Send Etta Kralovec Your Stories about Lowered Grades Because of Homework Incompletion

Etta Kralovec, the co-author of The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning, needs your help. A long-time educator, teacher, author, and university professor, she is now the principal of a charter high school in LA. She wrote to me:

The community where my school sits has the lowest parental educational level of any community in LA. And yet, many teachers at my school pile on the homework! Homework is often 20% of a student’s final grade. When I began noticing how low our students’ grades were, I did a little research and found that the reason the grades were so low was not because their test or classwork scores were low, but because they had 0s for their homework grades.

I think homework’s impact on students’ final grades is a wide spread problem related to homework and rarely discussed. If students are able to pass class tests and complete classwork why should their homework grades be factored into their final grade? I would like to hear from your readers about this issue. Have your kid’s grades been lowered because they fail to complete homework? Do you know anyone who has challenged this practice and won? Please let me hear your stories.

Please send Etta an email with your stories and post them in the Comments as well. Tell her I sent you her way. And please take the time to do this. It’s very important.

15 thoughts on “Send Etta Kralovec Your Stories about Lowered Grades Because of Homework Incompletion

  1. When my son was in 9th grade in a New York City public high school, he was heavily penalized for not completing his homework. In some of his classes, homework completion was 30-40 percent of the grade. He is an excellent test taker (usually got 100s on his tests), but his teachers were more concerned about homework completion.

    His science teacher told the class one day that she was going to collect their homework notebooks the next day and that homework counted for 40 percent. My son told her he hadn’t done any of it (he’d gotten a perfect score on every test) and she told him he better have a homework notebook to hand in. She told him to borrow someone else’s and copy!

    My son approached his history teacher about his low grade and had a conversation something like this:

    My Son: I wanted to ask you why my grade is so low.

    Teacher: You didn’t do your homework.

    My Son: Can you tell me the purpose of the homework.

    Teacher: So I can tell you did the reading.

    My Son: Of course I did the reading. I got 100 on all of your tests and a perfect score on your essay.

    Teacher: Hmmm. You’re right. You’re the only student I’ve ever had who got perfect scores.

    My Son: I love history. I just don’t find a need to write answers to the questions on the homework assignments to be able to remember the material or make sense of it.

    Teacher: Still, homework completion is part of the grade.

    My Son: But I don’t get anything out of doing the homework. Can I write an extra paper for you instead or do something that’s meaningful to me? As I said, I love history and almost of all of my outside reading is in that area.

    Teacher: No. Rules are rules. But if you want to go back and do all the homework assignments, I could up your grade a little. Since your homework would still be very late, though, I could only up it a little. And, by the way, you know I’m not going to recommend you for our super exciting history class reserved for the best students, because you don’t do your homework.

    My daughter goes to a different New York City public high school. Last year, I sat down with the principal to have a long discussion about homework and I asked him what would happen if that scenario happened at his school.

    He’s a very progressive educator and he told me he’s seen that scenario and has asked his teachers to reconsider. He said that if a student clearly knows the work, it doesn’t make sense to penalize them for homework incompletion. At the same time, though, he said a student like that might belong in a different school. (I wonder where that school is.)

    If you want to talk to that principal, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with him.


  2. I have 2 boys, one in 10th grade, and one in 8th grade. We live in a suburb in the east bay in California. The homework in our district has been graded by every teacher my boys ever had since kindergarten. What happens is many kids (my boys included) feel pressure to complete their homework because it will help their grades. Just last night, for example, I watched my 10th grader do a very prescriptive assignment on the roots of words for English. It takes him about 2 hours to complete 7 roots. I said “just do some of it or none of it” and he said “but I always almost fail the tests and I need the points or my grade will go down.”

    So there he is between a rock and a hard place. He wants to do well in the class and doing well means getting a good grade to him. I asked, “does doing this assignment make you love words or want to know the roots of more words.” He laughed like I was telling a hysterical joke. In fact, I was an English major and I can’t think of a better assignment than this one to make me hate English class, reading and writing. How sad!

    I reluctantly emailed his teacher (without my son’s permission) telling him about the frustration my son experiences while doing these lengthy root assignments. He sent me back a reply telling me it was a time management issue. If he started the assignment earlier, it wouldn’t be such a problem.

