Palo Alto High School Teacher Refuses to Assign Homework

A Palo Alto, California, high school teacher, has stopped assigning homework to his world history and advanced placement economics students, according to an article in sfgate.com, After years of teachers piling it on, there’s a new movement to … Abolish homework.

The teacher has found that his students achieve a 94 percent pass rate–a rate that increased once he abolished homework–on the advanced-placement test. That 94 percent pass rate is one of the highest in the country.

33 thoughts on “Palo Alto High School Teacher Refuses to Assign Homework

  1. I could teach AP classes and get 94% pass rate if I taught at the high school 9 minutes from Stanford in Palo Alto where all the professors kids and Silicon Valley execs kids go too…Unfortunately, most of us aren’t granted that resource set to work with.

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  2. In response to Wjost:
    If you are trying to say that it is necessary to assign more homework to students in disadvantaged areas (and I was not sure because your comment was somewhat incoherent) I would ask the following: 1) Is assigning more homework to disadvantaged kids a solution? 2) If it is neccesary to assign more homework to disadvantaged students, does that negate the possiblity that in Palo Alto it may be unnecessary, because as you imply, kids are advantaged? 3) Lastly, does this negate the teachers’ bravery in bucking “conventional wisdom?”

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  3. ok, first, my username is “wjosh” not “wjost”…

    Now to address your questions, my basic point was that if I was teaching a class of intellectually capable, motivated kids (which the kids at the school most likely are), then homework probably isn’t necessary because they understand and comprehend the things taught in class when they are gone over. They don’t need homework to practice ideas/topics/problems because they understand the large majority of what is gone over in the class. Now kids who are less intelligent and/or less motivated (regardless of their socio-economic class), need homework because they don’t pick the material up immediately. They need more practice and remediation because they aren’t capable of understanding complex topics after being taught it once.

    If you couldn’t understand all of that, what I’m saying is that, if I had an AP Math or Economics class with 20 kids similar to myself (in terms of intellectual ability and motivation, etc.) in it, I could get most, if not all, to learn enough to pass the AP exam without homework (or with very minimal homework). But the point is that very few classes are composed of such a homogenous group of students and thus need to give homework to the ones that don’t understand what you do in class the first time it is gone over.

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  4. According to your theory, students who do not understand the material presented in class should take home homework (on material they do not understand) and after completing it at home (without the instruction/assistance of the teacher) should have a better understanding of the material. Seems to me, that if the time in class was spent on “teaching” and engaging the students homework would not be necessary. There is no “one-size-fits-all” teaching method. If you get students excited about learning they become motivated to seek out more information on their own. Giving them stacks of paper, reading logs, etc does not inspire learning.

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  5. Wjosh writes:

    …my basic point was that if I was teaching a class of intellectually capable, motivated kids (which the kids at the school most likely are), then homework probably isn’t necessary because they understand and comprehend the things taught in class when they are gone over. They don’t need homework to practice ideas/topics/problems because they understand the large majority of what is gone over in the class.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    My daughter is in a highly selective math/science/technology magnet public high school school. These kids, by and large, have well educated parents with lots of outside enrichment. Then how would you explain the mountains of daily homework my child receives? wjosh, I agree with you that it’s not necessary

    Rather, I’m convinced her homework load isn’t what homework originally was intended to be, well intentioned or not. Her homework has far less to do with practice than it does with extending the curriculum. Let’s not kid ourselves. Afternoons, evenings and weekends are more school, school at home. Teachers know parents will move heaven and earth for the homework to get done, if it’s assigned the kids will do it, so it’s tempting to send much of it home.

    My daughter is expected to teach herself calculus and physics. Lucky is the child who has a mathematician or physicist for a parent, but that doesn’t describe me or my husband. We can’t afford a tutor so we we’re out of luck.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Now kids who are less intelligent and/or less motivated (regardless of their socio-economic class), need homework because they don’t pick the material up immediately. They need more practice and remediation because they aren’t capable of understanding complex topics after being taught it once.

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

    I’d beg to disagree with you here, wjosh. We put up with massive homework overload to escape the busy work and repetition. And we don’t escape it entirely. While the school has a 100 percent NCLB pass rate, the kids still have to take the test, and although minimal, we still hear about the test.

    But less busy work in gifted programs begs the question. Should any child be subjected to an endless rise of tedium and repetition? Just because a child is behind and poor, should she be forced to endure grinding worksheets that do nothing to inspire or motivate?

