Thank you for your comments. I agree that problems with auditory processing and/or working memory are primary reasons why students have difficulties although I would add handwriting as the other major culprit in students having difficulty completing assignments. My experience here in New Jersey is that it is not easy to get homework relief written into 504 plans. I also think that the students who are stressing out schools and child study teams, while their parents are stressed out, and their learning is suffering, are the students with the lighter problems, what I call the under the radar learning disorders. These students are typically seen as able to do the work without modifications. Eventually, they act out and come to the child study team as behavioral problems, when their “bad behavior” was often a reaction to unrelenting pressures they could not manage.
The other issue to keep in mind is that schools are complex organizations, so the actual implementation of homework relief will vary greatly from school to school and from teacher to teacher. By middle school, where there are multiple teachers, it becomes very hard to figure out how to grade the student on what that student was able to do when the student may have done all of the work for one teacher but none for the other. This creates a pressure on the system to eventually move that student out of the regular classes and into ones where there are reduced numbers of teachers and reduced homework pressures.
It seems to me that several steps are needed. First, schools of education need to have a course called “Homework” as part of the curriculum. Teachers are not adequately trained in the history, research, and practice of homework. Second, students should not fail simply because of homework non-compliance. Harsh penalties reinforce acting out behavior. Mild penalties are more likely to keep the student involved. Third, we need to reconsider the notion of time at home. School is bound by the clock. There’s no rational reason to demand that a child keep working until the work is all done. The child will do more with a time cap than an open ended period of time. But the final, and perhaps most important modification, involves vesting authority where it belongs. Mr. Jones, the history teacher, does not tell Ms. Smith, the math teacher how to manage her classroom. It would be highly counterproductive for education to allow that to happen. Yet, Mr. Jones and Ms. Smith both the authority to tell the student what to do at home, and to grade those students over the judgment of the parent. If homework does not pose problems for the student, then it is not a problem, and most parents will defer to the school. If homework becomes a persistent problem, the loss of authority by the parent in the home magnifies the issue.
Although my comments may seem tangential, I would ask anyone who is involved with child study teams to ask themselves how many students they deal with for whom homework noncompliance is a root problem and for whom large amounts of valuable special education energies and time have been spent dealing with homework and homework created problems over true special education needs. I would also ask schools to consider how many costly court related battles have stemmed from problems that might not have existed if homework relief were more easily given, or if final homework decision making had been vested with the parents. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. www.thehomeworktrap.com.