This past April I had written a post which focused on the problems with 'traditional' graded homework. There was a particular emphasis for lower income families. This particular blog has consistently been one of the more read submissions I've had. There has been a wonderfully large number of fellow educators who have shared their agreement with the pieces message in many ways.
BUT- the article has also drawn it's fair share of criticism (FYI- I really appreciate all the professional dialogue- agree or disagree- this is how we grow). Particularly from those who accuse my stance on homework as being one that lowers the standard for low income children (it doesn't). The ability for students of different to complete homework is certainly one of it's issues, but the fact that it confuses what's supposed to be measuring is also a problem. This problem extends to all students of all backgrounds.
About a year ago I was chatting with a parent who had just left her 5th grade son's parent/teacher conference. This was a wonderful parent who had several children in our school. She was on the PTO board, active at school events, sought tutoring when struggles arose, etc.
I asked her how the conference went. She said fine, laughed, and then went into a story about a little argument her and her son got into over a topic for an upcoming project. "I told him- I'm picking the topic because I'm going to wind up doing the whole thing, just like I did in 4th grade!"
Here is an educated, supportive parent who thinks it is okay to tell the principal she is doing her son's work! Why wouldn't she? Parents 'helping' their kids do their work (particularly on large projects) has always been viewed as good parenting. Someone who gets the same help on the school bus from a buddy risks being penalized for academic dishonesty... Hmmm...
A grade is supposed to be a measure of what a child had learned over a given time period. Great teachers know what their students know and don't know, and allow that information to drive their instruction and advance learning. The grade for this particular boy's projects will not necessarily reflect his knowledge on the subject. His grade for the class is no longer accurate. As Rick Wormeli often says, "You cannot knowingly falsify a child's grade." Isn't that what we do when we send out homework assignments with no really ability to know who completed them, or with what supports? From your own schooling, did you ever recall getting through a class by getting the homework done but still struggled on the tests where you supposed to evidence your overall learning? Is our focus on the learning or on the compliance of completing work?
I'm not proposing lowering standards for anyone. Nor am I proposing we don't send things home with children to practice. Students should do independent reading, math fact practice, and other learning reinforcements on most nights. However, it shouldn't be held against (or for...) their total grade. They shouldn't be berated in the hallway if it wasn't completed because we can't be sure we know the reasons why, and it shouldn't take the student 5 hours (or anywhere close) to complete it.
Academic rigor should be present in every classroom, and for every child. Each child, regardless of background, should be held to a high target within their ability range. A student's grade should be a reflect this.