Ohio School District, Continued

I had a conversation today with Steve Price, the School Superintendent of Middletown, Ohio, where school board members are considering a policy which would eliminate the grading of homework. Price, who supports the policy, is hearing from parents who think it’s a bad idea. From the editorial in the local newspaper, you’d think the school board were considering something radical.

Here’s the editorial.

To grade or not to grade homework?

“We are challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
— President George W. Bush, Jan. 8, 2004

We are disappointed that Middletown schools are planning to no longer grade homework assignments.

The plan is not an indictment of the schools or the teachers — it’s a practical recognition of the sad fact that we have a growing number of students who live in situations that make completing homework an extremely low priority. Or no priority at all.

But the plan is an indictment of those parents who just don’t care about their child’s education or future, those who are too busy with their own lives, their own problems, to devote a few hours a week to helping their child succeed.

It is a tragedy that Middletown schools have to even consider this proposal, but they are at least being innovative and proactive. As far as we know, this is the first time any area school has taken such a radical step to level the playing field in the classroom.

Middletown’s attempt to level the playing field may be laudable, but it also lowers expectations at a time when competition for entry into college and the work force is growing more and more fierce.

In college and at work, students and employees will not be coddled, their home lives and personal problems will not be factored into their class or work assignments, and they will face high expectations in the quality of their work. If our students graduate from Middletown with good grades, but those grades are based on limited expectations and minimal standards, they may have a hard time succeeding in college or on the job.

Lowering expectations to accommodate students whose home lives are so distracting, uncaring, wearying or terrifying that homework becomes unimportant to them, really helps no one. In fact, it could easily lead to a kind of “soft bigotry” of which President Bush spoke, in which students are thought of as incapable of meeting higher expectations, regardless of circumstances. Worse, they could begin to lower their own expectations of themselves.

But there is another issue — the added burden Middletown’s plan could place on teachers.

According to the proposed homework guidelines, “assignments must align with” state standards and other benchmarks. This requires at least a minimum level of learning in a specific amount of time.

At the same time, teachers must “differentiate homework assignments to meet the individual needs of students.”

Assuming that it’s possible to create separate assignments for each student, or even for small groups of students, on a daily basis, the result would likely be a class of students who are at different levels of learning.

How are teachers supposed to meet both guidelines — bring each student up to state standards, yet accommodate each student’s individual learning needs?

Further, under the plan, homework will be “a way of practicing things that have been learned in class,” according to board member Marcia Andrews.

If that’s the case, those whose home life already precludes homework will remain at a disadvantage during in-class testing, since they will not have “practiced” after school hours.

Middletown’s plan merely shifts the point at which the disadvantage occurs.

We believe all of our students need to face and meet high expectations. Homework is one of those expectations. One suggestion we would offer is to grade homework assignments, but count them only as extra credit. This would encourage completing the assignments without punishing those who, for whatever reason, cannot do them.

We’re pleased administrators are giving school board members — and the public — plenty of time to weigh the pros and cons of this important policy change. We understand why it’s necessary, but it still feels as though we’re conceding — rather than rallying to the challenge of leaving no child behind.

17 thoughts on “Ohio School District, Continued

  1. I saw your efforts highlighted on Boing Boing, and since I couldn’t leave a comment there, I came here.

    Did I read that right that you believe homework contributes to obesity?


    Could you connect those dots for me please?

    Could you explain how keeping kids away from the television, which contributes to obesity, and away from video games, which contribute to inactivity, hence obesity, CAUSES obesity?

    You had me until that idea floated by like a flatulent breeze.



  2. The point that I take exception to is “those whose home life already precludes homework will remain at a disadvantage during in-class testing, since they will not have “practiced” after school hours.”
    This point preclude the possibility of a child learning the lesson at school, and not needing practice.
    In the old scenario a child could have attended class, understood the lesson fully, and then scored low on the lesson because they didn’t have time for homework. In the new scenario they will be punished not for not “practicing,” but for not knowing. We would be scoring based on learning, as opposed to scoring, partly, on how much time they have to do homework.


  3. I’m still in high school, and I read this book and think it’s great. Just got out of junior year.

    I’ve already had many problems with homework before. Namely because it’s all that’s holding my grades back. I don’t do it because it’s a waste of energy. I already know the stuff, I don’t need to prove it to them except on tests. I score well over 100% on all the tests except for the ones in other languages, where I get B’s.

    I would have a GPA between 3.5 and 4 if the homework wasn’t pulling down all my grades by 10~25%(except math, I score so high on tests, I got A+ for end of year). Optional homework would be so much better than homework as we have it right now.

    Standardized tests are… pointless. Unless of course they’re using them to decide how much money the school gets. In which case, they’re dumb as bricks.

    Tests like the Terra Nova and CSAPs should be optional, only to see what you know and don’t. I regularly scored max scores on them… over and over again. Waste of 4 hours of my life each time we had them.

