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Assigning Homework Exacerbates Class Divides, Researchers Find

“Education scholars say that math homework as it’s currently assigned reinforces class divides in society and needs to change for good,” according to Motherboard — citing a new working paper from education scholars:
Status-reinforcing processes, or ones that fortify pre-existing divides, are a dime a dozen in education. Standardized testing, creating honors and AP tracks, and grouping students based on perceived ability all serve to disadvantage students who lack the support structures and parental engagement associated with affluence. Looking specifically at math homework, the authors of the new working paper wanted to see if homework was yet another status-reinforcing process. As it turns out, it was, and researchers say that the traditional solutions offered up to fix the homework gap won’t work.

“Here, teachers knew that students were getting unequal support with homework,” said Jessica Calarco, the first author of the paper and an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University. “And yet, because of these standard, taken-for-granted policies that treated homework as students’ individual responsibilities, it erased those unequal contexts of support and led teachers to interpret and respond to homework in these status-reinforcing ways….”

The teachers interviewed for the paper acknowledged the unequal contexts affecting whether students could complete their math homework fully and correctly, Calarco said. However, that did not stop the same teachers from using homework as a way to measure students’ abilities. “The most shocking and troubling part to me was hearing teachers write off students because they didn’t get their homework done,” Calarco said…. Part of the reason why homework can serve as a status-reinforcing process is that formal school policies and grading schemes treat it as a measure of a student’s individual effort and responsibility, when many other factors affect completion, Calarco said….

“I’m not sure I want to completely come out and say that we need to ban homework entirely, but I think we need to really seriously reconsider when and how we assign it.”

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