    I get so tired of hearing teachers respond in this way instead of really listening to the problem. This assignment is making at least one kid in this class (and I suspect many more in the class) hate words! How wrong and awful is that? I can think of MANY better ways to help a kid love words and reading in English class. Why can’t or won’t this teacher?


  3. Perhaps when my kids are a little older I’ll feel differently – but for now I think it’s more important that they run and play and draw and relax and snuggle and roll around after they get home from school.

    My daughter had a teacher in Grade 3 that assigned HOARDS of homework. I didn’t see any educational value in it. It was full of crossword puzzles, math games, fill in the blank stuff….just things that had been photocopied. I didn’t make her do it. I was surprised at the stressed out parents who would corner me and ask how we were handling all the homework. I’d simply respond that we don’t do it and they’d look at me with wide-eyed wonder. Apparently in the homes of her classmates there was fighting and crying and threatening of life and limb over homework. No one was allowed to go to sleepovers on weekends because there was too much homework. They were reconsidering registering in soccer because there was so much time required for homework. Give me a break!!

    I figured life’s too short. My kids does just fine in school and we don’t really need ‘time-fillers’ to keep us busy in the evenings and on weekends. We have enough other stuff to do. And I’m certainly not willing to sacrifice my relationship with my child to get into a big fight over wehther or not they should do a crossword puzzle that was sent home.

    The big concern most parents expressed was that they’d get a bad mark on the report card if they didn’t do it. Sure enough we did get that bad mark. My daughter got all 1’s and 2’s (1 is the highest mark and the lowest is 5) and she got a 3 in ‘completing assignments’. Guess what….who cares?! If she gets ‘performing above expectations’ on all the academic sections….why does she need to do crossword puzzles and the rest after school? Just doesn’t make any sense to me!


  4. In our school district, the grades aren’t just lowered for incompletion of homework, but are also lowered because they are turned in late, a day or two later than when due. Doesn’t matter if the homework is done correctly. If it’s late, the grade is automatically taken down.


  5. Saw your request on Sara’s website. Thanks for caring!

    All of my kid’s (7th and 10th grade) homework grades are factored in. Some teachers are better than others. For instance one math teacher gives full points for completing the homework even if they get all the problems wrong. She does insist students show their work. We have problems when the teacher assigns only 5 problems and getting a few wrong results in a D or F. We also have problems with some 0’s. What percent homework counts towards their grade varies from teacher to teacher with most teachers putting more emphasis on tests scores. (This works to the disadvantage of my 10th grader who get’s A’s on all her daily work and homework but panics on a test).

    As a former elementary education para, I can definitely say that homework hurts most children with special needs! I am constantly hearing teachers ragging on students for not completing their homework. My feelings are, if they can’t get it done in class, why do you think they will be able to complete it at home. Like your school, most of these kids do not have the best resources at home. If all the time spent nagging and belittling these kids was more wisely spent on helping and encouraging, their self esteem would improve and their grades would go up. Our school offers an after school “CAMP” program, but instead of helping kids get done what they couldn’t do during the day, they assign them more “test prep” work. Talk about defeating the purpose!

    The main problem I have seen at our school is that they try to teach too much, too fast. Instead of giving kid’s time to really grasp a new idea or subject, they move right on to the next thing. I have seen kids in 1st grade going from time to money in just a few days. I have heard teachers talk about being required from the principal to do so many pages in a workbook. Text books keep getting bigger and bigger. Ever pick up a backpack? Once a child gets lost on the basics, no amount of “early algebra” will ever help.

    With A and B students, our family has survived homework. I have seen a huge difference between what my two kids bring home. We live in a small rural community and they have both had the same teachers. My 10th grade girl does hours of homework a night (she is an overachiever and has to get everything perfect). My 7th grade boy hardly has any. (he is the one who gets a 0 now and again). Our 7th-12th grade school did make a change this year that could be the difference. They added 10 minutes to the day and went to a 9 course day for the high schoolers. This created some extra time for the junior high students to have a study hall.

    On a final note. Some of the craziest homework I have seen comes from the P.E. Teachers. One teacher assigned homework for the rules to badmitten, shuffle board and other random games. This year my son received a paper that said he had to do 2 hours per month of community service which would count towards his P.E. Grade. I am all for community service, but not when it is dictated by the school and counts towards a grade.


