Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chilling Research on School Dropout

I came across an item that has direct relevance to my homework trap model, even though I’m sure that most people will miss the point. The article is entitled, “Dropout Indicators Found for First-Graders.” It suggests that one can actually predict future school dropouts as early as first grade. In my model, I talk about a life-span problem that starts in elementary school and progresses through middle school and high school in predictable steps. I agree. One can see the pattern as early as first grade.

I’ll quote from the article:

“Similarly, elementary schools very rarely handed out punishments as severe as suspensions, but more subtle behavior cues, such as report card notations of incomplete homework, more accurately signaled future problems for elementary children.”

I think most people will read this paragraph and draw the conclusion that we must ratchet up our efforts to insure that these kids get their homework done, so they can be successful in the later grades. This pressures parents to oversee the work, with the parents getting blamed in similarly subtle ways. The problems with that approach are that it rarely works and it fails to understand why some children have persistent homework problems.

Children go to school for the same amounts of time. They take home the same volume of assignments. We fool ourselves if we think this is equal treatment. The school day is defined by the clock. The homework session is not. Why do we understand that children who work slowly do not have to stay for a longer school day, but then demand that they work longer homework sessions? Homework trapped children can only thrive if the homework session is a fixed amount of time. Once we expect the slow working child to get all the work done, we set that child up for likely failure. It is this misguided expectation that is at the root of the “report card notations,” to which this article refers.

I hope that researchers, teachers, and readers of this article realize that the most rational step following this chilling research is to let up on kids. Don’t let them fail because the homework does not get done. Don’t let them get these negative notations. Teach them in school. Forget about behaviors that are out of the teacher’s control. Families are different. Environments are different. Circumstances are different. Children are different. Don’t try to make parents fit a certain mold. Use the time you have to teach the child in school. And if homework is really important, please, bound it by the clock.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.