    The ACT was…. better. Some of the questions were about things we weren’t going to learn till next year though. The precautions to keep people from cheating were overboard. It was easy as pie, sadly. After all the hype and build up… I scored 31/36 composite score.

    With that score, and without homework, I’d be able to drop out of school right now and head on to college. But I can’t, because my GPA is too low.

    I’d rant more about school, namely about my school’s gifted and talented program, but that’d be getting off topic.


  4. Unless your kids can miraculously can do homework on the treadmill or during jumping jacks, then yes, Anonymous, homework contributes to obesity. As far as the body is concerned, there is no difference between parking your butt in a chair to do homework and parking it on the couch to watch TV or play video games. It’s sedentary behaviour, which equals low calorie burn.

    Burn the homework and send ’em outside with a basketball!


  5. You know, every time I read anything on schools and education I become more and more convinced that I should home school my daughter rather than feeding her into the sausage machine we laughingly call the education system. The sad fact is that school along with its homework burden has never really prepared anyone for “the real world”. I certainly remember homework as a total waste of time and that was a long time ago when the amount was far less and parents were not expected to “help” their kids with it either. No, I think my little girl will be far better off out of it.

    Good luck with the good fight Sara!


  6. Anon2 – While I agree with your post in the main, if you’re thinking hard about something, you are burning *some* energy. Not as much as you would be in physical activity, but more than if you were sitting around watching TV or playing video games.


  7. The ignorance of our president, a commander in chief who has absolutely no feel for education, comes through in his quote in the editorial.

    It’s about time for journalists and parents, who want to do nothing but complain about policy out of sheer ignorance, to do a little research.

    There are numorous studies — some as recent as 2006 — that outline the deleterious effects of homework. These studies, one from Duke University, say that there is no clear connection between homework and achievement before homework.

    They also note that if homework is given that it should take no more than 10 minutes for any one assignment.

    In fact, Bush and other politicians love to compare us to places llike China, in terms of education. Research indicates that students in China spend approximately 60 percent less time weekly on homework than their American counterparts.

    Information is power, yet so many, including our president, remain powerless.


  8. kit peters- Obviously you’ve never played video games. I do more thinking while I’m playing video games then when I’m doing my upper division college math homework.

    I remember reading a study where after having a group of senior citizens play a shooter style video game for like an hour a day that after several weeks they had actually grown new brain cells.

    I’ve thought on my own for several years now that sitting in school for 9+ hours then doing a couple of hours of homework everynight contributed more to inactivity then the time spent watching tv or playing video games.


  9. Jeez, why don’t we just eliminate all standards and just award all children a Ph.D. and have it done with?

    No more dropouts, no more loss of self esteem, no more state indoctrintion.


  10. I don’t force my own children to spend too many hours on homework. If they don’t finish in a reasonable amount of time I let them drop it.

    I would rather see them pursue their own creative projects, write, or read, or draw what they want. I wish the teachers encouraged them to share what they do at home, in class, to give them an audience for their talents. I see the process of imagine, plan, and execute an idea as the most important skill they will develop.


  11. I am so happy to have found this website. My daughter is just finishing her 8th grade year and homework is an issue. She frequently “forgets” to do it, OR she does it but fails to hand it in because she doesn’t see it as important. Still, she get A’s on her tests and and in class school work. Even though she is obviously mastering the material without the homework, she has, as an A/A-B student, been required to participate in an after school program on a number of occasions for “getting behind” in her school work. This program gives these students a mandatory school day that begins at 7:30 am and ends at 5:00 pm.

    She does many creative and worthwhile things with her after school time including playing her trumpet, horseback riding, school sponsored sports and volunteering at an equine assisted therapy center. So, a child who doesn’t do homework doesn’t necessarily equal a child who’s “home life precludes” it. She’s well supervised, physically active and encouraged to try many things outside of school. She’s just bright enough to know when her time is being wasted.


  12. Home work is the number one cause for child abuse in America !!! How many stressed out children and parents have to squeeze in pointless hours of homework? I think if the teachers did there jobs they wouldnt need to send homework home with the children !!!! My husband and I work long hours and to have to fit in dinner ,baths laundry etc. The only thing I feel I am sayng to my children is “do you have any home work?” “is your homework done?” “no you cant go out you have homework !!” I didnt become a teacher by choice so I shouldnt have to become one after my “real” job ends .