  6. P.E. homework…Are you kidding me?? How’s this…less overall homework, and the kids can run around outside, after school? My eldest starts middle school next year and someone is going to have me committed, if the art, music, p.e., and media classes are all assigning homework, in addition to the math, english, science, history, and Spanish homework!!


  7. My son (now in 7th grade) had a 5th grade teacher that spent class time playing games on his computer while students spent class time filling out worksheets. This guy was the king of worksheets. My favorite however was the time that my son brought home a worksearch for homework. There were history terms defined and the student had to come up with the answer and find the word hidden in a word search. My son had an especially large amount of homework that evening and we told him to just write down the answers to the definitions. What could possibly be gained by spending all the extra time looking for the word hidden in a word search? A week later he got back the assignment: D. All the answers were right, but he didn’t find the words. Unbelievable.

    Whenever our son had a word search, we had him define the words and we photocopied the word search and we all sat around the table until we found all the terms. We came to find out that many families were doing the same thing.

    We were never able to get a read on why the teacher thought this was so important. The principal did not want to get involved in the teacher’s teaching methods.

    The teacher is still teaching the same class and still using the same word searches as part of the students’ final grades.


  8. When my daughter was in 4th grade, her teacher assigned a huge research project the day before Spring break. Students were told to research the history of one of the states, write a 4 page report complete with a works cited page, design a visual aid, and come up with sample of a product produced or found in that state. My daughter was assigned the state of Missouri. The project was due the day students returned from Spring break.

    Our family was driving several states away during the week of Spring break to visit grandparents. We weren’t traveling anywhere near Missouri. There was no way for my daughter to conduct research while sitting in the car, nor was there any way for her to make a visual aid while traveling. The grandparents don’t have a computer let alone internet access.

    She didn’t do the project, but instead spent her week talking to her grandfather, learning to make a quilt with her grandmother, playing board games with the family, and sight seeing with cousins. It was a wonderful week.

    When she returned to school, I sent her teacher a note explaining that my daughter had not completed the state project because we had been out of town. Several days later, my daughter received an evaluation form the teacher had completed on the students who had done the project. My daughter’s form was blank, except for a large red F and a note from the teacher saying that my daughter needed to “learn time management skills and plan ahead.”


  9. Carrie, if the name was more familiar, I’d have sworn my daughter was in that class. She too had this major assignment, assigned the day of Spring Break, due the day she returned! Except this was third grade.

    We canceled our plans to grandpa. He died four years later. I’ll never forget how stupid I was. You never know how long the grandparents will live. We again are not going to see my mother this weekend. I pray she hangs on long enough so that we can see her in January.

    When people come on here and insist that homework doesn’t take that long, I don’t think they quite comprehend the dashed vacations, weekends, summers. And the loss of sleep, which greatly impacts our children’s health and ability to focus properly the next day. And that mantra of “poor time management.” Oh, for god’s sake.

    I know the big red F hurt, Carrie. But you’ll never forget that week spent away. I’d give anything to have had that one long week with my father. We didn’t make the same mistake twice. The next year, when a mega-project was again assigned around vacation, she did as much as she could in the car, and we spent the week with extended family. I’ve never regretted it.


  10. I am currently battling my high school in Riverside CA about mandatory participation in activies like Science Fair and History Day without providing adequate support and not incorporating these programs into the curriculum.

    These “extras” present heavy burdens in addition to the regular coursework. But the school wants to make it an issue about the personal abilities of the students.


  11. We moved to Arizona from Canada, a few years back, when my son was in 10th grade. In our province e in Canada, education policy is no homework in the elementary , middle school, or junior high grades. In junior high, occasional assignments that are pertinent to the courses, are allowed , with the key word being “occasional”. In high school, assignments cannot be penalized if they are turned in late, and policy is to keep homework to a minimum, with no more than one hour per night from all subjects combined, and none on the weekends, being the accepted standard. In high school, 8 classes are taught; four per day, alternating days, with 80 minutes per class, so that teachers have time to actually teach the subject instead of expecting the kids to self learn through homework. Canada has scored highly in the PISA testing for the last decade, finishing in the top ten in math and science, and the top five for reading and grammar. Finland, and Denmark, which both finished in the top five for all three subjects, have strict no homework policies.

