The Case Against the Zero

Most of us assume that getting a zero for failing to do work is fair. But here’s an article that shows why the zero is unfair and should be abolished. It’s a must read.

I know of a teacher who slipped the article in her colleagues’ mailboxes as an “FYI.” You might consider doing the same.

64 Comments on “The Case Against the Zero”

  1. PeggyFinMA says:

    Why is this not discussed more widely? What does it do to an 11-year when they hear their average is in the 40s because of a few missing homework assignments, when their test scores are in the 80s? Please note NYT article http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/01/education/01boys.html?_r=1&oref=slogin on teaching organizational skills to boys. How much of this is test-prep and homework driven?

    January 7th, 2008 at 2:29 pm
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  2. JP says:

    This is so true.

    But even worse is when teacher’s refuse to give any credit to an assignment that is one day late.

    Teacher’s think they are teaching responsibility, but they just undermine it because kids find every way they can around homework.

    January 7th, 2008 at 8:46 pm
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  3. jpclancy says:

    I agree with some of the premise here, but it seems like taking the position that zero should be abolished totally presents problems too. Say you have two students doing a written assignment. Student A does the assignment poorly–say they misunderstand the basic premise, but their writing is fairly good and they present you with a number of drafts as evidence of their hard work. Student B doesn’t hand in anything, not even late, and weeks later when they do hand it in it is too short and shows a complete lack of effort. Should these two efforts really be separated by 9 or 10 points? What about a student who plagiarizes? What sort of grade should he or she receive?

    January 15th, 2008 at 8:03 am
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  4. Sylvie says:

    There are problems on both ends however the solution is right in the article as it states that going back to the 4 point scale would solve many of these issues. What needs to happen is that teachers need to have discussion and calibrate their expectations for the 4 point scale. What we are ultimately measuring is mastery of the standards. Some students will master standards with much less effort than others and that is ok.

    January 24th, 2008 at 12:35 pm
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  5. Anonymous says:

    I was given this article in a graduate class. It has gotten much mileage. I have given it not only to the teachers in my school, but also to my own child’s teacher. I have seen first-hand the effects of zeros on a grade. He can have five 100’s in a row then two zeros. His grade drops immediately from an A to a D. This creates a hole that is difficult to scale. It is not fair to the child. I have found that even when presented with the facts, teachers are still not willing to give up the zero. It’s a shame.

    January 26th, 2008 at 4:35 am
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  6. Kurt Olson says:

    May I suggest we all stop trying to make every excuse we can for students that choose not to work. The 0% for zero work is fair. If a student turns in 30% of the homework, a 30% is earned. If 50% is turned in, 50% is earned. Hence, the 0% theory is flawed. Many students hand in some, most or all of their homework. If 50% is given to homework that isn’t done, then a student that turns two out of five homework assignments in receives a 70% / C- . Hmmm…I’m not the best at math, but I can add, and that doesn’t add up…. In fact, it sends a message that our requirements, as teachers, mean very little.

    February 14th, 2008 at 7:16 pm
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  7. Vincent Montoya says:

    Separate the Zero!

    Why don’t we separate academic assessment from responsibility assessment?

    Academic Assessment

    On a 4 point scale a student who has scored and A (4) on three out of five assignments and a 0 on the other 2, does have an average of 2.5 (C+/B-). Given that the student performed flawlessly on the work that was turned in, this is likely a more fair representation of their comprehension than the 100 point scale average of 60% (D-).

    Responsibility Assessment

    How then do we properly assess the student who turns in their work late, or not at all. There needs to be efforts made to require work to be turned. I will not go into fair grading of late work, but what I will say is that responsibility needs to be a separate grade. This change would take system wide reform and would include items such as classroom behavior, tardiness and attendance. The school system could then use this “side grade” to help in making non-academic decisions, like sports and activity participation.

    A zero needs to have consequences. Academic consequences are natural; the student missed out on the practice. The social consequence of irresponsibility is not so natural and needs to be made apparent to the student and be measured separately from academic achievement.

    Montoya V. MA Ed

    May 27th, 2008 at 11:47 pm
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  8. Cindy says:

    If the student is merely given a 50% F for not doing the work, they feel entitlement. Then the real world comes up and they don’t go to work. Don’t they question why they aren’t getting a paycheck? When afterall they went to work a few times!
    A rubric scale is usually graded much harsher than a percentage scale. In fact, it takes a lot of work to get 4/4 on most assignments. If you look at a breakdown, it is quite easily assessed much lovver than a C or D would be on a regular grading method.
    Hence, these are two seperate issues. The fifty percent F is rewarding laziness.
    I would really like to see some research which leads us to a conclusion as to whether or not this new grading idea has any merit.

    August 5th, 2008 at 3:33 pm
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  9. Tawnia says:

    I feel that it is wrong to give a student 50% for work that is not turned in. It’s not fair to the students who do the work and work hard. That being said, I also feel that not giving a student opportunities to do the late assignment is hurting that student more than helping them. We as teachers should assign homework for a reason. It is to aid in understanding. If the student does not do the work, he/she does not get the extra help. Therefore, I believe that these students should still be allowed to turn in the work – even if it is for less credit. If a student does not turn in the work, then something needs to be taken away until he/she does turn in the missing assignment. This could be lunch with friends or a club period.

    August 7th, 2008 at 6:34 pm
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  10. Teacher says:

    Does that mean I don’t have to go to work and they will still pay me. Or does that mean that I don’t have to pay a ticket and not be arrested!! We are sending the wrong message. Okay well if the scale starts at 100, then why don’t we move the scale down to 60? That way it will fit the stupid ratio. Then students who do the work get full credit without feeling as if they are being gipped. Then the students who don’t do the work will get what they deserve a ZERO.

    December 10th, 2008 at 9:43 pm
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  11. Guy says:

    Let me make sure that I understand fully what we are saying. If you do the assignment as required and get all the questions right then you recieve a 100%; If you do none of the questions or don’t even bother turning in the paper you recieve a 50%. As a teacher I see parents that constantly want their child to get free grades. I tell them if this is the way that their life is I would love to be apart of it. People you are not rewarded for doing things below the norm. I am tired of parents blaming the school for their children not getting their work done. They want us to take care of the problem, which we will gladly do. Then they tell us it is hurting them socially when we don’t let them go out on recess or lunch with friends. I do not accept late work. It does teach resposibility. When you don’t turn in work it should be a zero. When our society starts paying us to set at home and do nothing then we have more problems than a 10-point grading scale or 4-point grading scale. We should require alot out of our kids. We want them to be better than us.

    December 18th, 2008 at 11:04 am
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  12. HomeworkBlues says:

    I would have listened more carefully to your message, Guy, and even responded to your points, but you have so many mechanical errors and typos in your post, you’ve weakened your argument considerably.

    If anyone needs homework here, it is you! My daughter was reading Wuthering Heights in 5th grade and writing a novel, so I’m not too worried about how she would have spent her afternoons, in the absence of any homework.

    You on the other hand? What can I say? You give dedicated teachers a bad name.

    December 18th, 2008 at 11:26 am
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  13. HomeworkBlues says:

    Oh, to add, Guy. The word A LOT is two words, not one word. Admittedly that’s a tricky one but my daughter got it in second grade. You know why she turned out to be such an ace writer and speller? Not from the rote dull endless vocabulary assignments she brought home from school but all the reading and writing she did, when she was supposed to be doing those pointless worksheets.

    My child got into trouble plenty for reading at home. Go figure. Our country is going crazy trying to raise reading test scores but here was a child who would read till the cows came home and would miss recess for doing just that, in her free time, at home.

    Oh, that’s right. Teachers like you don’t believe in free time at home. Because if you did, the onus would be on you to actually get something done in the six and a half hours my daughter was in your care.

    Guy, I’m sorry. You walked in innocently, made your point and are wondering why I am ganging up on you. You see, I never felt heard by the fifth grade public school teacher so I get to make my points on you instead!

    Again, my apologies. Despite what it looks like here, I am not a teacher basher. I know some awesome teachers out there, several, in fact, are friends of mine. You just don’t impress me much. I could never say that to the fifth grade teacher back then. So I’ll say it to you instead. Cheaper than therapy!

