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A school where giving up is not an option

March 13, 2013

Principal Steve Pearce has a no-nonsense approach to homework: He doesn’t accept excuses. At Jane Addams Junior High in Schaumberg, Illinois, students who don’t do their homework must accept the consequences.

And at Jane Addams, the consequence of not doing your homework is… you have to do your homework. Addams offers a system of mandatory study halls, extra time, and additional support that makes sure students have completed the work and learned the material.

The venerable and failed practice of awarding a zero and copping out doesn’t exist at Jane Addams. Everyone on the staff accepts responsibility for ensuring students learn. Giving up on students is not permitted whether by the student or the school.

Mr. Pearce has figured out that making sure homework is completed can stop failure where it begins. Pearce:

I’d wager that most middle grades teachers spend incredible amounts of time dealing with students and their homework issues. I’m also willing to bet that homework plays a major role in student failure at middle schools and high schools across our nation.

I suggest everyone go read Mr. Pearce’s article right now (it’s brief): No Excuses for No Homework. Here is the foundation of the philosophy that was necessary to implement:

At Jane Addams, we believe:

  • The purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn.
  • It is our responsibility to create the conditions that promote high levels of learning for all.
  • Completing homework is essential to students being successful in their learning.
  • Therefore, we will insist students complete their homework, and we will create systems to ensure they do so.

So simple, but so hard to accept, for educators who are invested in the Pontius Pilate model of homework. Awarding a zero and washing your hands of it is just so much easier! And besides, it’s the way we’ve always done things, right?

So I asked Mr. Pearce how the program is working out today. He replied:

The program is always evolving, but what we do now is very similar. The bottom line is that we make the students do the work instead of “teaching them responsibility” and allowing them to not turn it in.

I’m pleased to let you know that our achievement data in standardized tests is in the top 10% statewide for ISAT and nationwide for MAP. Our homework policy is not the sole reason for this obviously, but it does play a part in it.

In addition to standardized tests, Mr. Pearce also sent me some data showing marking period (trimester) failures in his school decreasing from 188 F’s in 2008-2009, to only 14 F’s in 2011-2012.

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