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The Pontius Pilate homework policy

March 6, 2013

Homework policies tend to follow the Pontius Pilate model: If you don’t do the homework, you get a zero and the teacher washes his hands of it, free of responsibility. (see more posts on homework policy).

The student goes on to fail the test, never having mastered the lesson of that homework. You see where this is going, right? After a few cycles, we have a demoralized, fatalistic, unsupported student who no longer believes in school or the adults in it, and is a strong candidate to fail or become a dropout.

There is every reason to think this process is behind a large number of our failing and dropout students. Or even students who aren’t failing but have dropped from A’s to C’s, undetected by our wide-toothed intervention metrics.

And I suspect it begins in middle school, and by high school is nearly irreversible. Delaware has all the data needed to confirm or disprove this, but we refuse to do the analytics, or even to understand this data is important. And this despite winning $150 million for promising to become data-driven.

“It is the student’s responsibility to do the homework…” Every time I hear this, I imagine the teacher daintily drying his hands on a towel. Or the district administrator, or the smug parent of an honor student.

Sometimes the Pontius Pilate policy is stated as “It is the parent’s responsibility…” (towel).

But in Delaware, HALF our schoolchildren are classified as low income. We are witnessing nothing less than the breakdown of society. There are a LOT of parents who are not capable of supporting their child academically.

Yes, often the parents can step up to turn around a failing student, but we know many won’t. Are we really going to make that the last chance before failure? Are we going to accept that as an excuse for schools not to step in?

Schools assume evening hours are a vast sink of time when everything can get done, assisted by educated and infallible parents. But most of us aren’t the Cleavers anymore, and policies must be updated.

I am sick unto death of homework advice from schools that repeats ad nauseum to make quiet time, a comfortable place to work, and get enough sleep. Is that all they have to offer? What if that can’t happen? Take a look at your students who aren’t doing their homework and tell me – Is that advice enough? Are their parents even capable of delivering it? Are you satisfied with the results of delivering that advice and then washing your hands?

And then there are the students who for whatever reason have “extra time” accommodations. Are they STILL getting grade penalties for late work?

If the homework isn’t getting done at home, it must be brought back inside the school, and not blown off by teachers and principals who issue zeroes and wash their hands of it. Tell me how many cases you have of students whose performance was turned around by receiving zeroes. “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Bringing it back inside the school is a major cultural change for a school. Policies and attitudes must be changed. It means every adult must accept responsiblity for the student getting the homework done. Teachers can’t do it alone – they will need to be supported by their leaders in a holistic, whole-school effort.

It will at first be difficult for those who are invested in the “moral responsibility” theories on the part of the students or parents. Sorry schools, it is YOUR moral responsibility. That will be the hardest part to accept, but it must be done. The parent and student responsibility will never go away, but we must never again use it as an excuse to allow children to fall between the cracks. They’re minors – what’s YOUR excuse?

In the next post, I will describe what implementing this kind of policy takes, and introduce you to a principal who has successfully done it and was rewarded with the kind of improved school performance we all want.

  1. Karen in New Jersey
    April 7, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I just found your blog from schoolfinance101 (which I found from googling Newark charter school because Tom Friedman of NYTimes was raving about a charter school in Newark on TV this morning). I’ve been reading some articles of your articles and have enjoyed them.

    I don’t think they should be sending any homework home before high school and only selected outside work in high school, too. They have a long enough school day to do all the educating in school. My daughter is out of K-12 some years now but I remember the kinds of reports the teachers wanted them to do at home and how upset she’d get. I remember her having to do 13 pages of essay questions about some chapter book in 4th grade and she was crying.

  2. outsideinsider
    April 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    HOMEWORK SHOULD BE STANDARDS BASED AND ONLY BE USED AS REINFORCEMENT FOR THE LEARNING THAT TOOK PLACE IN THE CLASSROOM. A kid with rocket science parents would have a 100% in their science homework grade versus a kid who lives with a seingle parent who never graduated from high school.
    Teachers who GRADE homework should be ashamed of themselves. You should check to see if they did it. Put a sticker or a check on it. NEVER should you go to your computer and input a 40% because only 6 of the 10 problems you gave them last night were correct. The teacher shold get the 40% for not teaching the student what they need to go home to do independently.
    Now when you go to give a test….input a way. THAT is a summative assessment. You should never grade formative assessments…..duh…the kid is still learning it!

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