    December 18th, 2008 at 11:35 am
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  14. Guy says:

    I apologize.
    I was venting and not thinking. I believe, though, that I have just made my point. Look at how ignorant my last post looks. I am not going to lie and say that I did it on purpose. But, look at how I was bashed for incorrect grammar. One person dedicated my colleague’s a bad name. We, as a society, do not accept poor effort. So why should we accept it from our children?
    As a teachers, we are held to standards. These standards dictate what we can teach and how much. I am not an advocate of giving a lot of homework. To me, that should be their time with family. On the same note, they must have some. My students usually take home papers twice a week. That is only if they did not finish it in the time given, in class. I allow corrections, for those who do the work. I just do not see how giving a student a grade for work they did not attempt is helping anyone.
    “Our country is going crazy trying to raise reading test scores”, I know that I just used part of your comment, but I need it. Teachers are getting told in administration meetings that if they do not start teaching to the test they will be let go. Because of, you guessed it “TESTING SCORES”. We are so caught up in what other countries are doing on tests, that it is making our decision makers nuts. When I have to teach to a test, I will quit. Luckily something I do has allowed my students, for the last 5 years, to average 88% pass rate. Three of the five years was 100%. This way works, for me. Some may need to teach differently.
    The “Grading Scale” that everyone is upset about is the same way these tests are scaled. If you are below a certain percent, then you don’t get to graduate or move on to the next grade.
    I apologize, for the teacher who couldn’t figure that your child could read. I am also proud of the kid that was writing a novel in the 5th grade. You are not the parents I was referring to previously. The parents who do not hold the children accountable, those are the ones I am talking about. I understand as a parent, at times, your kid is loaded. When parents start bashing the teacher that feeds the student to rebel. We have to give homework. We are not able to give them enough time to do all the work in class and cover the material. I know some teachers go overboard. I get it, seriously I do.
    Back to the topic, do the work = get the grade, half the work = half the grade, no work = no grade.

    December 18th, 2008 at 1:24 pm
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  15. HomeworkBlues says:

    Guy, I am glad you wrote back and that we are having this discussion. I almost suspect that if we had coffee together, I might see that you are an earnest teacher caught in the madness of No Child Left Untested, that when you began teaching, you seriously may have loved children but the system is chewing you up. I will say that you would have scored more brownied points with me if you showed understanding and empathy towards the parents on this blog (here you are preaching to the choir, we aren’t the educational slackers) and just admitted your hands are tied.

    In our imaginary coffee at Starbucks, I wish you would get to see what terrific parents we are. It’s taken me a long time to feel that good about ourselves because the two years my daughter spent in a public elementary school, two teachers in particular were derisive, unresponsive and rigid.

    I’m glad you can see that we aren’t the parents you are frustrated with. Yet we never got any respect from those public school elementary teachers. My daughter began school in private and as parents, for the most part, I felt valued and respected. I was stunned at the difference when we enrolled our child in public school. Recently a PTA mother wrote a piece in the Washington Post how public school office personnel treat parents as if they were felons. She suggested school reform begin with, “Good morning, how may I help you?,” when a parent approaches the counter.

    My husband and I finally had a meeting with the assistant principal when our child was a rising 6th grader. We were very unsure whether to bring her back to this school and were contemplating Montessori. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have waited yet another two years before pulling her out to homeschool.

    Guy, you could argue that you must assign homework because not every father is going to read Winston Churchill to a ten year old, not every mother will dash into town to catch the last hour and a half of the space museum, that not every parent will take her child to a nature center to study birds and write poety on a rare balmy day in December.

    But this was a Gifted Talented Center! The fifth grade teacher was rigid, mean, and obsessed with following directions. If my daughter produced a masterpiece on one project because the subject captivated her attention, she was derided for spending too much time on that one and not leaving herself enough time for boring worksheets.

    What are we doing here? I lived in constant fear this teacher would kill off my daughter’s creativity. I spent the afternoons doing damage control. This is a very serious issue. Not only did my daughter lose her childhood, she lost critical social skills gains because she had so little time to play with other kids, we were sending the message that it’s not okay to read and write unless someone is cracking the whip, and she lived in constant fear and anxiety of this teacher.

    The assistant principal said to me, well, not every parent will do all those things with their children, read, write and go on field trips. And that is why we must send home hours and hours of homework.

    I am reminded of a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof.” The beggar goes panhandling and runs into a frequent giver on his rounds. The man says, I have nothing to give you, I’ve had a bad week. To which the beggar replies, so if you had a bad week, why should I suffer?

    Just because some other parent doesn’t blanket the house with books or have spirited current events discussions at the dinner table, why should I suffer? Give it to them, not to us!

    In conclusion, Guy, you assume homework gets done in an hour and a half. Try six hours in sixth grade. I kid you not. And while I’m starting to like you a little more than I did a few posts ago, don’t trot out the usual suspects, poor time management, too much tv, too many video games. For the record, we had a no tv on weeknights rule, we don’t buy video games and we check on our daughter all the time.

    Did she get off task? Oh, yea, you bet. She has ADD. What distracted her? Books books and books. And newspapers. She reads everthing, whatever she can get her hands on. So yes, we were always on top of it.

    You know what smart ADD kids have the most trouble with? Boring rote review and repetition. She’s visual spatial, they tend to learn concepts permanently. Think it’s just a matter of self discipline? Not exactly. It is really really hard for these kids to slog through material that is too easy, too boring and in effect, completely pointless. They are smart enough to know that they are wasting hours on material that has no benefit. Oh, yes, we can medicate them and we eventually did. But you don’t think the whole concept of medicating children into compliance, stealing their spirit, so that some teacher doesn’t get bent out of shape, doesn’t stick in my craw?

    Did she had accommodations? Nope. You know why? Because she’s gifted and academically several grades above grade level. Did she get punished for turning assignments in late? Oh, yea. Was she penalized for her disability instead of helped? Right again..

    After 7th grade my daughter summed up her three years in the GT Center this way: I never worked so hard, to produce so much, to learn so little.

    Guy, I hope you’ve come away learning something from our experience, particularly about the plight of children who are what we call ‘twice exceptional.” The colloquial vernacular is 2e. Not sure what that is? Look it up. You’ll be amazed. Hope I’ve opened your eyes. No charge this time.

    December 18th, 2008 at 2:35 pm
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  16. Guy says:

    Your daughter and I would get along GREAT! I do feel sorry for the teachers that limit themselves to the book. I use the book for 5-8 questions a day. The rest of the time I discuss matters that involve them and use my own personal experiences. I teach science by the way, Jr. High and H.S. There are some things in Earth Science that are boring, but we do projects and their only limit is to cover my requirements. Where they go from there is up to them. On all of my projects and papers there is a “Creativity grade”, because I too feel that they are getting molded into replicas of all the other people before them. That is why my 8th graders are going to Florida for 5 days to do marine biology. This has never been done here, but look at the amount of knowledge they are going to get out it. Hands on, snorkeling with fish in your face, alligator swamps, dolphin swims, turtle hospitals, you name it. This is where the real learning will take place. A book will tell you what the person that wrote it wants you to know, personal experience will open YOUR eyes to YOUR world.
    When I talked earlier about having to play by the rules, that is where I slip and take some heat for it. Like I said earlier, as long as my students are blowing away these tests, I don’t think that I have too much to worry about. I am sure the time is coming though when I will be told to teach to a test.

    December 18th, 2008 at 4:18 pm
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  17. Guy says:

    Notice I didn’t touch the medications topic. I hate meds!

    December 18th, 2008 at 4:25 pm
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  18. FedUpMom says:

    HomeworkBlues — could you post a link to the article in the Post from the mom who says parents get treated like felons? I really want to read it! Thanks!

    December 18th, 2008 at 11:06 pm
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  19. HomeworkBlues says:

    Nice to have you back, FedUpMom. Funny how we don’t use real names here, reminiscent of the old CB radio days.

    Oh, it was a great article. I loved the line about being treated like felons and burst out laughing because that is EXACTLY how the office staff treated me when I approached them. The writer notes how the secretary would just keep typing and not even look up.

    I whined to a friend how different this was from private school and she responded, that’s becuase they don’t need you. But don’t they? Public school may be free but it’s not as if staff are volunteers.

    I saved the hard copy. It was in Outlook, about two months ago. I’ll fish it out and post it.

    December 19th, 2008 at 12:53 am
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  20. HomeworkBlues says:

    Ooops. I can’t get after Guy if I don’t catch all my typos either. BECAUSE is how I meant to type.

