Author Topic: Deliberately failing/doing badly on homework in order to attend summer school  (Read 3998 times)

LetterRip

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Fascinating post on Quora by a physics/chemistry teacher in a low income school, and the perverse incentives students have to do poorly so they can attend summer school.

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There is research on both sides of this issue, but I can relate my personal experience:

When I started teaching, I gave homework pretty much every day. I taught chemistry and physics, and these were upper level classes. That’s just what you did.

At first, homework worked exactly how it was supposed to: Students did the work, I graded it, students who did poorly got targeted for extra help, the world kept turning.

And then everything changed.

Like most teachers, I had a grading policy that included a certain percentage allocated to homework. In other words, homework was perhaps 25% of the grade. Two interesting things started happening:

Students just stopped doing homework
Students started cheating far more aggressively than they had in the past.
The first problem was more widespread than you might think. I had whole classrooms of students who simply refused to do their homework. Their grades plummeted, but they didn’t seem to care. Failures soared, but they didn’t seem to care. I was baffled. More on this in a minute.

The second problem was also more widespread than even I thought. I found out exactly how widespread it was in March of 2006. My second child was born, and I took several days off. I gave my AP Chemistry students daily homework to keep them on their toes while I was gone. When I returned, every assignment was identical - and many problems were identically wrong. What did it for me was an equation that everyone had solved for “L” rather than for “K”. I thought perhaps there was a typo, but no, the problem said “K”. What happened? ONE student had written “K” but her pen had died a bit making the K, so it looked like an “L”.

Every other student in the classroom copied that assignment - 2 separate class periods, no less!

The cheating was facilitated by the smart phone. When I called my kids out on their cheating, they fessed up to having photos of that homework assignment and spreading them around.

I never assigned another standard homework assignment again.

Starting the next year, I switched to an oral defense strategy. It works like this: You assign homework, just like before, and students turn it in, just like before. But it isn’t graded. In order for students to earn the points, you call them up one at a time and have them answer questions about the homework. “So, explain to me how you got your answer to #4…” That sort of thing. I had the “Two Um” rule. If you said “Um” twice, you had to sit down and wait for your next turn.

Grades soared. I got instant feedback on which students knew their stuff and which didn’t. It was great!

Until it wasn’t.

Remember that first problem I mentioned? The students who simply refused to do any homework? That became a growing problem. I couldn’t figure out why so many students would be willing to fail outright. I begged them to just turn something in, and I got nothing. It got so bad that I got a lower evaluation as a result of too many students failing.

I conducted a little research to try to figure out what was happening. The culprit really surprised me: summer school.

Students were purposely failing classes so they could attend summer school. This might seem crazy, but many students owned up to what they were doing. One kid flat out told me “Mr. C., don’t get upset about it. I’m never going to do any of this work. I’m already signed up for summer school for next year.”

So what is the allure of summer school?

I’m not entirely sure, but here are my thoughts:

It’s far easier to get a passing grade in summer school than in regular school.
Most of the students involved already have very low GPAs, so getting into college is low on their list of priorities.
Parents view summer school as inexpensive child care combined with additional education: Why take chemistry for 9 months when you can take it for 11 or 12?
I’m not making this one up: Dating. Students are using summer school as an opportunity to see their boyfriends / girlfriends. Many students don’t have cars or licenses, so summer school gets them up close and personal with their special someone without the hassle of having a car.
I’m not making this one up, either: Free WiFi. Truancy is a major problem in my school, but the ironic part is that the kids are in the school, just not in class. What are they doing? Instagram and SnapChat, mostly. Hiding in bathrooms, under stairwells, in the nooks and crannies of hallways, using the free WiFi. Most students don’t have data plans, or the plans are quite limited, so free WiFi is a big deal.
So what do I do now? I’ve stopped giving homework altogether. It’s not a good option, but it reflects the reality of where my students are and what they are willing to do. All work is now classwork, and what doesn’t get finished is homework. But in all honesty, it’s a mess. Students learn far less, and they still fail in large numbers.

So what’s the answer? The answer is that the question is flawed. Homework or no homework implies the idea that students are in some way motivated to pass a class. The minute that stops being true, as it often is in very low performing schools like mine, the whole paradigm has to get thrown out. This has taken me nearly 2 decades to accept - I had the hardest time wrapping my brain around the idea that failing out of high school was not only acceptable but desirable. But that’s my reality, and that’s how I’ve had to modify my teaching.

