, and human time. These add up to remarkable amounts of money and waste every year. After all, what do you do with all the notes that come home from school? Take a quick look and mark anything important on your calendar? Maybe hang something on the refrigerator? Do you even recycle the notes when you've read them? It's OK, you can be honest. The majority of you don't.

This says nothing of the notes that never even make it home. How often have you found a ream or so of paper at the bottom of your kid's bag when you happen to clean it out after a vacation? How many bake sales or picture retakes did you miss because the note never made it to your fridge?

Schools, say it with me: "In 3 weeks, it will be 2011. My resolution for this coming year will be to utilize ubiquitous technologies to more effectively communicate with parents instead of relying on wasteful, ineffective technologies from 1911."

Come on, if there's a dance and you need donations for the food table, send me a text. Or an email. Or a calendar invite. Post details on the school website and tweet a link. I promise that I'll follow you on Twitter and even add an alert that comes to my phone every time you tweet. If I'm willing to do it for my favorite musical, I'm certainly going to do it for my kid's school.

There's this great thing called Facebook, too. Well, OK, it's not actually all that great, so let me rephrase. There's this thing that hundreds of millions of people use to stay in contact now called Facebook. It's littered with stupid games and the UI stinks, but until people jump on the Diaspora bandwagon, it's a pretty good place to reach out to us.

How many schools have an SIS that allows parent access to teacher gradebooks? Student information systems with this capability are spreading rapidly and I'd much rather just see parent announcements when I check in on how that last biology test went for my kid.

Some parents don't have access to computers or cell phones. Some aren't savvy enough to access the technology. However, 85% of adults in the US have mobile phones, 96% of all adults between 18 and 29 have mobiles, and over 50% of adults are accessing the Internet wirelessly. While there will be some parents who opt out of electronic communications, the vast majority will prefer them. The environment and school's bottom lines will also prefer them.

For the parents who opt out, schools will need to provide paper alternatives (preferably recycled) or will need to ensure that their 1:1 implementations, as they come online, have provisions for including PDFs of notices on student computers in case parents lack Internet connections at home.

These will be the increasingly rare exceptions, though, as even the most remote and/or economically disadvantaged parents come online, whether through inexpensive cell phones emerging rural broadband efforts. The time is now for schools to become leaders in technology utilization to reach out to parents and become models for communication, openness, and transparency. Stop wasting my money and use the channels that most parents access every day.