I have opened up the following conversation individually with teachers, but have not yet taken it on with the staff of the whole school in which I work - yet. Grades must not be a reflection of behavior, but of understanding. This includes the a big piece of student responsibility: homework. The excuse that "if students do not homework and are not penalized for not completing it, then won't ever learn to do it!" is simply hogwash. We should be creating homework assignments that are essential, and if it uncomfortably illuminates our own homework policies, then guess what: maybe it's time to change! To the nay-sayers of no-zero homework policies, creating a clear system in one's classroom begins with ensuring that homework assignments are essential and worthwhile to learning and understanding. Next, follow this If --> Then Equation:
|No Homework||Complete HW + Reflection*|
|Still no HW||Complete HW during lunch + Reflection*|
|Still No HW, again||Complete HW before/after school + Reflection*|
Creating a no-zero homework policy and minimizing the amount that homework counts in one's grade really does allow the conversation to shift from behavior to understanding. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, though: conduct, effort and responsibility all still count, and are important to be teaching, especially in the middle school level. These important values and academic characteristics may still be taught in a plethora of ways, but should be absent from grading and homework practices. Values should still be taught in classes on a daily basis, as well as advisory, reflection, extension time, lunch, clubs and classroom management, to name a few.
We must shift the focus of our classrooms from obedience to understanding. Yes, we should teach students important values, but not at the expense of content understanding. Making sure that students are provided with every opportunity to understand is essential. I'm all for democracy, but let's not forget that children are still children: they should not get to decide when and if they want to complete homework (assuming it is worthwhile and essential). Grades should be a reflection of understanding, not obedience, and it is simply not an excuse to claim that "students need to learn responsibility." While this is true, it cannot be at the expense of understanding.
The New York Times is right: grades should not reflect behavior. I believe our schools should do the difficult work of making sure that our grades (and subsequently, our homework assignments) are a reflection of understanding, not obedience.