The solution, to me, is to close the 5 loopholes listed above. Make summer school exceedingly undesirable, and grades would probably increase for some students. But others would simply fail. The easiest way to do that is to increase the cost significantly. It’s all fun and games until mom and dad are on the hook for thousands of dollars because Jr. didn’t turn in his or her homework.

So why don’t we do it?

Money.

Schools earn a fair bit off of summer school, but it’s more than that. If we made summer school prohibitive, our failure rate would rise, and the state would take over the school. Administrators, teachers, para-pros - everyone would lose their jobs.

So should you assign homework or shouldn’t you? It depends on your student body and your school’s proximity to intervention. If your students don’t pass at high rates and the state is licking its chops to take you over (because to do so will save them millions of dollars, by the way), then my advice is this: Find another way. I’ve seen great teachers terminated because their failure rates were too high…because they assigned homework. I’ve seen whole school districts dissolved and their employees thrown to the wind…because they didn’t find another way to elevate graduation rates.

It’s insidious, and borderline unethical, but it’s the modern reality of public schools in low-performing areas.

https://www.quora.com/Is-it-true-that-research-doesnt-support-the-idea-that-homework-improves-student-performance/answer/Dave-Consiglio


Seriati

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This seems like a bit of an overstated case.  I mean the ideas of cheating to complete graded homework (which they did) and deliberately failing homework serve diametrically opposite goals in the write up.  The same students wouldn't do both.  If the argument is that students want to be in the school building in the summer, and are willing to practically fail out of school to get there, maybe the solution is to simply open up summer school to high as well as low achievers.

Homework generally is a topic that annoys me.  Most school systems are cutting free time, like recess, that's been demonstrated to have learning advantages in favor of additional class instruction, yet at the same time are sending more and more homework home (which often includes parents actually have to teach the topic) because they "can't get to it in class."  So kids are always on assigned tasks even at home.  Something's fishy.

LetterRip

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Seriati,

the cheating was in his AP classes.  The deliberate failing was his regular classes.  I just contacted a education research grant foundation regarding doing a trial for funding wifi access based on grades/homework, and funding summer school for both good and poor performing students.

I've chatted with this particular instructor a great deal, and he knows his material inside and out, and seems to have most of the qualities I associate with a great instructor.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2016, 03:24:02 PM by LetterRip »

Gaoics79

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I never bothered completing most homework either. But then again, homework was never graded for us anyway. I mean there may have been a few cases here and there where our homework was graded, but this was the exception, not the rule. Our grades were determined by quizzes, tests and final exams (or essays in English / History classes), end of story. Homework never factored into it.

Personally, with the exception of math and maybe some of the sciences (basically classes that depend on completion of set problems that benefit from repetition and practice), I can't see what the point of homework even is.  In an arts or language class, it would be pretty well a waste of time anyway.

Fenring

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The point of homework is apparently to destroy a young person's imagination and desire to learn, and it succeeds brilliantly at that. I remember being assigned upwards 1-2 hours of homework a day in elementary school. Frankly the idea that some employee should have jurisdiction over what a child does in his/her own home is hilarious to me. If there's a test, study or don't study at your own risk. But assigning tasks that somehow are binding on a family's private life? Nice try, killer.

TheDeamon

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I never bothered completing most homework either. But then again, homework was never graded for us anyway. I mean there may have been a few cases here and there where our homework was graded, but this was the exception, not the rule. Our grades were determined by quizzes, tests and final exams (or essays in English / History classes), end of story. Homework never factored into it.

I was generally in this club as well during the 90's. If the teacher gave 25% of the grade based on written homework, I did what I could in class or other time I had available while in school, otherwise it generally didn't get done. I made it through most classes on quiz and test scores alone.  :-\  (In hindsight, not the best plan. I did do reading outside of classroom/school time, but that also was largely "self-directed" so if my interest overlapped the reading assignments, it happened, otherwise, well... Yeah.) Summer School and even night school(senior year) happened for me, although in my case the Summer School had more to do with not enough class hours in the day for things I wanted to do, so certain subjects(like Phys Ed) were shifted to the summer, but I recall repeating a semester of one class during one summer as well.  The Summer School(and night school) versions were borderline jokes in my experience. 

