Teachers take a stand against the war on homework

I wrote here about the war on grades and homework in some of California’s largest school district. Inevitably, that war is spreading. It has come to Arlington County, Virginia, for example.

Naturally, there is pushback in Arlington. Surprising, perhaps, some of the pushers are liberal.

Let’s start by examining what the Arlington School Board is considering. Its preliminary proposal calls for the following:

No late penalties for homework.

No extra credit.

Unlimited redoes and retakes on assignments.

No grading of homework.

The purpose of these changes is to level the playing field for students “with fewer resources.” The stated goal is “more equitable grading practices.” The intended beneficiaries consist disproportionately of Blacks and Latinos.

According to Jay Mathews, who covers education for the Washington Post, two of Arlington County’s four public high schools draw mostly from middle-class neighborhoods. A third is a magnet school for top students. All three rank in the top 1 percent of schools nationally, as measured by participation in AP and IB exams.

The fourth Arlington County public high school is Wakefield High. Half of its students come from low-income families.

Yet Wakefield ranks in the top 2 percent of schools nationally under the same measurement described above. 56 percent of its students passed at least one AP exam, nearly three times the national average, according to Mathews. The Wakefield faculty must be doing something right.

How do these teachers view the School Board’s proposal to make a mockery of homework? They hate it.

They hate it so much they wrote a letter to the superintendent of schools and the School Board denouncing it. You can read the letter here.

It states, in part:

As educators with decades of experience in APS [Arlington public schools], we are extremely concerned with several changes proposed in the new grading and homework policy. We believe that these changes will impact student learning and socio-emotional development and growth in a negative way. The changes, if implemented, will also result in the decline of high expectations and rigor in the classroom across all APS high schools. . . .

[A]s students matriculate through high school, they. . .learn how to develop organizational, time and stress management skills and grow as responsible, civically engaged, and considerate young adults. To achieve these ends, students should be held accountable for completing their work in a timely manner and meeting deadlines that were reasonably established by their teachers.

We pride ourselves on providing useful constructive criticism for our students, analyzing and reflecting on major content and skill-based assignments and providing them with exemplary work from their classmates. We do not see how this practice can continue if the “timeliness of the completion” is not considered in the submission and grading process. . . .

Finally, given the emphasis on equity in today’s education systems, we believe that some of the proposed changes will actually have a detrimental impact towards achieving this goal. Families that have means could still provide challenging and engaging academic experiences for their children and will continue to do so, especially if their child(ren) are not experiencing expected rigor in the classroom. More specifically, those families can afford to hire tutors and sign-up their child(ren) to attend enrichment activities and camps in hopes of preparing them for the college application/admission process.

Students who come from families which are not as “savvy” or “aware,” will be subject to further disadvantage because they will not be held accountable for not completing their homework assignments and/or formative assessments according to the deadlines set by their teachers: such results are anything but equitable–conversely, they offer our most needy students reduced probability of preparing for and realizing post-secondary opportunities.

If the discussed changes are implemented, instead of holding students to high academic and personal standards, we are providing them with a variety of excuses and/or enabling them to “game the system,” prompting them to expect the least of themselves in terms of effort, results, and responsibility. At Wakefield, in particular, we believe these proposed changes fly directly in the face of the very pillars upon which our Mission Statement sits.

(Emphasis added)

A more damning indictment is difficult to imagine. So is a source more attuned to the educational needs of low-income students.

The Post’s Mathews, who is not a conservative, has also denounced the Arlington proposal. Like Wakefield’s teachers, he believes that “abolishing grades on homework will hurt the neediest kids.”

The new grading system appears to be the brainchild of school superintendent, Dr. Francisco Duran (birthname Frank). His hiring last year had lots to do with his “equity” and “diversity” credentials.

Duran seems bent on adding to these credentials by sabotaging the county’s most diverse high school in the name of equity.

Will the School Board let this happen? Mathews writes:

Many parents who hear about the proposed changes will be astonished and enraged. One of the reasons Arlington has one of the highest percentages of residents with college degrees in the country is the quality of its schools. I cannot believe the county school board, elected by voters, would go for this. But these are strange times.

Yes, they are.

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