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Lafayette Parish schools didn't do homework

It’s every kid’s dream, but it could turn into adults’ nightmare.

The movement to disregard homework in grading students has won over Lafayette Parish schools. It has alerted teachers that they no longer may grade homework, although they can assign it. “Homework should be practice," according to Kathy Aloisio, director of elementary schools for the district.

Ditching it as an evaluative tool didn’t come from nowhere. In recent years, some research has questioned the usefulness of homework, and some jurisdictions have taken matters a step further than the LPSD by banning its assignment completely. A number of other Louisiana districts have considered excising homework grading and will observe results from that district.

Yet the preponderance of studies demonstrates that homework conceptualized correctly does improve learning outcomes. More specifically, any beyond the most minimal doesn’t work for younger children; for older students it can’t demand too much time (the “10-minute rule” – that much for each grade daily across all classes being a practical manifestation of this); it can’t be busywork; it mustn’t introduce new things but must reinforce recent learning; and, it can’t assume completers have access to outside sources (like parents or the Internet) beyond those providing minimal assistance.

Regardless of whether assigned LPSD homework adheres to these rules, that it has become “practice” invalidates what benefits it may bring. If a system of reward/punishment doesn’t exist for homework, many students simply won’t do it. In fact, likely only good students who see the value in reinforcing their abilities will do it voluntarily. Those who need it more, lesser scholars, without a penalty for noncompliance disproportionately will avoid doing it in favor of other interests likely having little to do with academic pursuits.

Worse, LPSD or any school district may not prepare itself adequately to understand the impact of this policy. Comparing standardized test scores compiled this spring to last year’s results won’t validly assess the policy, since many factors can affect district-wide performance.

Instead, LPSD should create a random experimental approach, where this semester chance selection occurs picking classes where teachers grade homework and don’t in others (ideally, teachers will grade half their sections). When administering standardized tests, an additional coding would occur to indicate whether that student had graded homework in that subject to allow for comparison. Further, for each teacher, evaluators could compare sections with and without grading to find any significant differences in graded performance on exams.

And having students feel compelled to do quality homework assignments may have other spillover effects beyond academic learning. For example, some research indicates doing homework helps development of personal responsibility, good study habits, and time-management skills. Additionally, in some cases it simply could provide an incentive for children to stay out of trouble by staying at home doing something productive instead of potentially wandering the streets.

To date, LPSD hasn’t done its homework on this subject. With the school year half-gone, it’s too late to rescind the policy, but at least it can study the matter systematically to provide future guidance for itself and other districts thinking of emulating this approach.

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