H.S. Physics Teacher Suspended for Giving Zeros

Hi Folks! Lynden Dorvel, a high school physics teacher in Edmonton, Canada, has been suspended indefinitely for defying his school’s relatively new practice of not giving zeros. As rydndrrbaz
reported in the Edmonton Journal

The physics teacher with 35 years experience said he continued giving zeros when students failed to hand in assignments, instead of using behaviour codes such as “not completed,” which the school requires under its grading and reporting practice.

The school says it stopped using zeros a year and a half ago because it believes giving students feedback on what they have yet to do is more motivating. Teacher Dorval says he not only shows students how the zero will affect their overall grade (which should be darn motivating), he stays after school three days a week for students to come in for extra help and is usually available at lunch hour, too. He also gives students a handout at the beginning of the year explaining his grading.

Why is this an issue on Free-Range Kids? Because it is once again treating today’s teens as if they are less competent and more fragile than any of the generations preceding them.  When students don’t turn in a bunch of their assignments, the school asks teachers to write, “unable to evaluate.” But they clearly are able to evaluate, they’re just being told not to.

It’s not that I’m against all changes in school culture. I’m glad we don’t rap students’ knuckles anymore, and the dunce cap seemed pretty cruel. But a zero is a statement of fact, not an insult. Who has decided students can’t handle everyday life? The same folks who think they can’t handle pretty much anything else, from age-old literature (see Fannie story, below) or a bike ride to school (see this story, below) or the glare of notebook paper (see this) or a room temperature lunch (one of my favorite stories, here). But unless evolution did a U turn just a few years ago, kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. – L.

166 Responses to H.S. Physics Teacher Suspended for Giving Zeros

  1. alanalauren517 June 2, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    I have often said that if my parents would have let me alone with my actions as a teen and pre-treen and allowed the natural consequences to follow, I would have learned a lot faster. I think this is the same concept.

  2. Paul R. Welke June 2, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    As an Edmontonian, I’m absolutely outraged that my tax dollars are paying for ridiculous policies like this.
    What a terrible way to prepare young adults for the real world. A zero is the ONLY appropriate mark when the assignment isn’t submitted, just like zero dollars is the appropriate pay for doing no work.

  3. Michelle June 2, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    My favorite part of the story is all the kids who are quoted as saying that it’s “unfair” for the teacher to give zeros, and that he “shouldn’t be a teacher.” I really hope those quotes are cherry-picked. I’m 13 years out of school myself, but I would like to think I would have been shocked by the idea of a teacher NOT giving out zeros if the work wasn’t done. And that’s despite the fact that I was pretty lazy about turning in homework and racked up quite a few zeros myself.

  4. Debbie Greene June 2, 2012 at 1:38 am #

    So true! So absolutely complely true! I work in a Nature Center where we have some community service people do grounds maintenance and it is assigned by the court system. I can NOT tell you how many times Parents have called to set this up for their kid! My favorite: Kid is 14. Doing Community Service for breaking and entering/burglary. AT NIGHT! So Mom calls and wants to know if Junior will be supervised because she doesn’t want him ALONE in the PARK picking up garbage! REALLY?????? Where the heck was she when he was breaking and entering!!!!!

  5. Melissa June 2, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    In my town in Illinois, which will remain nameless, in junior high if a student doesn’t turn in an assignment, the assignment becomes extra credit for the whole class and the student who didn’t turn it in simply doesn’t get the ‘extra credit’. High school students have three tries to take any exam. I’ve heard that most don’t take the extra opportunities but the whole policy is just ridiculous. And, seniors don’t have second semester finals. They just want them OUT so why give them a test they might fail. I might add that this is not downtown Chicago but a relatively nice Chicago suburb in the western burbs where this madness is occurring. Needless to stay my daughter will not be attending these schools one way or the other. If she doesn’t turn in an assignment, you better believe I think she deserves a ZERO!!

  6. DJ June 2, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    A lot of schools are implementing this “no zeros” policy.

    Part of it ties to the current mindset that a “C” isn’t average anymore, it’s unacceptable. And a zero grade really takes those averages down–it’s very hard to make an A with a zero, much less multiple zeros.

