John Lee Hooker – Homework
Back in the glory days of teaching (i.e. pre- July 1, 2011), an LAUSD teacher could use her best judgment to designate which portion of a student’s academic grade was represented of homework. For example, he might assign homework to be worth 25% of a students grade because he feels that a grade (which is looked at by colleges) should partially reflect the amount of hard work a student has put into a class. On the other hand, a teacher might choose her homework assignments to be worth a mere 5% of the grade, because she desires the vast majority (i.e. 95%) of it to be based on tests, quizzes, and projects, etc…
Those days are no longer.
The New Policy
Beginning on Friday, LAUSD has decreed that homework shall be weighted no more than 10% of a student’s grade. The two main reasons cited for this are (a) a desire to insure that an academic grade reflects academic knowledge learned, rather than mere compliance, and (b) a desire to not penalize students who may not have resources to adequately complete homework at home.
To be clear, what this new policy does not do is mandate the amount of homework teachers may assign. For example, a 7th grade student receiving 70 minutes of homework a night (“grade level x 10” is a generally agreed upon formula) is still likely to be assigned 70 minutes of homework a night. Yet what this policy does do is to explicitly state that that work may count for no more than 10% of the academic grade, hopefully resulting in a grade that is an accurate reflection of a student’s actual content learning.
Unsurprisingly, reaction to the new policy has been swift and varied, ranging from those who view it favorably to the extent that they think our Chief Academic Officer, Judy Elliot “should be put on a pedestal for getting such a policy through”, to those who decry the new policy and accuse LAUSD leadership of seeming to “think that lowering expectations for children is the way to go.” [Quotes chosen (very selectively) from the comment section of the L.A. Times, a section which tends to find far too few reasoned voices in a sea of unmitigated yelling].
Conducting a bit of Facebook research on my own, I posed the question as to whether this new policy is a good idea or a bad one, with the following choices and results:
On the whole, a majority (54%) of respondents seem to resonate with the concern that the policy will reduce an incentive to practice academics at home.
What was fairly interesting to me is that I had a small number (n=11) of former students weigh in as well, and likewise, 54% (i.e. 6) of them seemed to have concern with the potentially unintended consequence of de-weighting homework for students.
The coolest part of this unscientific polling was that many respondents left excellent comments after they had voted, some of which detailed their own past policies as teachers, or their thoughts on the long-term implications of a policy like this (including the potential financial implications, which I’d not heard brought to this discussion). These are definitely worth a read.
So my two cents? While I do think grades ought to be based on learning, rather than compliance, I very much resonated with the majority of responding teachers surveyed here. Also having just finished reading Wendy Kopp’s A Chance to Make History, one of the strongest factors she cites as elements that successful schools have emphasized is more time engaging the curriculum. And while this 10% homework weighting policy doesn’t reduce the amount of homework (a.k.a. time engaging the curriculum), it does reduce the connection between the “hard work” students put forth and the results that they see. If we’re not just teaching percentages, but also perseverance; if we’re not just teaching decimals, but also dedication; if we’re not just teaching fractions, but also fortitude; and if we’re serious about all kids being able to make it to college, then we’ve got to be serious about the kinds of academic habits it’s going to take to get them there. We must raise the bar, and unfortunately, this new policy may lower it.
My frustration with this district was only furthered as I tried to reach out in an attempt to serve my math department. Knowing that many teachers might have the same questions and concerns as I did, I emailed the district’s math person with the following two questions:
- What are some strategies that math teachers can use to continue to instill in their students the importance and value of excellent home study habits, especially now that students will not see a direct connection between any effort they put into continuing academic practice at home and their academic grade?
- What are some strategies math teachers can use to communicate this policy effectively to parents, many of which may see homework as a primary method to encourage their children’s academics and now must face the paradigm shift that the influence of homework is now merely indirect?
My hope is that someday I will work for a district that will support teachers and department chairs who take the initiative to reach out for it, rather than receive 17-word non-answers in response. (“The training suggestions and strategies could be found on the resources outlined in the memo.”) That was literally the response I got. If the “resources outlined” actually referred to some web links that were instantly viewable and addressed the questions I asked, the response would be alright. Unfortunately, the 3 resources cited are books, which do not host their content online, which leaves me with the options of leaving my questions unanswered as I try to serve my department, or go out and spend $87 on Amazon.com purchasing the resources the district is apparently
supporting us with pointing us to.