    Imagine my despair when we moved to Arizona, and I enrolled my son, who was an A student, in the high school here. We live in an affluent area, and the school, Cactus Shadows, is ranked one of the top 1000 high schools in the USA. My son quickly learned that grades at Cactus Shadows depended almost entirely on homework assignments. My son had no experience with homework and refused to do it, or handed it in late. He was given zeros for each missed assignment, and docked half marks for each late assignment. Oh, and he started school three weeks late, because of the move, and he was given zeros for all of the assignments that he missed in the three weeks before he started school. I was absolutely shocked. My son was in serious academic trouble right from the start. I had meetings with the school and they told us that he had to do the homework, and there was no negotiation. He was not allowed to participate in extra curricular activities, because he was failing all his classes. His test marks were very good, but the zeros from homework were averaged in, so that he couldnt pull his grades up.

    Now, imagine being 15 years old, in a new school, and a new country. Then imagine not being able to fully participate in that school because your grades are bad, when they have always been very good in the past. You cant make friends in a new place if you are doing homework all the time and cant be in drama club, or football, or…

    The most insulting part was, when he did make an effort to make up the assignments that he missed in the three weeks before he started at the school, they were immediately docked half marks for being late. WTF

    My son became clinically depressed, and began refusing to go to school. He was so unhappy. We had never had problems with him before, but he totally withdrew when he realized how futile it was, and he sort of gave up. We took him to a psychiatrist, who put him on antidepressant medication. By March, we took him out of Cactus Shadows and sent him back to Canada, to live with his older brother and finish school there. His grades are better, but he still has not recovered from his depression. He doesn’t like being away from us here, and he plans on coming back for college. This has been the worst educational experience of my life, and I have raised four sons, of differing abilities.

    Schools in the USA reward compliance, not knowledge. They are designed to turn out mindless robots, who can obey orders instead of people who love to learn and can apply what they learn to different situations. It is not surprising to me that the USA doesnt even place in the top 20 in PISA testing. The only thing that kids here learn, is to hate school, and to shut their minds down. They have lost the joy, the wonder, and the adventure of learning. It is sad to see.


  12. As an American high school senior, I have to say… Canada sounds amazing. I have attended a small, private K-12 school since I was ten and I had way, way more than an hour of homework per night from the first year onward. The pressure to perform is ridiculous and entirely counterproductive– and what really kills me is how it is entirely NORMAL for kids to be sleeping less than six hours a night and perpetually behind. There are simply not enough hours in the day, and that’s even when you push back bedtime far later than is healthy. From the middle of my sophomore year to the middle of my senior year, I basically didn’t sleep. Too much to do, and I felt guilty if I went to bed with work undone. It was presented as a moral failing. For the better part of two years I was perpetually exhausted and therefore irrational, and incapable of the straightforward thinking that would have allowed homework to go faster. During the middle of this past year, just before winter vacation, I had a complete meltdown. I hadn’t turned in any homework for a month and my grades were tanking, and I was terrified that my chances at college would be dashed but catching up seemed an impossible task. My parents finally took me to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me as severely depressed, and I’ve been responding extremely well to the medication, but god, this experience has been nightmarish. I feel like I haven’t been living for the past two years. It is disgusting that these levels of stress and sleep deprivation are normalized.


  13. It’s too bad that you had to suffer so long Nicole and unfortunate that YOU are the one diagnosed with depression, when really it’s the system that is making unrealistic demands. I hope your parents are supportive. Good Luck.


  14. Well, I’m in 8th grade and I’m going absolutely insane. I’m an A/B student and I’ve gone to over 8 different schools (Military cause). I’m now in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a private school, and I have NEVER had this much homework. I have to write and research an entire essay for one class in one day, plus 6 pages, PAGES, of math a day. And more. I usually stay up until midnight or later every night, waking up MY DAD and telling him to go to bed. Then I wake up at 5:30 am and the bus comes around 6:30. I’m exhausted all day, get home around 5:30 pm, and I have just as much homework the next day. Same thing every day. I usually end up finishing my homework as class starts. Most of the time I can barely have time to put wrong answers on there. I live in Brazil for heaven’s sake. I’m only going to live here once, and I want to enjoy it and do after-school activities with friends (I’ve had to quit 4 different plays I actually got significant parts for because of homework and lack of sleep.) I have a HUGE project for church this weekend and I haven’t even started it because I’ve either been sleeping or during homework. What the heck. At some point you just have to say SCREW THIS.


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