    Guy, my daughter has kept me up till 2am every single night for three weeks with untenable homework overload so I’m a little loopy. What’s your excuse?

    But I’m starting to like you more. Just a little. The more your write, the more I want to hear. LOVE your science project. Hands on learning is what my visual spatial daughter would just die for. And gets so little of. She does way too much slog and cram and not enough true passionate learning. That magical state of flow that grips her imagination and holds her attention for hours. You know ADD-ers hyperfocus when the material is engaging.

    December 19th, 2008 at 12:59 am
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  21. FedUpMom says:

    HomeworkBlues — Sara asked me if I wanted to use my name and credentials, and I told her FedUpMom *is* my name and my credential!

    December 19th, 2008 at 1:18 am
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  22. kid says:

    i hate school most of the time is spent in class fore an 1 hour and thirty minets doing math and the rest is sience readind and writing so just give them a break

    February 24th, 2009 at 8:39 pm
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  23. ACP Texan says:

    I am an Alternative Certification teacher here in Texas. After graduating from college and spending years in the “business world” I returned to school to become a teacher. I currently teach 4th grade math and science in a low-income, Title 1 school in the 3rd largest district in the state.

    While working at various positions in my business career I witnessed first hand the damage being done to a generation (or more) of young people by practicing many of the ideas espoused in the article. I interviewed numerous individuals for jobs and was always shocked at the number of young people that thought they were entitled to be hired simply because they filled out the application (sort of) and showed up for their interview time (or close enough to it). I actually had one young man ask me, “Why aint you got a job for me? I filled out the application and stuff.” An entire population of Americans is being created that thinks doing the minimum to get by is all that is required. They seem to have no concept that people are going to make choices about who to hire, and that those that do better will get hired over those that don’t. Where does this mentality come from? We are fostering it in the schools by showing students that someone who doesn’t even attempt to complete an assignment will receive the same grade as someone that tries and gets half of the answers wrong.

    Should I expect to still receive 50% of my paycheck if I decide to stop working?

    As a math teacher I cannot dispute the math put forward by Reeves. His calculations are sound, and his explanation of the problems of using a 100 point system to determine final results using a five point system (A-F) make sense. I have no complaint with restructuring the grading system. I would argue for a seven point system where A=6, B=5, C=4, D=3, F=2, and not completing an assignment would result in zero points. Why a two-point drop between earning an “F” and not completing an assignment? Because not trying at all IS significantly worse than trying and not doing well. The grading system should reflect it.

    Furthermore, I am deeply troubled by the suggestion that, “…the appropriate consequence for failing to complete the assignment is to require the student to complete the assignment.” Do any of us have jobs like that? If we are given an assignment by our supervisor and fail to complete it, is the consequence that we are given extra time to get it done? Doubtful. Deadlines and completion are important. If an individual ignores them in the real world they will very likely find themselves unemployed. Why is it considered a consequence to simply be given extra time to complete something that the other students completed as instructed?
    At my school we do employ a recess time study hall. Students that have not completed their work must stay inside during recess to do so. Is that the only consequence? No. Even if a student completes an assignment perfectly, the fact that it is late results in a point deduction. While the point deduction may not motivate the late student, it does, in a way, “reward” those students that did what they were supposed to do. And I hate to break it to some people, but that is the way the world works…and that is the way it should work.

    Regards

    March 1st, 2009 at 10:52 am
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  24. FedUpMom says:

    ACP Texan — why should a school function like a corporation? These aren’t workers toiling away in a cubicle (yet), they are kids trying to get an education. An education should be about a whole lot more than trying to habituate kids to corporate life. Let’s figure out how to help them learn and grow as kids. As they become young adults, let’s get them ready for the world of work. But if you’re teaching 4th grade, your goal should not be to create a little corporation at school.

    March 1st, 2009 at 12:47 pm
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  25. ACP Texan says:

    FedUpMom,

    “why should a school function like a corporation? ”

    -Not a corporation, life! Anything! Whether one is a cubicle worker, a factory worker, an athlete, a chef, a painter, a musician, a personal trainer, a computer programmer, a landscaper, a full-time parent, a student, anything…getting the work done when it needs to be done is important.

    “…they are kids trying to get an education. An education should be about a whole lot more than trying to habituate kids to corporate life. Let’s figure out how to help them learn and grow as kids.”

    -Agreed. I have some news…it has already been figured out. Whether you look at Jaime Escalante, Ron Clark, Kay Toliver or any of the other amazing teachers that are getting great results with “difficult” students they all have something in common: they demand hard work from their students and lots of it. Can it be tweaked to be more fun, more enjoyable? Yes, and it should be. That does not detract from the fact that the key to being successful in education and life is hard work.

    “But if you’re teaching 4th grade, your goal should not be to create a little corporation at school.”

    -It is not my goal, my intention, or what I do. My goal is to take students from where they are when the arrive in my class (which is often a second grade reading level and trouble with basic addition and subtraction) and get them to at least a level that is appropriate. Ideally I set them up so that 5th grade is easy. This is not accomplished by lowering the workload or reducing expectations.

    -Furthermore, you are engaging in fallacious reasoning known as “straw man.” You proclaim a position that is not mine (that I am trying to create a corporation and little cubicle workers) and then proceed to argue against it. However, because it was not my position in the first place your arguments have no weight or merit.

    March 1st, 2009 at 1:03 pm
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  26. FedUpMom says:

    ACP Texan — I wasn’t setting up a straw man at all. If you look at your original post, you were working from the premise that schools should be modeled on corporate life. When you ask rhetorical questions like “Do any of us have jobs like that?” you show your assumption that an adult job is the norm.

    There are many important differences between kids going to school and adults working at jobs.

    1.) Schoolwork is supposed to benefit the kids. Adult work benefits the employer.

    2.) Adults get paid for their work!

    3.) If I have a terrible boss I can start looking for a new job, or just quit. School kids don’t have these options if they’re stuck with a terrible teacher.

    For the record, I’m not at all against kids working hard. But the work has to be worth doing, and it has to be appropriate to the child. In my experience, very little homework fills both of those requirements.

    March 2nd, 2009 at 8:25 pm
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  27. FedUpMom says:

    For more of the “school vs. work” discussion, this is a terrific essay:

    http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2006-09-17-1.html

    March 2nd, 2009 at 9:18 pm
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  28. ACP Texan says:

    FedUpMom,

    “If you look at your original post, you were working from the premise that schools should be modeled on corporate life.”

    -Not corporate life…real life. Lets forget the “job thing” for the purposes of this reply. How about little league or swim team. Aren’t deadlines and getting it done important? Should a kid be allowed to show up whenever and choose not to participate? Real life is about getting things done and getting them done when they are due.

    “When you ask rhetorical questions like “Do any of us have jobs like that?” you show your assumption that an adult job is the norm.”

    – I admit that I assume grown adults should have jobs. Yes, a grown, able-bodied adult should have a job to support themselves. Perhaps we have discovered another reason America is declining. Adults having a job is no longer, “the norm.”

    “1.) Schoolwork is supposed to benefit the kids. Adult work benefits the employer. ”

    – Adult work also benefits the employed…it is called a paycheck.

    “2.) Adults get paid for their work! ”

    – This is the same argument some of my 4th graders make to me so I will respond the same way. It is called delayed gratification and benefit. None of us got paid for being in Elementary School. It is something we do because it better prepares us to be adults.

    “3.) If I have a terrible boss I can start looking for a new job, or just quit. School kids don’t have these options if they’re stuck with a terrible teacher.”

    – Every year my school moves students to other classes because of a parent request. It is true that students must attend school by law. Is it unpleasant sometimes? Sure…I had a terrible teacher when I was in 5th grade. Guess what…I dealt with it with the help of my parents.

    When did we move to a model of thinking that says children should never be inconvenienced or experience bad things? Until recently America led the world in every aspect. Does anyone but me think that our current slipping from the top is tied to this new attitude?

    “Oh…that isn’t the ideal situation so nobody should be forced to experience it.”

    March 2nd, 2009 at 10:01 pm
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  29. FedUpMom says:

    ACP Texan: the question isn’t whether jobs should be the norm for adults, it’s whether adult jobs should be the norm for school kids. But you knew that, right? You were just setting up a little straw man of your own.

    Did I, or anyone on this site, ever say that children should never be inconvenienced? Of course not. I inconvenience my kids all the time.