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Personally, with the exception of math and maybe some of the sciences (basically classes that depend on completion of set problems that benefit from repetition and practice), I can't see what the point of homework even is.  In an arts or language class, it would be pretty well a waste of time anyway.

Agreed, Math generally was the lone exception to that, although I managed to accomplish much of that work during class time.

If anything, this presents more of an argument for a "study hall" period becoming a standard student offering that must be waivered out of(with strong prior academic performance), rather than either an opt-in thing or non-option entirely. If the students squander that as well, then it's their loss. Of course, this gets into "show me the money" as well, since someone needs to be on staff to take attendance and generally provide some adult oversight of the place.

I won't completely knock homework, as I do think some college level practices should happen at the High School Level (earlier than that is highly arguable), so expecting people to read the material prior to class isn't entirely unreasonable. It makes an English/Lit class rather cumbersome when it basically turns into "Read the book club" with only material covered(read) in class subject to being graded. Being able to skip reading the story (in full) during class time and instead go straight into discussion of the material instead provides much more in terms of options for education to happen. 

Which I think was the bigger part of why many english/lit teachers gave written work other than the standard report variety. It wasn't so much to have something to grade, as it was to get people to read the material outside of class time. Honestly, I think most teachers would just as soon not have to assign homework in many cases. After all, they then have to set aside time to read and grade the stuff, which more often than not, ends up happening at home for them as well.

LetterRip

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Like most of you I rarely did homework (or more accurately, I did it right before class, or during the class it was assigned in, or on the bus on the way to school).  When I did do homework assignments at home - I invariably lost them before they would make it to the instructor.  My lack of homework wasn't a lack of willingness but simply oblivious (undiagnosed ADHD).

Unfortunately lots of classes and schools do put a lot of weight on homework so that they increase their pass rates (because lots of kids will cheat on the homework and thus get A's on their homework and this would balance out Ds and Fs on tests and quizzes).

Agree with TheDeamon that language arts classes often turning into 'read the book club' or 'read the short story' without people having read the material.

cherrypoptart

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Is it possible for the kids to sign up for summer school for a class they haven't taken and get extra credit that way?

TheDeamon

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Maybe if it was a summer class at a college rather than by their school district. But then, they'd have to get the college to admit them. :)

I know I didn't get anything special for taking phys ed in the summer instead of during the regular school year. Other than a summer taking PE classes.

cherrypoptart

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http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/09/12/some-hungry-teens-turn-crime-sex-food/89396144/

"The teens also reported knowing young women who have sold their bodies for food or had sex for money so they could buy food for their families.

Going to jail or failing a class in order to have to attend summer school were also some of the lengths teens went to."

Redskullvw

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Re: Deliberately failing/doing badly on homework in order to attend summer school
« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2016, 06:06:27 PM »
LR

I have a friend who works in the public school system and she has the unenviable task of running the school breakfast and lunch program. To combat the issue of intentional failing, in the last two academic years free meals and free supervised activities were offered to peek-8th grade students.

Didn't really change anything other than the fact fewer kids failed on purpose so they wouldn't go hungry.

The question is WTF is wrong with these parents that it is so frequent and socially common for this to have become an actual statistical issue requiring even more freebies?

LetterRip

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Re: Deliberately failing/doing badly on homework in order to attend summer school
« Reply #11 on: September 13, 2016, 08:37:03 PM »
Cherry,

thanks for the link.

Red,

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I have a friend who works in the public school system and she has the unenviable task of running the school breakfast and lunch program. To combat the issue of intentional failing, in the last two academic years free meals and free supervised activities were offered to peek-8th grade students.

thanks for the information,

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The question is WTF is wrong with these parents that it is so frequent and socially common for this to have become an actual statistical issue requiring even more freebies?

The causes are quite varied.  Part of it is that there is a lack of affordable housing, and parents end up with a dilemma between food or housing (or heating during the winter; or cooling during the summer) especially when they have a sudden job loss, injury or illness, etc.  Or for those receiving SNAP (foodstamps) they sell the benefit (again often for housing or to cover other legitimate needs).  I'm sure some are selling their SNAP for less sound reasons (drugs, alcohol, gambling) as well.  The housing is due to 'housing compression' - basically the improved information about what other landlords are charging, have increased prices at the low end of the market - so even the absolute worst housing - has rent amounts not much lower than the prices charged for upper middle class rentals.
« Last Edit: September 13, 2016, 08:43:16 PM by LetterRip »