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.”
â€” 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 â€” 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 â€” 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 â€” 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 â€” and the public â€” 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 â€” rather than rallying to the challenge of leaving no child behind.