    March 2nd, 2009 at 11:59 pm
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  30. HomeworkBlues says:

    ACP Texan: I’ve been reading your comments with great interest. I am chomping at the bit to respond but some pressing major deadlines are forcing me to hold off (see, I can delay gratification, meet deadlines and prioritize. I had teachers who inspired and imbued me with a love of learning and it hasn’t hurt me).

    FedUpMom, keep the conversation going. Unfortunately, I’m not able to debate this in the manner I wish because my other work is calling. Long after this thread is done, I want to come back and reopen it, Stay tuned, I have a lot to say.

    ACP Texan, I will say this. You should join the US Army. You’d make a great drill sergeant, qualities that would work so well in the military and not quite so much in the classroom. I pray you don’t get any future Einsteins or Mozarts. I shudder to think of what brilliant talent you might kill.

    You have a rather grim harsh view of the world to which you strive to prepare your students. When my daughter entered public school in fifth grade, I soon realized she had a very rigid traditional grim teacher. Troopers though we are, we put forth our best effort; me, by inspiring my daughter, she by attempting to get all her homework done and following the new rules of the new school as best she could.

    I became concerned about a weekly vocabulary assignment. It was drudgery and my daughter was quickly becoming turned off. Heretofore, she’d loved words and writing and this was an area of great strength. She’d had an amazing fourth grade teacher, speaking of which, and the Wordly Wise vocabulary assignments were fun. I never had to cajole her, in fact, she wouldn’t stop, kept going so that she did the entire workbook in two weeks! She loved those assignments and looked forward to them.

    But now it was a new day at a new place. I watched my daughter recoil at the tedium every Monday and I felt helpless, what to do. She is very verbal and I couldn’t risk the damage. So I finally screwed up the courage to compose an email to the teacher. I ran it by husband and he signed off on it. I tried to be as respectful and gracious as I could, knowing I was in effect criticizing the assignment. I buffered it, I tried to couch it in a more personal way, that my daughter had always loved words and sentences and writing stories but was having trouble with this assignment. I was entirely too accommodating. It wasn’t my daughter, it was the assignment but why not be nice and appreciative anyway?

    It took a few days and I finally got a response back. I could almost see smoke rising from the email, so vitriolic was it. The teacher huffed and puffed. No one had EVER criticized her assignment!, she fumed. Not in six years of assigning it. Her prime argument and justification? Children must learn to do boring things.

    I’ll never forget that line. Children must learn to do boring things. In a gifted talented center, yet! As if any child should be subjected to such tedium! A year later I was visiting a Montessori school and repeated the teacher’s sneer to the director and teacher. Both burst out laughing. No further commentary needed.

    Please remember that line when you are so hell bent on preparing your students for the harsh unforgiving dog-eat dog-world you perceive the work world to be. I implore you, ACP Texan, don’t kill the children in order to save them. Unless that’s how you do it in Texas. After all, NCLB was born there.

    March 3rd, 2009 at 1:15 am
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  31. HomeworkBlues says:

    To add, ACP, I am referring to several of your posts and not specifically this thread. I am commenting on your views of teaching 4th graders, how they approach learning, and how you go about transmitting the material to them.

    While I realize that children who come from homes where a love and respect for learning is instilled, where books are everywhere, where the child is taken to museums and nature centers will come to school better prepared to learn and cooperate in the classroom, all children have a right to play and dream.

    Your homework policies paint a broad brush. And like many other teachers on this forum, you’ve decided that most every child really doesn’t care about learning and if you didn’t make them do it, or hit them over the head with it, they’d waste their entire afternoon after school watching tv, never accomplishing a single responsible task. Yes, some children do but not all children, not my child and she never got a break for the responsible learning she was accomplishing at home. If Suzy is struggling with math and needs the review and repetition, so does everyone, no exceptions. If Johnny’s mom doesn’t take him to the air and space museum, therefore you shouldn’t be allowed to go either.

    You insist homework is the only way to teach responsibility. I don’t know if you have children of your own but you seem to forget that we parents are capable of teaching responsibility at home and that homework overload prevents our children from doing the dishes, cleaning their room, walking the dog or taking care of a sick elderly relative, all activities that teach responsibility and maturity.

    Homework overload keeps our children from attending their house of worship, becoming involved in community service, or just bonding with their families, the most important relationship they have.It deprives children of incidental learning, the kind of learning that comes from perusing their parents’ bookshelves and finding some book, way above their level, that tickles their interest. Constant teacher direction deprives children from self directed pursuits where they build something, paint something, create a board game, sew a quilt, or gather brush and pine combs in the back yard to make a make believe house. Maria Montessori said play is a child’s work. It’s how they develop their imagination, critical thinking, and wonder of the world around them.

    Homework overload keeps a child from playing, from devising their own games and art projects. The kid in the basement playing with leggos is your future engineer. The girl who takes the appliance apart has visual spatial talents, so critical in the fields of math and physics. The child who reads all the time sharpens her writing skills. Running into the woods to build a fort teaches a child her limits (when we were children, we learned how far to go, how far was safe) and stokes her imagination and strengthens her gross motor abilities. Our children aren’t playing in the woods or anywhere outside anymore and look around you at the devastation that has caused.

    But you scare parents and children into believing that if they don’t do all their homework, they will be abject failures; in middle school, high school, at work and
    in life. It just ain’t so, my friend.

    Your method is more likely to produce young people who can’t think for themselves, who have no imagination, who were taught that the right answer is more important than critical thinking (NCLB), who were turned off to reading early because you turned it into a chore so that they never pick up a newspaper as a young adult, who don’t want to work hard as adults because you burned them out early, and who are cynical and disaffected, losing themselves in the fantasy world of video games and Facebook. Look around you. These are the kids we are producing, not the child I described first.

    March 3rd, 2009 at 10:40 am
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  32. ACP Texan says:

    Just a quick to note to say that I am still here and not ignoring anyone. We had our Writing TAKS (state standardized exam) test on Tuesday so it has been a busy week.

    I just want to put it out there that I believe there are differences between student populations. I agree that a student that has engaged parents that read to them, take them places, and do things with them may not need homeowork. However, I teach in a low-income school. The reality of most of my students is that when they go home there is no intellectual activity. The only adult at home is the drunk uncle passed out on the couch. One of my students lives with his grandmother because dad is in jail for killing mom. Another of my students is being raised by his aunt because dad is nowhere to be found and mom is a crack addict that disappears for 3 months at a time. I have students actively asking me for work to do at home because they say they are bored.

    March 6th, 2009 at 9:53 am
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  33. FedUpMom says:

    ACP Texan — I absolutely agree that different populations have different needs, and I appreciate that you are working with the “difficult” kids that many others have given up on.

    Those students who say they’re “bored” might be gifted. It’s the classic complaint of a gifted child. I hope you have something especially interesting for them to take home. How about sudoku puzzles, or other logical puzzles? I found that kids often like to do chess puzzles (you know, the “checkmate in 1 move” kind) — if they don’t have chess sets, you could cut them out of paper. (Of course, they would also need to know how the pieces move.) There must be web sites with interesting puzzles for kids that you could print out. (From your description, I’m assuming these kids don’t have internet access at home.)

    March 6th, 2009 at 10:54 am
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  34. Anonymous says:

    ACP Texan writes;

    I just want to put it out there that I believe there are differences between student populations. I agree that a student that has engaged parents that read to them, take them places, and do things with them may not need homeowork.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Thank you for acknowledging that. Student, don’t go away just yet. I’d like to you to read this. I’m going to tell a story I’ve told before on this forum but it bears repeating. My daughter was a ravenous reader in elementary school, still is. She also developed a passion for writing quite early, age three actually. She always walked around with a spiral notebook in school, always writing something; a short story, a novel, a poem, a riddle, a haiku. She had a real gift.

    In 6th grade, I watched the afternoon school bus roll down our street. My child would alight from the bus, spiral notebook tucked under her arm, backpack on her back, trusted pencil in one hand, lunch box in the other. She’d run across the street, throw her backpack on the ground and immediately scamper up our tree, notebook and pencil in tow. And there she would remain, for hours if I let her. She was writing a novel.