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  6. Being that AP courses are college courses, I don’t really think it matters if the teacher decides to give homework or not. Let’s face it, we’ve all had college professors who load on reading assignments, etc. and we’ve had those who don’t. What’s it matter how the teacher feels about homework? It’s up to the students to either read or not, to either practice or not. If this teacher is getting 90%+ pass rate w/o assigning homework, good for him. That doesn’t mean that his students aren’t going home and neglecting to read the textbook or do problems on their own. If the students and parents understand that it’s a college level course, then they should understand that it’s on the student not the teacher. AP students who are informed on the difficulty of passing AP exams know they have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to pass, regardless of the teacher’s methods. It’s college, people….sink or float. The kid is the captain and the teacher is merely the compass. That 90%+ passing rate shouldn’t be a bragging right for any teacher. Rather, that high rate should be 100% attributed to the hard work and intellectual faculties of those particular students. I tell my students, “if you pass the exam in May…don’t come thanking me or giving me thank you cards, because you’re the one who did it.” Likewise, i tell them, “don’t come blaming me if you fail, because you’re the one who did it.” Let’s face it…MOST students will only do homework if it constitutes a grade….the students at Palo Alto recognize that high school grades don’t equate to college credit on a passed exam. I guarantee you those kids are working even if there’s no graded homework assigned by the teachers. In fact, I’d love for one of those students to comment here. I can’t stand how one of the posts pigeon-holed Palo Alto students.

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  7. Undertheredsky — if you think American kids will fall behind if they don’t do their homework, you need to look at the actual homework kids get in American schools. Believe me, no one will fall behind because they didn’t make their umpteenth poster or diorama.

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  8. Let’s see now… I am a live in nanny and also nanny for another family both with very intelligent parental figure on both the paternal and maternal sides. I have seen the ridiculous amounts of ‘busy work’ labeled homework that children come home with, and its is astonishing. When i was in school we were given busy work some with a point and others clearly to continue the education outside of the class room. Problem regardless of how smart these children are the must first be interested in how these lessons help them in their environment directly. If they are bored at school,in the class room, at home with their projects,paperwork and homework it is not there fault that what is provided for them is not stimulating enough for them to want to learn. Children are sponges if we wring them out with the monotonous trash they send home that should simply be recycled how are they to retain any of the useful practical information they need to grow and truly be part of a better future society? We (School authority groups,doctors, counselors, therapists, etc. ) are responsible for allowing children to pollute themselves with the thought that enslaving their minds with busy work is all that matters. The idea that if they can only get this pile of paper covered with lead and ink describing mindless information that they will never use then maybe just maybe they can get the eyes open a little wider so they can see the sun light and the grass outside and learn more about their surroundings. Forgive the rant of a person that is full of cliches but my point is busy work does not make anyone smarter no matter the age.

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  9. It takes a nanny to be smarter than her employers. Smarter than the wealthy parents who employ her, wiser than the schools and teachers and administrators. She sees what comes home, she sees what the kids miss out on, she sees the fallout.

    The Emperor indeed has no clothes!

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  10. Undertheredsky writes:”…and then you wonder why American education has fallen behind.”

    If it’s falling behind, I’d like to think my family is not contributing to that decline. I’ve been outspoken about homework yet in our household, my child reads The New Yorker and The New York Times, curls up with John Steinbeck in the summer as pleasure not assigned reading, and as a child wrote novels in her spare time and played math games. If I haven’t said it a hundred times on this blog, I haven’t said it once. Homework did not enhance education, it took away from it. It took her away from her reading, writing, drawing, creating, discussing, exploring.

    Yes, we are living in an anti-intellectual time but I don’t think that’s what you meant. If education is prepping for a test, teaching kids how to fill in a bubble, timing them in kindergarten to see how fast they can read, turning reading into a chore, forcing kids to sit still for hours after a long day of school to sweat over busy worksheets, then yes, I’d agree that education is falling apart.

    If you want to live in a world where our children are not only taught information and knowledge, but how to intelligently process that information, how to think and create and become responsible ethical compassionate people of society, then homework will not get you there. Solid schooling will.

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  11. Sarah,Sarah,Sarah. You think this teacher refusing to do homework is a good thing? removing homework doesn’t do a damn good thing.

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  12. As a teacher, I find it interesting that us teachers are the target of the homework complaints. I happen to have a principal (my boss!) who pushes us to give homework. We also have something called NCLB that requires us to churn out drones that know how to fill in the correct bubbles and regurgitate facts. Finally, we have an insane amount of standards to cover in a short school year…hence your children are getting homework. We don’t like it, you don’t like it…DON’T BLAME US.

    Finally, these parents who say their kids write novels and do amazing things in their free time….well, your kid is not the norm. The norm in this country is being glued to a TV or computer and having allergic reactions to books and learning. So, I’d say a little homework won’t kill these kids.

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  13. Teresa says:

    ***
    As a teacher … DON’T BLAME US.
    ***

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. I’ve lost count of how many teachers have posted this same statement. Take responsibility for what you do.