    Kids figure this out and just don’t turn in work that they think they have done badly on.

    And then they’re in for a shock when they hit college and professors are more than willing to give them a zero. (wonder how long it will take before someone lobbies that it’s unfair there, too?)

  7. leecoursey June 2, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    This is really no different than the unintended effect of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program under President Bush. NCLB placed a TON more accountability on the teachers and the school for students to pass standardized tests. The theory from the Bush admin was that it would make teachers realize the importance of their roles and to balance the presentation of courses and materials across racial, geographic, and other divides.

    In practice it created an environment where all the effort of the schools went in to increasing pass rates for these tests – so for weeks and weeks before any test the whole school would drop what any of us would call a “normal” curriculum and start making kids memorize material that would be on the exams. Memorization has the shortest stay power of all methods, so the students weren’t learning. They were prodded to repeat thing through the test and then the school would attempt to return to the normal curriculum after the testing.

    Also, grading methods (like NO 0’s) are very fluid in US schools now. You have to find a good mix of participation, activity, and homework scores to maximize the students’ appearance. Remember, it is not the student who suffers if he/she fails (because, most likely, the school will pass them to maintain good numbers) but the teachers. If students choose to do nothing then the teacher will be reprimanded, suspended, or fired.

  8. Heather G June 2, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    Those kids are going to be SHOCKED when they enter the work force and find that if they don’t complete their work they will be getting a pink slip and a paycheck for $0.

  9. Violet June 2, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    Lenore, I have mixed feelings on this one. The culture of too much homework and worksheets goes hand-in-hand with the helicopter policies. Younger students have WAY too much homework and it interferes with play and chores in the evening. I was furious with the zero grading policy when my son was in 5th grade because a missed assignment would really bring his grade down and it was not reflective of his overall ability or work in the class. The practice of giving a zero must be considered in the context of the amount of homework, and the value of the assignment.

  10. Michelle June 2, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    Violet, the answer to that is not to forgo a zero, it’s to reduce the amount of pointless busywork that had no value to begin with. If an assignment is so unimportant that it doesn’t deserve a zero if you don’t do it, then it wasn’t important enough to do in the first place.

  11. Caroline June 2, 2012 at 1:56 am #

    @Violet, you permitted your fifth grader to skip homework assignments and got mad at the school for not counting work he didn’t do? Good lord.

  12. Brian June 2, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    I agree teachers should give zeros. I also think though that the teacher is demonstrating exactly the behavior that giving zeros is supposed to change. When your boss passes a rule, follow it. If not, you get a zero. Too many zeros and you fail/get fired.

    It is kind of ironic.

  13. Jen Connelly June 2, 2012 at 1:59 am #

    That’s just asinine. So, if the kid decides to turn no papers in they still pass with an A if they got good grades on the tests even though they did zero work the whole year. Makes zero sense to me.

    My oldest daughter is finishing up 6th grade and hasn’t turned assignments in for months. She gets zero for every single one of them (of course they give her until the end of the trimester to turn them in, some for a reduced grade, some for full points). So, naturally she is failing all her classes. She doesn’t take this seriously so I’ve washed my hands of it. She’ll be grumbling all the way to summer school. Which is where she belongs.

  14. Yan Seiner June 2, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    @violet: 5th grade means, what, 11 years old? That’s old enough to be responsible. I know my kids went to a pretty demanding elementary school; lots of homework and a lot of it was quite rigorous. Many parents complained to the teachers about the workload. But the net result is that my daughter, who is now in high school, can still pick out the elementary school alums because they do their homework and take responsibility for their actions – unlike many of the other kids.

    Also a reality check – in the long run, 5th grade grades are meaningless. No one will look at how your son did in 5th grade. So what if he gets a B? As long as he learns why and how, and understands that even a single missed piece of work can negatively impact the overall result, it’s a success.

    My son is in advanced math; due to a lot of factors his grades slipped to a C-. He was frantic as a grade below a C means he loses his spot on the track team. He’s 11 (6th grade) and he was crying with frustration when he checked his grades. But he a) refused help and ground through the backlog of missed math assignments, b) refused to have us call his math teacher, and c) refused to drop down to “standard” math.