    She had homework, of course, tons and tons of it. I couldn’t say, if you get your homework done you can go back up that tree and write, because homework was never finished and there would be no time to write later. She was already staying up way too late to complete it, it was just too much. To add insult to injury, most of it was boring, tedious and pointless. She knew she was spending hours on an unenjoyable task that didn’t even give her the benefit of learning something new.

    Well, there she was, high up that tree, writing and writing and writing. I remember it well because I’d stand below, off to the side, and just gaze up. I willed my mind to take a picture, to remember this beautiful moment in time, when my daughter was so captivated by the books she read that they inspired her to compose imaginative stunningly well told stories for a child that age.

    But homework beckoned. I’d stand there, wondering what to do. I knew she had to do the homework (well, did she?) but you don’t want to mess with talent. Talent, creativity and imagination are very delicate things in a sensitive child. You want to nurture that, encourage it and when a child is deeply absorbed by something that is self directed and not only because she had to do it, you want to back off and tiptoe out of the room and watch what childlike beauty unfolds.

    I also didn’t want to send the impression that homework is yucky, the bitter pill you must swallow every day, the daily grind you dispense with as quickly as you can so you can begin your real education at home. When was she supposed to start writing? At 10pm when she’s still slaving over a long worksheet, barely able to keep her eyes open?

    I’m sure someone here would argue that she had to get her work done first before engaging in her own pursuits. Okay, no argument there but hadn’t she already put in a full day at school? Credible research shows homework in elementary is pointless and that if children were allowed to read and write all afternoon, they’d come out way ahead. Offering the argument that many children wouldn’t do that, read and write all afternoon so homework is necessary doesn’t hold water because this was a GT Center and many children were already avid readers.

    Eventually I had no choice, had to coax her out of that tree. I would say, you can either have thirty more minutes or forty, your choice. Giving her the illusion she actually had a say in the matter when she didn’t. Of course she’d say forty so I watched the clock and after some time, I cajoled her down from that tree.

    I now know with crystal clarity I made a terrible mistake. To this day, I regret that I just didn’t pull her out of school and homeschool immediately. I knew I should have but I didn’t gain the courage until two years later by which point I only had a year left before high school..

    We have posters here who will convince us that boring homework is necessary because it prepares children for worthwhile homework later on. Nonsense. Had I allowed my daughter to remain in that tree, absorbed, in flow, she probably would have finished the novel and published it.

    The school wanted to turn her into a homework machine., robo student. Well, I guess they succeeded because at age 16, my daughter is no longer walking around with a spiral notebook, not writing novels anymore. Too much homework, too many late nights, too much fatigue has burned her out. You tell a child long enough it’s not okay to read and write all afternoon and eventually she’ll get the message.

    “It is a miracle creativity has survived formal education”
    Albert Einstein

    March 6th, 2009 at 11:06 am
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  35. HomeworkBlues says:

    ACP Texan, my heart bleeds for the plight of many of your students. But I come back to my original question. Because your students don’t read and don’t have parents to intellectually enrich them, therefore my daughter must get homework too? How does her homework benefit your students?

    What is beneficial to one student is redundant to the next. But in an odd twist of egalitarianism, we must have a one size fits all. Perhaps we need to tailor the homework to the child?

    March 6th, 2009 at 11:08 am
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  36. Sara Bennett says:

    ACP Texan: I am a former criminal defense attorney and I am intimately familiar with the population you teach. Your students need something intellectually exciting to grab their interests and, unfortunately, their homework isn’t that. The best thing that could happen to your students is for someone to introduce them to books they would love.

    I watched many of my clients gain literacy skills during the years they spent in prison. Many of them started reading for the first time in their lives. Their written correspondence improved dramatically and they would fill their letters with their newfound vocabulary. (This is not a new story, but one that has been told many times throughout history.) Isn’t it a shame, though, that so many poor people have to go to prison to get an education?

    March 6th, 2009 at 12:16 pm
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  37. JDL says:

    I find the comparisons between school performance and employee performance interesting. In particular, arguing that teachers and other workers don’t get paid if they fail to report for work isn’t analogous to student performance. As far as I’m aware, teachers get paid their full salary for showing up, regardless of their effort, creativity, knowledge of the subject matter, ability to individualize instruction or to make it relevant, ability to communicate effectively, how well they individualize instruction or make it relevant, their students’ performance in class or on standardized tests, or their ability to inspire. And they certainly aren’t penalized or rewarded based on neatness or number of errors. They have a handful of leave days to cover illness and personal matters. And, at the end of the year, most are promoted to the next pay step. I certainly don’t recall hearing much support from teachers for abandoning the current pay system in favor of the business model.

    One final thought about comparing schools to corporations: Don’t confuse the employees and the product. The teachers, administrators, and staff are the employees. The desired product of a school is an educated, competent, and whole child.

    March 9th, 2009 at 1:20 am
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  38. HomeworkBlues says:

    JDL puts it so eloquently:

    “As far as I’m aware, teachers get paid their full salary for showing up, regardless of their effort, creativity, knowledge of the subject matter, ability to individualize instruction or to make it relevant, ability to communicate effectively, how well they individualize instruction or make it relevant, their students’ performance in class or on standardized tests, or their ability to inspire. And they certainly aren’t penalized or rewarded based on neatness or number of errors. They have a handful of leave days to cover illness and personal matters. And, at the end of the year, most are promoted to the next pay step. I certainly don’t recall hearing much support from teachers for abandoning the current pay system in favor of the business model.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    And don’t forget, entire summers off with pay. Look, I’m right behind you, teachers, when you tell us you are some of the lowest paid professionals on earth. Teacher salaries should be a top priority.

    But recently the Washington Post did a lament on a fresh out of college starting teacher making $40,000. For a young person with entire summers off, that’s actually not a bad salary! I can tell you, as a journalist, my starting salary didn’t even come close and I worked pretty hard hard.

    As for the comment JDL makes about teachers not getting docked pay for neatness or errors, our kids get penalized all the time for those very same lapses. My favorite story on this is my daughter’s sixth grade teacher. One day she sent home an angry letter for the parents to sign. She firmly stated that she would now become very strict about mistakes the children made on their reports. This was a gifted/talented center, she proclaimed, so this sloppiness was inexcusable. She would no longer tolerate typos, grammatical, punctuation or mechanical errors. Her entire letter was riddled with spelling, punctuation and typo mistakes!

    The people to REALLY feel sorry for today are the children. And they’re beleaguered harried parents. Who are the school systems unpaid teacher’s aides.

    March 9th, 2009 at 8:51 am
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  39. HomeworkBlues says:

    THEIR harried parents. Ooops! I can tell THEY’RE from THEIR, it’s a typo. Joke’s on me?

    And I meant to say darn hard, not hard hard.

    I’m going back to bed…

    March 9th, 2009 at 8:54 am
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  40. HomeworkBlues says:

    And it’s SCHOOL SYSTEM’S. Add apostrophe.

    Never let it be said that sleep doesn’t matter. I just proved the point! You’re not as alert, you don’t catch your mistakes. Remember that, teachers, when you assign enough work to keep an eleven year old up till midnight.

    March 9th, 2009 at 8:56 am
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  41. Shannon says:

    “Entire summers off with pay” is largely a myth. As the daughter of a teacher, I can tell you that my mother is required to go in both two weeks after school lets out and two weeks before school cuts in. Furthermore, the school year continues to lengthen (as it should; there’s no good reason for a three-month break that allows students to forget what they’ve been learning). My mother’s school system runs through the very end of May and starts up again at the beginning of August. This means she gets out from mid-June through mid-July. Sure, it’s a nice month of vacation, but it’s not a “summer.”

    In addition, few journalists are required to purchase their own reporters’ notebooks, pens, and other tools necessary for their job. My mother–and most other teachers–spends several thousand dollars a year in order to have classroom supplies. This is de rigueur for the profession.

    March 9th, 2009 at 10:26 am
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  42. HomeworkBlues says:

    Shannon, I hear you but an entire month of vacation is not too shabby either.

    As a journalist, I actually did purchase many of my own materials, such as notebooks, pens, tape recorders (the one assigned me was shabby and I couldn’t use it for many of the venues I covered).

    I hear you about teachers either having to cough up classroom supplies themselves or going without. It’s a travesty that the school system spends easy millions on state testing — materials, prep, assessment, tabulations. It’s time teachers stood up for what’s right.

