As a general rule, I don't get homework.
Oh, I assign it. I have readings from the textbook that I call, somewhat ham-fistedly, 'Required Assignments" (RA), which essentially just require them to answer questions at the end of that section of the textbook. There are typically 10-12 such questions. Students are graded on whether the work is complete, and whether they are using complete sentences that refer to the original question. Not much of an expectation.
I also have questions embedded in the Labs that typically require them to answer anywhere from 3-10 questions based upon the experience, in the same fashion. We typically use most of the classroom time for the experience of the lab ('gathering the data'), rather than answering questions, so the usual expectation is that they will answer them on their own time, effectively homework. Here I care about more than whether it's in the proper format, and I typically sprinkle a fairly challenging conceptual question in with the easier ones.
I also have Projects, both group and individual, and while I will typically have an 'in-class work day' for such as this, the expectation is that they will have to spend some time at home working on the things.
So, imagine my chagrin when on the most recent unit, I have the following tallies out of 174 students currently on my roster....
- 25 of the students attempted at least one of the three RA in the unit. That means nearly five out of every six kids did none.
- 77 of them (less than half) turned in a Project worth almost as much as a test. That means I have nearly one hundred students who haven't turned it in, and it's already one day past the due date.
- 91 of them (slightly more than half) have turned in the first Lab, which is now two weeks past the due date . . . incredibly, this is true even though I have assigned select kids in each period lunch detention for failing to complete their work, with the threat of Saturday School if they should fail to show.
The level of non-performance is at an all-time low. I normally have between 20-23 percent kids flunk the course each semester. I've been teaching at this school for nine years, and I've come to expect that range of scores so much that if it's a few points high at mid-semester I get nervous and second-guess myself.
Last semester, however, I had 48 percent failure. More than twice as much as my average fail rate just two years ago. Analysis of scores showed that the biggest contributor to the rising tide of 'F' is the failure of students to submit work, especially homework. Nor am I the only one. My colleagues report declining work ethic almost across the board, and often are quick to point out that this seems to be a recent phenomenon. Our AP Bio instructor relayed the fact that in a list-serve nationally with other veteran AP Bio teachers, the hot topic is how the freshmen at their school (the future pool of AP Bio students) seems to have less desire to do higher-level work than in the past, not just leading to declining academic performance but perhaps posing a real threat to the enrollment levels needed at some school sites to justify sections of AP Bio.
What's going on? Is there a pattern here?
I can't prove it, of course, but anecdotally I feel this is the next wave in education: chronic underachievement by a class of young people who have developed differently than past cohorts. Their temptations are greater than when I was in high school, and by and large they are yielding to a mindset, promoted by a media-rich society always willing to take another quarter when they should say, in effect, 'game over.' Students (and to an increasing extent, their parents) really believe that they should always get a 'do-over'....like a video game where you 'die', but get to start over at a preset point where you can presumably immediately try something different other than what got you 'killed'.
Social promotion doubtless contributes to this attitude, as well as a permissive, 'let's-make-sure-we-don't-wreck-their-self-esteem' approach to accountability, but in my experience at least the number of teachers and administrators who model that for students is very small. Most of us are very big on accountability, completing what you start and so forth. So I don't think it's what we're doing at the school sites that is discouraging them from completing homework.
No, it's almost certainly what's going on outside of school that's having the biggest impact. Could one of those things in that regard be video games, computer games, any kind of instant gratification media in which they are encouraged to believe that there is no meaningful penalty for failing to do things right the first time? I am so persuaded.