    ***
    The norm in this coun­try is being glued to a TV or com­puter and hav­ing aller­gic reac­tions to books and learn­ing.
    ***

    Maybe the kids are allergic to books and learning because they’ve been turned off by teachers like you. Maybe they’re tired of being pushed to cover an insane amount of standards. Maybe they’re fed up with filling in bubbles and regurgitating facts.

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  14. “So, I’d say a little home­work won’t kill these kids.”

    Maybe not, but it’ll surely kill the kids who are already writing novels and reading of their own volition. And little and homework don’t appear in the same sentence in my corner of the world. It’s hardly just a little homework.

    “As a teacher, I find it interesting that us teachers are the target of the homework complaints.” We teachers.

    If you don’t want to be the target, align yourself with parents. My daughter’s middle school teacher reluctantly confided in me how much she disliked NCLB and how it hampered her teaching. That I had respect for.

    Many teachers will say they hate NCLB and still punish children for incomplete homework. You can’t have it both ways. If you hate it, don’t pass the buck.

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  15. Teresa writes:

    We also have something called NCLB that requires us to churn out drones that know how to fill in the correct bubbles and regurgitate facts…DON’T BLAME US.

    (snip)

    The norm in this country is being glued to a TV or computer and having allergic reactions to books and learning.

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

    I’m sure you see the cause and effect. I feel for you but you sound so bitter and dour. I can’t imagine how reading could flourish under those conditions. It is a tragedy that NCLB has robbed teachers of their classrooms. But please find a way to take it back. And for those students (the ones you think are so rare) who already love to learn, are reading voluminously, writing novels at recess, the bus, at home, in a restaurant; don’t kill it for them. With these kids, can’t you at least look the other way?

    PsychMom, we are in violent agreement! A perfect example of how teachers should tailor homework to meet the needs of the child. Teachers may say, but how do I really know? I’ll tell you, I’ll work with you. Talk to us, get to really know our children, and don’t overwork them for no reason. Your measuring stick should always be, is there a benefit?

    I’d have more sympathy for you, Teresa, if you had more respect for us. Instead what I saw from the elementary public school teachers was punishment for reading at home, punishment for writing. Nothing my child did in her off time ever counted for much unless she did exactly as dictated. Teachers need to start becoming part of the solution and not just more of the problem passed down.

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  16. Wow! What an argument here! I really don’t see the need for homework in elementary grades for the simple fact that what I get most of the time are papers perfectly done by kids who, in class, can’t even write their own name. I have moved to differentiated homework assignments and projects. The kids are engaged and want to do them. But if I have to go another year giving meaningless, monotonous, homework (spelling words, reading log, high frequency words, timed reading practice, etc) I will go crazy. I have not seen the benefits. If they don’t understand the content in class, they won’t understand it at home. We have them for up to 7 hours a day in the classroom, then we send them home to do it all again?

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  17. Anonymous, can I re-run our lives, start all over and have you as the teacher? For all twelve years? Pretty please. Wow indeed! Who let a sane person in?

    You go, teacher! We appreciate your comments. Thanks for the support!

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  18. PsychMom says:

    OK, that Anonymous teacher can’t be for real. So, if that teacher has that kind of understanding, why is it so hard for the rest of the system to not get it?

    We’d have nothing to talk about FedUpMom or HomeworkBlues, if all the teachers thought that way.

    And why is it that no teacher ever rebukes a fellow teacher who thinks the way that this latest poster does?

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  19. I have just read a article, about too much homework. This is a reall issue in modern U.S. being a ninth grader with all ap classes and a tenth grade class i know what alot of homework is. tonight i had too do 50 geometry problems, read three chapters and write a response for each one on top of that my dumb english teacher assigned us another worksheet she did’nt even know how to explain. i finished all this homework in about 5 hours can you beleive it i finish my homework so fast huh? at least leaving me no time to do important thing like actually study and not to mention the thing il like to do to keep my self stimulated. i found that since starting ninth grade i have started to hate my favorite subject and i came to relize that i hate all my teachers and i am now sick for no appearent reason and i am constantly depressed with my life due to the fact that these teacher dont think we are smart enough to do stuff by our selfs and feel like they have to walk us threw everything we are not babies anymore stop treating us like ones and cut it out with the higher thinking bull shit because i know im about 50% smarter then all my teacher and if your reading this you will see alot of typoes this is do to the fact that im am highly stressed and exhausted and this is causing me not to think straight and by the end of this im probably going to be dead cause this homework bull shit is killing me

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  20. also i beleive that half the teacher’s in my school shoud’nt be there becasue of there shere stupidity and ignorance maybe if the school system hired “real” teachers they we would learn something ever so often

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  21. Sometimes doing homework doesn’t work. Students some times copy their homework. writing none I think is better than copying. Thanks for writing about it.

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