    I do remember the long list of supplies I had to bring to the classroom each year. I didn’t mind but I did pay for those items. I know teachers have to cover for students who didn’t or were unable to buy all those supplies themselves. As for us, again, we did our part, even during the lean years when we found ourselves both out of work. We paid our dues. We brought in gads of supplies, volunteered for just about everything, came to everything and chaperoned just about every field trip.

    March 9th, 2009 at 11:06 am
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  43. HomeworkBlues says:

    Shannon writes:

    Furthermore, the school year continues to lengthen (as it should; there’s no good reason for a three-month break that allows students to forget what they’ve been learning).

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    I respectfully disagree. In our case, at least, my daughter certainly does not forget everything she’s learned but continues to have a very rich education all summer. Okay, we do JHU CTY so that’s a three week program. But aside from that, libraries are free, our museums are free (thank you all, for your tax dollars), outdoor classical concerts are free,there’s free Shakespeare in one park, ballet in the other, every metropolitan area is rife with free educational, cultural and outdoor activities that keep a young brain humming and tuned.

    There are plenty ways we can educate our children at home. There’s no time during the school year, too much homework. And there’s enough summer homework to keep us busy. Don’t rob us of what precious few weeks we have left.

    I used to think like you. But not for the same reasons because I do not feel my daughter gets rusty in the summer. I know parents who trot out the workbooks and sheets, we didn’t, we just did the above. One trip to the library nets fifteen books nets an entire week of blissful reading. What more could you ask for? Without the book report and log, just pure unadulterated reading. A respite from school. Every child needs it.

    But I used to think like you. For other reasons. I worry about the risk of burnout and utter exhaustion during the intense nine months of school. I used to think, why not full year school, interspersed with long breaks? A school here has cut its summer vacation but the students get three weeks in October. I salivated. October! Autumn, hiking season. Oh, yea, I’ll take a month of glorious hiking over summer mosquitos and humidity any day.

    It was my daughter who set me straight. She said, if I went to school year round with longer breaks spread throughout the year, what would stop a teacher from assigning a mega-project, due the day I come back? Bye bye vacation.

    My child is right. Let’s not kid ourselves. The long endless summer break is fast becoming a myth too, just like your mom’s vacation. With every new AP course, comes a corresponding heavy summer workload. With “Have a very relaxing and enjoyable summer” written at the bottom of the summer assignment sheet. There is no escape.

    March 9th, 2009 at 11:19 am
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  44. JDL says:

    For the record, I’m a public school teacher. It’s not an easy job. But I think many students (including my children) are held to standards that teachers and many adults are not. I spent one year as a “floater,” pushing a cart with my materials from classroom to classroom. On more than one occasion, I forget something I needed for class, and I would either apologize or send a student with a pass to fetch it. But students are often chastised for forgetting things, despite the fact that they have only a few minutes at their lockers to grab what they need for the next few classes. If they leave a completed homework assignment in their locker they are often out of luck. In contrast, when the teacher forgets, the students are expected to be understanding. One principal explained, when Blackboard didn’t have the current assignments, that human error was to be expected. Thus, students should not rely on Blackboard but must remember to record homework assignments before leaving school…or they should expect to be penalized. A bit ironic, you think?

    I think a huge part of the problem teachers and school face is the management issue. If you have a class of 25, and each student forgets something just 1 out of 25 days, or once in 5 weeks, then, on average, every day one student arrives unprepared. It’s hard to provide a effective system for managing 25 young individuals while facilitating meaningful learning. And it’s made more difficult by the fact that the students generally do not choose to be there. Would we really show up on time day after day if we weren’t paid, however modestly, to be on the job? And teachers have precious little time or support or resources to spend reading and reflecting and exploring alternative methods. But until we have real culture change, we have to do our best to work within the current limitations w/o harming the students.

    I do believe that student performance to often is measured, to quote from Henry Sedgwick out of context, “according to their conformity to a standard that is easiest for running a school.” Do you really think the conformists are going to be the ones to solve the crises in our nation and the world? I have a hunch they’ll be working for the risk-takers and innovators, or teaching in the classrooms.oo0oo0olk Ooops! Spilled something on the keyboard! Thank heavens someone invented the word processor. And imagine the quirky person who invented the QWERTY keyboard so typewriter keys wouldn’t jam.

    Now, being a bit ADD myself, I just had to do a google search to find out who invented the word processor. I can’t tell you how much the delete key has changed my life! I just located an oral history interview of Seymour Rubinstein, a word processing pioneer. Never heard of him before today. Read what Rubinstein had to say about his formal education:

    [From: http://special.lib.umn.edu/cbi/oh/pdf.phtml?id=351%5D

    “In any case, getting back to my educational career, and, while I certainly was smart, scoring in the 99th percentile on my college entrance exam, I graduated high school with only a 71.25 average —
    dismal. But I didn’t care about a lot of things; I just cared about establishing my own independence. I developed an early interest in electronics, and by the time I was in my teens I apprenticed as a
    television technician and later on was able to earn a living repairing televisions.”

    …and after pulling up his grades in night school….

    “When I reapplied to CCNY, my past sins were forgiven and I was accepted. I was encouraged by the fact that when I took the SATs and I saw my grades posted, I had a score of 1485 and when I looked at the rest of the list, I only found three others who had a higher score. So I thought maybe I had some talent. In any case, from that point on I got all A’s and B’s until I graduated.”

    Thank you, Seymour!

    (Honestly, I didn’t see where this was going when I tried to wipe off the “K” key.)

    Janet

    March 9th, 2009 at 4:22 pm
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  45. JDL says:

    Is there a way to preview and edit before we post? Wish I’d caught some typos before hitting submit so I could rubinstein them away.

    March 9th, 2009 at 4:24 pm
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  46. JDL says:

    This isn’t English class, so please don’t mark me down for my errors. I’ll gladly give other posters the same consideration.

    March 9th, 2009 at 4:26 pm
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  47. FedUpMom says:

    Speaking of English class, “used every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?” — Hamlet. Let’s agree that we all make the occasional typo, and not obsess over them.

    March 10th, 2009 at 7:57 am
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  48. HomeworkBlues says:

    LOL, FedUpMom! But when I tell a humorous story about typos and then make two of my own, ooops, egg on my face!

    Thanks for the understanding! I do actually proof, albeit sometimes quickly. Maybe it has something to do with the very light print?

    March 10th, 2009 at 8:23 am
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  49. CLT says:

    I’m probably too late to this party, but I just wanted to point out a solution that I always appreciated, which was to simply weight the grades, ie, homework was worth 5 or 10 points while tests and papers were worth 100. Or, if there were a lot more HW assignments than tests, HW was worth 10 or 20% of the final grade and tests/ important stuff were worth 90 or 80%. That way, if you felt like the HW was busy work and you could pass without doing all of it. You could prove that you had learned the subject matter, which ought to always be the point anyway.

    April 8th, 2009 at 11:11 am
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  50. Mr. Kotter says:

    Dear HomeworkBlues,

    I just showed this thread to a number of colleagues and they unanimously agreed that you are an arrogant jackass. Coincidence? I think not.

    April 24th, 2009 at 11:29 am
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  51. Mr. Will says:

    The Case for the Zero

    These are not trick questions: Can all students succeed? Will all students succeed? Should all students succeed? When presented with these questions, most educators answer a resounding “yes” to the first, a less resounding, unsure “no” to the second; and a burble of verbal mush to the third.
    Let us for a moment refrain from the political correctness which is slowly dooming our schools, and be candid with our responses. Can all students succeed? Absolutely. Will all students succeed? Absolutely not. Should all students succeed? Not if they are going to learn to function in modern society.
    I know that some of you are writhing in your chairs by now, calling me all kinds of names, and insisting that this stance on education is far too uncompassionate, too unforgiving, and generally too pessimistic. Yes, it is harsh; but I am a teacher. My job is to educate, inspire, motivate, and prepare the valued citizens of tomorrow. My job is not to set students up for failure the second they step outside of the school’s walls.
    If we agree that the purpose of education is to prepare students for life in the proverbial “real world,” should we not try to make school a bit more like the real world?
    Currently, in America, 8% of the population maintains a net worth of $1 million or more. This means that 92% of Americans are not millionaires. I am not by any stretch a math genius; however, it would seem that it is far easier to fall into the 92% than the 8%. Thus, it is easier to fail at becoming a millionaire than it is to succeed.
    Let us take this concept a step further. 12.5% of the American population is below the poverty line. This means that there is a 4% differentiation (this equates to roughly 33 million people) between the number of aristocrats and the number of paupers. Hence, it is easier to end up poor as opposed to rich.
    Also, do you like your job? You should. You beat out hundreds, if not thousands, of salivating applicants just waiting to jump into that position. In America, there are an average of 308 applicants per job opening (research is based on job openings offering $22,000 or more per year). This means that an applicant can become one, or one among 307. It is exponentially easier to not get a job than it is to land that perfect career.
    The list goes on and on; and in each new aspect of “real life” it seems to be far easier to fail than it is to succeed. Those that succeed must possess some quality or gift which separates them from the others. They must demonstrate some quality that causes them to stand out among the masses. Successful individuals must work harder than the rest, work smarter than the rest, be relentless in their pursuit of success, and generally have their act together. Unfortunately, Americans have embraced an educational system which raises students up under a system which is essentially the real world flipped upside down.
    The mantras of modern day education are absurd: “Everyone will pass! A for effort! I’ll just curve the test! What if you get half credit for being three weeks late!” These (among others) are sung throughout the schools of America; and now we want to abolish the zero because it is “unfair.”

