Monday, May 7, 2018

Homework Assignments

A clear explanation of why homework is stupid and why standardized testing has problems.

I have always opposed homework. Teachers should teach, parents should be family. Asking kids to take work home in K-12 system is wrong-headed because:

Homework Significantly Undermines Equality of Educational Opportunity

Homework greatly increases the disparity between family backgrounds, undermining equal educational opportunity

  • Some parents work at two jobs to support their families, or work evenings or otherwise are unavailable to help their kids with homework. It is clearly unfair to pit these kids against kids whose parents can do their homework for with them.
  • Some families speak white-middle-class English; some families speak lower-class English; some black dialect; others speak little or no English at. It is unfair to send home assignments in the expectation that all parents can help their children equally.
  • Some families need the children to do chores to help with the farm or family business; or disabled siblings, or elder care; or other responsibilites; while other families place no such demands on their children.
  • Some parents value education and school work; others—having been traumatized by their own school experiences with racial, class, religious, or other biases, and bullying teachers—think, for example of residential schools, to take just one obvious example—do not. It is not fair to demand that kids from these different backgrounds be pitted against each other on homework assignments.
  • Some homes have resources—computers, books, a table/space to work at, separate bedrooms for each kid—while others do not.
  • Some homes have the income to hire tutors when kids struggle; others do not.
  • Homes vary (across all classes, cultures, and backgrounds) in stability. Why are we asking kids to complete work at home when their parents are in the middle of a screaming divorce, or they have bullying siblings, or there are other types of disruption?
Schools are supposed to be safe places for students to learn. Our responsibility is to teach them in schools where we can control the learning environment and make sure it represents a level playing field. Any time we send work home, we privilege some students, undermine others.

Homework Undermines Teacher Accountability

As a parent, it frequently drove me crazy to find that I was expected to teach my child reading, writing, and arithmetic, while my child's teacher devoted hours of classroom time to non-academic activities. For example, I routinely experienced that whenever the family sat down to enjoy a family movie night on the weekend, that my daughters had already seen the film at school. "Thursday afternoons are movie-day," they would tell me. Why do my kids have two hours of homework each evening, but teachers have time to pre-empt family activities? What's wrong with this picture?
I get that there should be some 'fun' times at school, to team-build, to reward diligence, to enhance learning. But what I am increasingly observing is these activities displacing learning. I increasingly see a generation of teachers who are more concerned with occupying the children than teaching them.

To cite just one blatant example from my child's education: my wife was present in our daughter's classroom as a volunteer when, in the last week of school, the teacher announced, "Oh, by the way, I forgot to teach printing this year. I'm going to hand out the printing exercise books now for you to take home. Have your parents teach you printing over the summer because you'll need that for next grade." An extreme example to be sure, but underlying every homework assignment is the delegation of teacher-work to parents, who may or may not be in a position to take on the responsibility.

Homework Encourages Racism, Class Bias, and Victim-Blaming

I hear teachers—and not just my inexperienced student teachers, but senior classroom teachers—dismiss this or that student's lack of progress by blaming the parents. "What can you expect? Ruby comes from ________(fill in the blank with "broken home" or "native home" or "trailer park home" or whatever other unacceptable bias teachers allow themselves. There is no clearer example of blaming the victim than the lowering of expectations for students based on class, race/ethnicity, parental marital status or whatever. What can I expect from Ruby? The same as every other student in the classroom because it is the teacher's job to get every single student to mastery of the subject content. There are no valid excuses for a student failing, except perhaps a doctor's diagnosis of massive brain injury, in which case they are probably not in your class anyway. Homework assignments mask teacher bias by shifting responsibility, along with a high proportion of the teacher's workload, to the family. Instead of taking responsibility for each child's learning, they accept responsibility only for those students whose parents have the social capital to do the teacher's job for them.

Bah, humbug.

Good teachers get the work done in their classrooms; they do not assign homework.

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