On Reflection (is it right to mandate a late work policy school-wide?)

homeworkLast year we created a late work policy for our freshman class.  We asked teachers to let them have two weeks past the due date to turn work in, and if they did so, as long as the work was satisfactory, the work would receive a passing grade.  The idea was not to allow these students to take an F on an assignment.  If a student had missing work, the assistant principal would literally hunt them down….well call them in, and design a plan to for them to get the work finished.  This plan usually included a call home and assignment to stay after school and attend our teacher led study tables.  This did not cure all of our freshmen, but it made a very big impact on a group of these students.  It did make some more work for the staff, and I commend each and every one of those teachers for taking the extra time to make sure that students had their missing work and for grading those assignments.  There are students who literally owe those staff members and Mr. Cox, our assistant principal, a huge debt of gratitude for saving them credits and possibly giving them a chance to graduate with their class.  Okay. So that is the story about last year.  It was semi-successful.  So what should we do about it?  We (admin team) decided that we should expand it school-wide.  All students should be given extra time to complete work for passing credit.  No student should be allowed to simply take a zero and not turn things in.  I asked my staff what it is we are measuring?  Are we measuring the behavior of turning things in on time? Or, are we measuring growth and learning?  If we allow students to take zeros, we are saying that the learning is not important…..in my opinion.  If assessing progress on a particular skill is important enough to assess it and make it a part of a student’s grade, then we should make sure they do it right?  If we don’t, how do we know they can do it?  How do we know if we successfully taught the skill or concept? Some of my staff and I do not see eye to eye on this and that is alright.  What is not alright though is to continue to do things the way they have always been done and expect different results.  I am malleable on this issue.  If someone has a better idea than me, so be it.  Last week I caught part of a chat on Twitter that was exploring about late policies and exchanged in a dialogue with a fellow administrator:

I think Reed has some good reasoning in the linked policy above.  What do you think? I realize that I may have made this top down decision without making all the considerations I should have.  Maybe I should have spent more time with staff thinking about it out loud and addressing their concerns.  In my mind, education is a practice much like medicine.  Sometimes we find out what we have been doing was the exact opposite what we should have been doing.  We (I) need to be smart enough to assess what we are doing, gather the evidence, do a little research, and try things to address the “what do I do to get kids to turn things in” question.  I want your thoughts and opinions here!  To be continued…..(are we just putting a band aid on a symptom here? Is the real issue the fact that we are asking our students to do things that are completely irrelevant to them?  Tune in next week…..)

Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Watson’s photostream on Flickr

5 thoughts on “On Reflection (is it right to mandate a late work policy school-wide?)

  1. I agree that Reed has a great idea going, but I think the students who decide to skip the due date should still be penalized in some form. If you have the students that complete their homework in a timely manner who get the same sort of grades as students who perhaps slack off or procrastinate and only reach the deadline date, then what kind of real world example is the teacher setting for both students? The student that procrastinates will see that they don’t have to work as hard or work responsibly to still be able to get ahead, where the responsible student sees their hard work go to waste in a way, they begin to see that even those who don’t work as hard are still going to get the same treatment as them and perhaps decide it doesn’t matter if they slack off as well.
    I know from experience if a teacher was giving another student special treatment and allowing them to turn in the assignment late, that I had just turned in on time, for the same credit, that discouraged me from working as hard in the future because I figured I could get away with it as well. It’s not so much a matter of fair treatment as it is teaching them discipline.

  2. Dave,

    As I parent of 5 (soon to be 6) kids, we have a very busy life and I always feel bad when we have a family activity that gets us home late and then the kids stay up real late to do the homework assignment that is due the next day.

    I think you are on to something here and also like what Reed has come up with. Allowing kids to take ownership of due dates will give them invaluable time management skills that should help them in college and beyond.

  3. Hi Dave,
    Windsor Jr.Sr. High School has a ZAP program (Zeroes Aren’t Permitted). It is a school wide initiative that bans zeroes on homework assignments, instead requiring students to complete the work during their lunch period (in a classroom w/a teacher) and study hall. If/When they complete the work, the minimum score they can earn is 50% credit. It has been in place for several years now and works fairly well in a school of 150-175 students.
    – Kyle

  4. There are good elements to your idea, and I’m not saying I have a better one, but think about whether this approach makes doing homework seem like a punishment. Those who already loathe school may benefit, but those who skip/loose an assignment every once in a while may grow to loathe learning.

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