Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Policies that do not make sense

I came across this article about a middle school in Texas and its efforts to get students to do their homework. The policy is all too familiar as it is strikingly similar to what happened with my homework-trapped child that eventually led me to look into the subject with my clients (I'm a psychologist) and to write my book, The Homework Trap.

The policy involves a stepwise opportunity for kids to make up their homework in what is called the Homework Hall, which takes place during lunch time. The kids get a grace day to hand in the homework without penalty and then a 10% penalty. Kids who do all their homework for a few weeks, get a class period off to play.

The article notes that large numbers of kids are going to this Homework Hall, showing that the system is not working. One kid who attends this program is quoted as calling it stupid, and noting an attitude that says it is okay to fail. One teacher is proposing extending the program to Saturday school. In my case, my homework-trapped child was often forced to attend what his school called, Saturday detention.

Through the process, there is no recognition that the system does not work. The system was intended to get kids to do the homework and insstead, it creates a subgroup of kids who are now considering it part of their "new normal," to skip lunch and go to Homework Hall. They are being taught to not appreciate school. The punishments are actually reinforcing continued homework noncompliant behavior. The idea of sitting in Homework Hall with peers defined as similar to themselves has become the reality of their life.

These kids will take these lessons from middle school and continue as a subgroup of non-academically minded children, even if the truth were that they might have been enthusiastic learners in class if the school had come up with a different approach, and not banked their education on the Holy Grail of homework.

These kids are at risk of turning away from the positive components of high school social life that might involve sports, drama, and other activities centered in the school. Or they might get turned away from those activities, sports in particular, by policies the insist on continuing to punish them for their homework noncompliance.

But nowhere in this article is it mentioned that this has caused the teachers to question their homework policy, consider alternatives to homework, consider why, from the student's point of view, the homework is not getting done, or consider other ways to engage students in a positive educational experience.

This is the type of policy that was in place in the school where my children went and in schools all around the country. And it is true that the majority of students get through unscathed. But here we learn that in Texas, 150 kids are going down a path that does not appear very good for them.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

 I recommend giving copies of the book to the teachers at your child's school. Discount purchases are available through Wyndmoor Press. Single copies can be purchased at Amazon.


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