  13. I can not believe the previous stressed out mother stated “…homework was the number one cause of child abuse in America!” Furthermore, her comment that “I didn’t become a teacher by choice so I shouldn’t have to become one after my “real” job ends” repulses me. Let me say that parenting is a full-time teaching job, and you should not have taken on the responsibility if you didn’t understand what all that entails. Let’s look at an approach of comparing chores to homework. The life skills you teach your child in your home are approached the same way in a classroom by a teacher. For example, when you teach your child to wash dishes, you do so with a mini-lesson of role modeling a demonstration of “how-to”, followed by allowing your child to practice each step in front of you while you give direct instruction. Then you assign your child homework of practice to help the child receive the mastery level until they can do the dishes on their own. You should ask yourself the same questions an effective teacher asks each time they plan lessons; what is the goal, what outcome do I want for success, what can I (as a parent/instructor) do to help the child to succeed? The goals of dish washing may be to: learn a new life skill to become an independent adult one day and/or to contribute to the co-habitation of the household so all can share in the responsibility of house care. The outcome for dish washing might be to clean dishes of all food particles, sanitize dishes, and rinse for elimination of soap residue. While this comparison may seem like you are comparing apples to oranges, the simple fact is they are relevant due to the fact that they are lessons with outcomes. Teaching in the home and at school are lessons with measurable outcomes: mastery.

    In my school, homework is only assigned for review and enhancement of the lesson taught that day in the classroom. Furthermore, homework may NOT be assigned for the purpose of teaching a new concept by self-instruction. Homework is practice! Just like in sports, practice works. I can’t imagine a parent telling a piano teacher, ballet instructor, or sporting coach that the practice and review elements of learning to master a skill are pointless and are the cause of child abuse in America! When the “stessed-out parents” statement is applied to a different arena of learning, do you realize how absurd that statement is?

    All school students need practice and review to master academic skills, and with our school days shorter than most other schools in other nations, parents must monitor the practice element in the home. The real debate that should be presented to school boards is not whether to eliminate homework, but to challenge the districts to make the homework solely for review and enhancement of the lesson taught that day in class! Make homework relevant so it is not a waste of precious family time. ~Middle School Teacher


  14. Schools should make HW optional. This would free up time for students who have a grasp of the material and do not need to do the tedius and boring hw problems over and over again. This would also free up the time the teacher waste grading the assignment to focus on way to enrich the students learning experience in a prosuctive way. That way the HW will still be their as guidence for students who need to gain a better grasp of the subject or is trying to boost grades. This is how HW is handled in most college courses. I remeber in Junior HS during my last semester of math I recieved a 100% or higher in all of my test or quizes but failed to hand in a single HW. When I got a report card and recieved an 89% in the class I thought to my self if I had completed one assignment I would have definately got an A, but most of the time the HW sliped my mind because it was boring and i did not need it to understand the material. Fortunately JHS GPA isnt a factor for appling to college


  15. In my opinion, the real debate is about the justified resistance of many parents to the long arm of the schools reaching into our private family lives in the evening, on the weekends, and vacations. As parents, we are already besieged by a multitude of cultural and societally sanctioned assaults on our children’s lives that deflect and hinder our ability to parent authentically, effectively, and FREELY. I am personally tired of schools further invading my homelife and driving my decisions about what to do with our precious, limited, private time. Why is it that schools assume that no learning can take place unless it is school-related? It is not the job of schools to preclude video game playing or tv watching or any other questionably wasteful, unhealthy activities. Homework is not going to make those pursuits go away. Why have we let pedagogy become akin to rocket science? Before the invention of schools, the litercay rate in this country was 99%! Schools have way too much power in our lives, and some of it needs to be returned to the parents.


  16. In response to the middle school teacher:

    The comment that “I didn’t become a teacher by choice so I shouldn’t have to become one after my “real” job ends” certainly does NOT repulse me at all.

    When I was bringing home schoolwork in grade two, my father went to the principal and asked that no schoolwork be brought home. This, so that he and my mother can have time to teach me real homework: how to wash the dishes, how to build things, how to sew, how to fix the car, how to fold laundry, how to cook, etc. Also, he argued for a stress free childhood so that I could become friends with my parents and so that I could nurture my own creativity and interests.

    Both my parents were high school drop-outs. I am now working on my Master’s thesis. There was no way that they ever took on the job as “teacher” in the common sense of the word. They took on the other very important job as “parent”. Part of that job included the simple act of being a friend and fellow human being.

    And I am sure the “mom of 3” knows, as my own parents knew, that part of the job of being a parent includes being a “teacher”. Not a teacher of math or grammar, no. Part of the job of being a parent includes being a teacher of other things. She may not know this to say it, but judging by her concerns, she seems to know this intuitively.

    I am very glad that the “mom of 3” took on the responsibility to become a parent. Judging by her concerns, it seems to me she is more responsible than the average parent.

    It is absurd to compare homework with ballet practice unless you are speaking of a child who attends the National Ballet School of Canada (or other such school where the child is practicing the art of dance during the day). Likewise, it is absurd to compare homework with piano practice unless you are speaking of a child who is in a school where students practice the art of piano during the day.

    I realize that teachers already do enough. Instead of loading more responsibility on teachers, broader changes are required.


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