Research on homework, and debates about research on homework can’t really be taken seriously. It’s all more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules. But the fundamentals of homework are very much a cascading series of Jack Sparrow’s “two rules that matter“. For high school, anyway–and if it’s not high school or beyond, it doesn’t matter.
So as long as we’re just hanging here, pay attention. The only rules that really matter are these:
“Homework” is practice, work that is assigned with the intent to improve fluency and understanding. Math homework is the most common sort, but there are also science lab notes, reading textbook notes, those idiotic shoebox assignments, collages, or any other sort of out-of-school activity that isn’t formal written expression or assessment.
“Corrupted” is a strong word for grading that is very much standard procedure in most high schools nationwide, but appropriately dramatic given the degree to which grades are used as a proxy for ability. Many teachers would be upset at this description of their usual practice; in this conversation of mostly college-level instructors, most of the participants acknowledge that many students do well on tests, but flunk or get a much lower grade because they don’t do the homework. Others point out how absurd this is. At the high school level, far fewer are found in the second group.
Teachers have a wide, legally enforced latitude in grading, but districts and schools can institute policies that reduce options. Overwhelmingly, these policies take place in low income schools, where the students shrug off the Fs and the failure rates affect the graduation rates. District and school efforts to protect students from low grades due to homework take the shape of forced incompletes, banning zeros and sometimes banning graded homework altogether. And the public always scoffs. Lazy kids these days.
District or school-imposed restrictions are not to be confused with parent-initiated drama fests about homework overload.
The research on homework almost all focuses on two questions: does homework improves academic performance? How much homework are students doing? (The latter issue, in particular, has been annoying American parents for decades.)
I’m not…terribly interested in either of those questions. The first, which most consider quite important, is specifically in conflict with a teacher’s responsibility to grade accurately. No one would ever assume that homework improvement is anything other than relative to student ability.
But grades aren’t relative. Teachers can’t grade homework without impacting students’ performance grade. They can’t.
And so they shouldn’t.
Grades, really, are the main issue. Grades in America are simply junk. I can’t stress this enough. Research–never mention a moment’s reflection–reveals that in Title I schools like mine, an A denotes a much lower performance than at a high-income high school.
No one’s interested in adequately assessing student merit across classrooms, much less school districts, much less cities, states, or countries, so laugh at anyone who declares passionately that Harvard and other private universities are discriminating against more worthy claimants, Asian or otherwise. No one knows who the worthy claimants are, and no one’s interested in finding out.
But that’s a topic for another day.