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Progressive homework policies may reduce classroom inequity

Florida Virtual School counselor provides tips for distance learning
Posted at 8:53 PM, Sep 01, 2022

Some educators are placing a new focus on homework this year in an attempt to make sure children are on a level playing field.

The concern is over teachers who reward or punish students based on homework performance.

"It's not that homework always results in inequities," said Jessica Calarco, a professor at Indiana University who has studied the impact of homework. "It's that when teachers interpret homework through the lens of meritocracy, homework starts to be practiced in inequitable ways."

Calarco and her team found students often face discipline, like missed recess, if they don't turn in a completed homework assignment.

She said those decisions treat homework as the result of "effort, responsibility, and motivation" without considering a student's home life.

"If parents have to work multiple jobs or aren't able to be home in the afternoon," said Calarco, "that creates a very different kind of support situation with homework than for kids who have a parent home full-time to provide that level of support."

Some educators are trying to reduce inequity with "progressive" homework policies.

Some teachers rarely assign homework.

Others choose not to grade it or make it optional.

But, according to Calarco, "there may be some value to practicing, and having additional space in the day for continuing to work with the material."

"It's hard to say that schools will, or should, just abandon homework outright," Calarco said. "What we can advocate for is to be mindful of how we're practicing homework for schools that are going to continue doing so, and to try to avoid some of the practices that we outline."

Teachers should avoid assigning homework that is too hard for students to finish on their own, according to the research.

They shouldn't punish kids for missing homework, either.

And - while Calarco recommends parents reach out to their child's teacher when things aren't working - she acknowledged it could be easier said than done.

"When parents do try to speak up and say, 'Hey, this homework is not working for my child,' the extent to which they're listened to often depends on who they are," Calarco said. "It's tricky to say that parents should just be advocating for their kids. It ignores the larger structural problems that are in place."