    Briefly, let me run down the anti-zero debate. In a traditional grading system, there is a ten point differential between each of the first four letter grades (A=100-90, B=89-80, C=79-70, D=69-60). However, there is a 60 point differential between the lowest D (60) and the lowest F (0). This means that there are 40 points which constitute passing, and 60 points which constitute failing. It is easier to fail than to succeed, hence, more work is required to pass.
    So, the concept of the zero is unfair. Of course it is! That is the beauty of it! It needs to be easier to fail a class than it is to pass. Students need to work, and when they fail to work, it needs to affect them longer than just until the next test. In life, it is easier to find the bottom than the top. In school, it should be easier to find the bottom than the top.
    Students need to learn to fail, diagnose why, and make corrections. This process will never happen so long as they can work less, and yet still manage the same results as the completely devoted, diligent, and hard-working students.
    Do not misunderstand. Students need to be encouraged, inspired, and pushed. Just understand that not all students will succeed, nor should they; and be okay with that. Some will take the easy road, and the easy road leads to the bottom. It is the way of the world.

    November 9th, 2009 at 9:52 am
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  52. Mr. Will says:

    The Case for the Zero

    These are not trick questions: Can all students succeed? Will all students succeed? Should all students succeed? When presented with these questions, most educators answer a resounding “yes” to the first, a less resounding, unsure “no” to the second; and a burble of verbal mush to the third.

    Let us for a moment refrain from the political correctness which is slowly dooming our schools, and be candid with our responses. Can all students succeed? Absolutely. Will all students succeed? Absolutely not. Should all students succeed? Not if they are going to learn to function in modern society.

    I know that some of you are writhing in your chairs by now, calling me all kinds of names, and insisting that this stance on education is far too uncompassionate, too unforgiving, and generally too pessimistic. Yes, it is harsh; but I am a teacher. My job is to educate, inspire, motivate, and prepare the valued citizens of tomorrow. My job is not to set students up for failure the second they step outside of the school’s walls.

    If we agree that the purpose of education is to prepare students for life in the proverbial “real world,” should we not try to make school a bit more like the real world?

    Currently, in America, 8% of the population maintains a net worth of $1 million or more. This means that 92% of Americans are not millionaires. I am not by any stretch a math genius; however, it would seem that it is far easier to fall into the 92% than the 8%. Thus, it is easier to fail at becoming a millionaire than it is to succeed.

    Let us take this concept a step further. 12.5% of the American population is below the poverty line. This means that there is a 4% differentiation (this equates to roughly 33 million people) between the number of aristocrats and the number of paupers. Hence, it is easier to end up poor as opposed to rich.

    Also, do you like your job? You should. You beat out hundreds, if not thousands, of salivating applicants just waiting to jump into that position. In America, there are an average of 308 applicants per job opening (research is based on job openings offering $22,000 or more per year). This means that an applicant can become one, or one among 307. It is exponentially easier to not get a job than it is to land that perfect career.

    The list goes on and on; and in each new aspect of “real life” it seems to be far easier to fail than it is to succeed. Those that succeed must possess some quality or gift which separates them from the others. They must demonstrate some quality that causes them to stand out among the masses. Successful individuals must work harder than the rest, work smarter than the rest, be relentless in their pursuit of success, and generally have their act together. Unfortunately, Americans have embraced an educational system which raises students up under a system which is essentially the real world flipped upside down.

    The mantras of modern day education are absurd: “Everyone will pass! A for effort! I’ll just curve the test! What if you get half credit for being three weeks late!” These (among others) are sung throughout the schools of America; and now we want to abolish the zero because it is “unfair.”

    Briefly, let me run down the anti-zero debate. In a traditional grading system, there is a ten point differential between each of the first four letter grades (A=100-90, B=89-80, C=79-70, D=69-60). However, there is a 60 point differential between the lowest D (60) and the lowest F (0). This means that there are 40 points which constitute passing, and 60 points which constitute failing. It is easier to fail than to succeed, hence, more work is required to pass.

    So, the concept of the zero is unfair. Of course it is! That is the beauty of it! It needs to be easier to fail a class than it is to pass. Students need to work, and when they fail to work, it needs to affect them longer than just until the next test. In life, it is easier to find the bottom than the top. In school, it should be easier to find the bottom than the top.

    Students need to learn to fail, diagnose why, and make corrections. This process will never happen so long as they can work less, and yet still manage the same results as the completely devoted, diligent, and hard-working students.

    Do not misunderstand. Students need to be encouraged, inspired, and pushed. Just understand that not all students will succeed, nor should they; and be okay with that. Some will take the easy road, and the easy road leads to the bottom. It is the way of the world.

    November 9th, 2009 at 9:53 am
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  53. HomeworkBlues says:

    Sorry, Mr. Kotter. I just caught this, seven months later!

    Mr. Kotter wrote:

    Dear Home work Blues,

    I just showed this thread to a number of colleagues and they unani­mously agreed that you are an arrogant jack ass. Coincidence? I think not.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Depends on who your colleagues are. And who cares? I write about our personal history, our personal life and the impact homework has had on my family and my child. That’s real. The day my daughter’s homework is reduced to a manageable amount in high school, the day we all come to a realization that reading Wuthering Heights in 5th grade and writing a novel daily beats whatever crap you choose to send home, the day I am convinced the time spent in school is used wisely, is the day I stop complaining.

    I also use research and credible studies to back up what I already know. I have an earnest eager dedicated well behaved child with a passion for learning and inquiry. She’d stay up all night to finish if I let her.

    You find that worthy of name calling? Suit yourself. My job, in part, as a mother, is to nurture, instill values, sow the seeds of learning, educate, cultivate a passionate life long learner, put bread on the table and make sure my child has a roof over her head and clothes to wear. And I’m just getting started. My responsibilities as parent are much longer than even that long list. My job is complex enough. Where in this long list do you find room for me to also be an unpaid involuntary teacher’s aide, seven days a week from early in the morning until the wee hours of the following morning? Yet that’s all I do, at the detriment of other more worthy pursuits.

    That’s my job. Are you a teacher? An educator? I’ve told you my job. Now tell me yours. Your job is to teach. So go do it. And do it well. It’s what my tax dollars pay for. And lose the arrogant attitude yourself. Listen more, get defensive less, and you’ll learn a lot.

    November 9th, 2009 at 10:22 am
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  54. Disillusioned says:

    Mr. Will- I hardly no where to begin. Firstly, I enjoy a spirited debate and am not “writhing in my chair.” However, as someone who as actually “made it” in the real world and retired at a relatively young age; I can tell you that the 1% you are refering to didn’t all get there by following a traditional academic path. Of course, not all students will “succeed” according to your rather narrow version of success. (BTW, have you succeeded according to your narrow version of success?)

    School isn’t really like the real world. Many people succeed who are not formally educated. On the other hand, many succeed because of the doors opened to them by family circles (and yes) college alumni. No one is disputing that a college education opens doors. However, once a young adult walks through that door, a myriad reasons will either prevent or help him/her climb the ladder of success (most of which have nothing to do with a formal education). The salaries for professional classes (doctors, lawyers, accountants) are eroding as we speak and that will not change.