    The teachers in the schools here have no mercy. My kids get Fs pretty regularly on bad assignments and then have to work to make it up. It’s part of the experience and they’re both better for it. They also know that we will back the teacher 99.9% of the time, so it’s up to them to deal with it. There was only one time I called a teacher on a grade; the homework assignment had nothing to do with the class work and the kids were totally lost. Further the assignment was so poorly written that no one could figure it out.

  15. Heather G June 2, 2012 at 2:04 am #

    Brian, I found it ironic too. I have no sympathy for the teacher because he knowingly violated the schools policy, even though I find the policy ridiculous. The whole thing is a circle of stupid.

  16. action2468 June 2, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    I was a HS physics teacher for many years, long before all the politically correct nonsense reared its ugly head. The students were learning to prepare well for earning an honest living. This was long before all the soft hand outs that far too many lazy and ignorant lay a bouts receive these days..

  17. Jeni June 2, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    Do we not have more unschoolers or free/democratic schoolers among the free rangers? I would have expected more. It’s not so much a debate whether zeroes for uncompleted assignments is warranted to me; it’s whether “assignments” are warranted in the first place.

  18. Heather G June 2, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    Jeni, if you unschool that is great but if a parent chooses to send their child to public school they accept assignments as part of process. Just as the teacher accepted that no zeros were part of the process when he continues to teach at the school after the policy was instituted.

  19. John Kim June 2, 2012 at 2:37 am #

    As a teacher and parent, I find that in practice that averaging in zeroes for missing assignments results in rewarding good little workers as opposed to actually learning the material. The value of assignments should be that it actually helps students learn the material, not just turning stuff in for the points gotten for turning in.

    The typical pattern of school classes and assignments is not preparation for most workplace responsibility. If anyone actually had a job that worked like a school, I expect they would quickly be driven crazy – i.e. shuttled from station to station every hour, not even able to go to the bathroom without permission, and working on a half-dozen daily assignments at once. This is most closely resembles an assembly line, which used to be a common destination but is uncommon these days.

    To prepare for jobs where students have to solve problems creatively rather than just follow steps, students should have fewer and more meaningful assignments – under which zeroes wouldn’t be a significant issue. Students dutifully going through daily homework to get the points don’t strike me as particularly “Free Range”.

  20. gap.runner June 2, 2012 at 2:40 am #

    There are schools in the States and England which don’t use red pen anymore to correct students’ papers because it’s “too discouraging” and “scary” for the kids to see too much red on a paper. In the link I’m posting, teachers in England have been warned not to correct more than 3 spelling mistakes on a student’s paper because it could damage his self-esteem.

    Back when I was in school, the teacher’s word was law. If you didn’t do an assignment, you got a zero. My parents could have complained all they wanted to the teacher, but it would not have done any good.

    German schools will give a 6 when a student does very poorly on a test or assignment. The grading scale is 1 to 6, with 1 being the best mark and 6 the lowest. There is also no grading on a curve and grade inflation, at least at the Gymnasium level, is nonexistent. My son has taken tests where the class average was 4 or worse. He has also been given lower grades on assignments in German class where he had too many spelling or grammatical errors. German teachers also use red pen for corrections. Yet my son and his classmates don’t seem to have shattered self-esteem because they got a poor grade or the teacher made a lot of corrections with his or her red pen. They also don’t think that red ink is scary.

  21. Lynn June 2, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    My son never learned faster than when he ended up in Summer school for not turning in homework assignments. After that I never had to nag him to turn in work.

  22. Lollipoplover June 2, 2012 at 2:57 am #

    So if there are no zeros, do they also take out the other extreme, 100’s? Seems logical to me if the goal is to make everyone average.

    The craziest part for me was the quote from the superintendent,
    “It is regrettable that after a long career with Edmonton Public Schools, you chose this very public and destructive course of action”.
    Destructive? He told his students at the beginning of the year that he gave zeros. And he kept his word, though it conflicted with a questionable policy. What’s destructive about that?