    Your grandiose platitudes are dogmatic and dull (like homework blues I love alliteration). The “easy road” is a subjective term. Suffice it to say, you have truly missed the point of this blog.

    November 9th, 2009 at 2:32 pm
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  55. HomeworkBlues says:

    Yay, Disillusioned, on alliteration. You go, woman! Great response too, excellent.

    November 9th, 2009 at 5:27 pm
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  56. Sarah says:

    I do not believe homework should be given in every subject, but Math is a must. Math is only learned through repetition, and you can’t get that in a classroom.

    January 15th, 2010 at 6:45 pm
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  57. FedUpMom says:

    Sarah — why can’t you get repetition in a classroom?

    My kids are in school 30 hours a week. If they just spend 5 hours a week on math in the classroom, that’s more than enough for them to learn what they need to know, if the time is well spent.

    One of the things I’ve discovered by working with my daughter on Singapore Math is how little time teaching takes if it’s done well. I’ve only spent a few hours with her and the Singapore workbooks, and she’s learned more than she learned in many weeks at school.

    I think it was John Taylor Gatto who asserted that a bright child could learn the entire content of elementary school in about 100 hours of tutoring, and I think he’s right. Sometimes I think that if we took the 30 hours of school and just had the teachers work one-on-one with the kids on a rotating schedule, while the other kids did whatever they liked that didn’t interfere, we’d have happier kids and more learning.

    January 16th, 2010 at 10:13 am
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  58. Karl Wheatley says:

    As a teacher educator, researcher, and homeschooling parent, here’s another perspective. First, Gatto’s right–there’s not that much math to be learned in the first eight grades, and a kid who has a stimulating life but zero math instruction can arrive at the end of sixth grade, and say, gee, I’d like to learn any math I’ve missed and learn it all in about 30 hours.

    Also, the research seems to indicate that when children don’t care about what they are learning, lots of repetition is needed, because kids forget material much faster when they are not interested or when they learn something for a test, rather than just to learn it. Most of us learned math that way, so we ASSUME math requires lots of repetition. If kids are interested in learning, they learn the same concepts and skills with only a few tries, just as toddlers learn words from 1-2 exposures.

    Because most school teaching is disconnected from any real world problems or issues, there is no reason for kids to be interested. I teach teachers about PreK-3 curriculum year-round every year, and if curriculum is mostly about studying things kids get interested in (pollution, fairness, animals), then you bump into reasons to learn all the truly important “core content,” and then kids learn it pretty easily and willingly.

    Motor skills require lots of repetition, but if understanding something takes tons of repetition, that is proof that either this is the wrong time to learn it, the wrong way to learn it … or perhaps it isn’t clear to the child why they should learn it (and “You’ll need this someday” is a lousy rationale, because very often, they won’t).

    January 16th, 2010 at 11:15 am
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  59. Jon Holdaway says:

    I’m a seventh grade social studies teacher working in a junior high that has just switched to ABCI grading. I’ve always been bothered by the negative power of the zero grade, and I’ve tried something new this year to compensate for it. I’ve scrapped the traditional 90 to 100 = A, 80 to 89 = B formula for calculating grades. Instead, I grade A level work on a 75 to 100 scale. B = 50 to 74; C = 25 to 49; I (Not Yet) = Zero to 24.. This change has had several happy results. First, obviously, it greatly reduces the power of a zero grade to negatively impact overall average. I’m no longer failing 40% of my students, and the boost to my students’ self esteem alone is worth the change! I also find that the system meshes better with a standards-based grading philosophy: A equates to 4, B to 3, C to 2, I to 1 (I understand that the C = 2 equivalency is not quite kosher, since a 2 score does not yet meet standard. Still, there is some rough equivalency. (My school district’s damnable online grading system, Skyward, seems to understand this scheme better than it does any other standards-based grading approach I’ve tried.) Finally, since I tend to score a typical A at the midpoint of my A grade range (say, 88 points for an A), it gives me greater freedom to reward exceptionally good efforts with an A+ grade of 100.

    Jon Holdaway
    Tacoma, WA

    January 23rd, 2010 at 3:51 pm
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  60. sf says:

    There is not a mathematical inconsistency with using a 100 point scale within a course and a 4 point scale to calculate GPA. Let’s look at the 100 point scale and use 60 as the cutoff for pass/fail. The 60 is being used to say that a student must be accountable for 60% of the expectations of this course in order to pass. It can be debated whether meeting 60% of expectations is good enough or not but that has nothing to do with the mathematical argument. It can also be debated whether the purpose of the grade is only to measure proficiency in the content or if other lessons such as accountability, responsibility, etc. should be measured as part of the grade. Again, this has nothing to do with the mathematical argument. What is says is that anything below a 60 is not acceptable. The percentage is converted to a letter grade and each letter grade is assigned a number value. The number value is then used for a different purpose – to calculate a GPA. The two scales can be different because they are being used for different purposes. The 100 point scale is a tool used to determine the level of performance within a single course. The 4 point scale is tool used to calculate GPA. They are not the same thing.

    January 29th, 2010 at 11:55 pm
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  61. HomeworkBlues says:

    sf, yikes, too much obsession with the grade. Like the tail wagging the dog. Let’s not forget the real reason kids are in school. Hopefully to learn. So much fixation with every minutiae of the grade causes us to miss the forest for all the trees.

    January 30th, 2010 at 12:59 am
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  62. Eric says:

    I wonder if they are having this discussion in India, Korea and Japan? No effort = no credit. What is unfair about that? It is sad to think that children will have to wait until they reach adulthood in order to learn that actions and decisions have consequences. This misguided effort to build self esteem and artificially boost grades is sick and twisted. Everyone doesn’t get a gold medal, a blue ribbon or make the honor roll. Lowering the bar devalues the meaning of achievement. All we’re doing here is skewing measurable data to make it appear that students are achieving, to keep parents from complaining about mean, vicious teachers who don’t realize how wonderful their precious angels are. Go ahead and do this. We’ll still have 18 year olds who can’t read, do math or point out states and countries on a map. But they’ll graduate with a 3.5 GPA, and a high school diploma that means even less than it already does.

    March 22nd, 2013 at 9:53 pm
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  63. Gage says:

    Eric. Do you ever wonder why the suicide rate in the United States is so high? Children go to school for 8 hours a day. We have about 180 days of school a year. That’s 1440 hours a year. Children working for 1440 hours a year. Spending 6 hours on homework? That’s 20,160 hours a year or 98 hours A WEEK. Extracurricular activities add even more to the stress. The worst part? Teachers have the nerve to blame it on the students, the victims. You may say it is a question of laziness. I’m in band at my school. I put out countless hours under the sun in order to learn how to march a show and march it well. I read, I draw, I play music, I write. There’s so many things I love to do. But when it comes to homework, the moment I think about it I get sick and feel like throwing up. I dread it more than anything. After knowing true depression for most of my life and finding that I really want to be happy in my life and realize my dreams, I’ve realized that homework is eating away at me day in and day out. It’s always been this way for me, even since 1st grade I remember the stress I had. I can’t wait until I’m out of school, so I can get over the trauma I’ve had to endure and really work on getting my life where I want it to be.

    March 24th, 2013 at 8:26 pm
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  64. Anonymous says:

    The Dangers of Douglas B. Reeves’s Argument

    While I agree with some of Mr. Reeves’s hypotheses, I am worried for others, specifically the notion that changing zeros on a one hundred point scale to fifties would be more equitable. I’m surprised he didn’t make it fifty points and a cupcake.

    For someone railing against mathematical hypocrisy he is treading very thin ice by suggesting this. To be clear, he is advocating a system where a student can complete two out of every ten assignments and pass a class. This is a solution? I cannot, in good conscience, send the message that students can blow off 80% of my work, do well on 20%, and expect to be successful. Sorry. Not going to happen.

    Ultimately he concedes the idea of using a hundred point scale altogether in favor of a four point one, which I am much more open to discussing even though it is not without its own inherent problems. However, my fear is that most teachers reading, “The Case Against the Zero” would opt to disrupt their current system as little as possible and just change zeros to fifties. Again, this is to say to students that if they only show up on Fridays and work really hard, they’ll pass our classes.

    Doug is right, there is no trick here; except perhaps how a student graduating from a school that requires only 20% of its work to be done is going to fare well in life; that’s a trick I’d really like to see.

    July 17th, 2014 at 10:32 am
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