    Are these students going to call their banks to fight their zero bank balances, claiming they are just not complete? Good for this teacher, I hope he gets reinstated after they realize how absurd this is.

  23. Yan Seiner June 2, 2012 at 3:14 am #

    @John Kim: What you describe reflects my workplace pretty well – except for the bathroom breaks. Not everyone gets a job that’s 100% ‘creative’. My job definitely requires creative problem solving and still, much of my work is routine, repetitive stuff with rigid deadlines. It’s all about managing priorities, setting goals, and understanding what is important. There are things I really want to work on because they’re fun and interesting and creative. But there’s also a big stack of accounting stuff I have to do, and that’s anything but fun.

    When I get a ‘0’ it’s called a “violation” and in my industry, it’s the equivalent of meeting Guido the Knee in a back alley with his crowbar. Violations are issued by the state, become a part of our permanent record, and are available to anyone who asks. Violations can be issued for totally trivial things like missing a filing deadline by a day or interpreting a particular rule differently from the regulatory agency. Doesn’t matter; it’s still a violation and it goes on our permanent record. And no parent will call and make it better.

  24. Kate June 2, 2012 at 3:15 am #

    Hardly anyone in my sophomore year French class (this was 18 years ago) took our teacher seriously. Poor Madame Smith. Everyone would get F’s on her pop quizzes. The only mildly effective technique she had for (sort of) getting our attention was to write a huge red F across the entire page, along with a sad face (always drawn with shedding tears). That little bit of public shaming was the only thing that kept the class from dissolving into complete anarchy. Any time I received one of those giant F’s, I would certainly buckle down for the next month or so. Gosh, we were such little jerks!

  25. Dani June 2, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    In Maryland there is at least one county that not only does not give zeros, the teachers are not allowed to grade an assignment as less than 50%. So regardless of whether a student does an assignment, he/she will always get at least 50% on it. This policy is enforced through the end of 8th grade. So what happens is essentially it is impossible to fail or hold back a student until the get to the 9th grade, when state madates require certain percentages on statewide exams in certain core subjects to graduate high school. The way the exams work, you can pass your schools class in a given subject, lets say Biology, but if you never pass the state exam you don’t get to graduate. So what was happening was, in some areas of the state, exactly that was happening. Students were passing the class but failing the test. (A lot of factors went into this, most of them administrative) So it was decided that well these students are just not good test takers, and it was decided a project could be used to make up for the test… Anyone want to take a guess at who does these projects, really?

  26. Jeni June 2, 2012 at 3:18 am #

    Yan, I assume that you chose your career path out of your own free will because in some way it fulfills you enough to be worth the aggravation and stress? High school students don’t often get that kind of choice about their classes.

  27. Yan Seiner June 2, 2012 at 3:29 am #

    @Jeni: I guess we’re fortunate here because our kids do get to pick and choose a lot, even at the elementary school level. We have language immersion schools, art schools, technology schools, and so on. So our kids do get to pick their classes.

    But yes, my job (and I’d say almost any job at the professional level) is a mix of good and bad. And I never said I stress out about it; I was just drawing a comparison between getting a ‘0’ and failing at my job. I don’t stress out about it because I’m pretty good at what I do. I just don’t always enjoy it.

    I want my kids to understand that sometimes you have to do meaningless trivial stuff to get to the good stuff. Anyone who’s done differential equations will tell you that you have to go through a couple of years of mindless boring manipulations before you really understand what’s going on. (OK, most of us…)

    If all schools teach is happy-happy-joy-joy fun fluff, never fail kids, and never reward the grind-grind stuff, then kids will be poorly prepared in general. The other thing is that there are lots of people who enjoy well-regulated, predictable grind-grind stuff, and who aren’t particularly creative. Any professional organization needs both types to succeed. And a child who likes to grind through things, but cannot “creatively problem solve” may go on to be quite successful in life.

  28. Heather June 2, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    I attended high school over 25 years ago and if I failed to turn in an assignment on time I would receive a zero. BUT, if I turned it in later that day I would get 10% knocked off the total grade, if I turned it in the next day it would be 25% off, and the 3rd day it would be 50% off. Still incentive to turn in the work. Sometimes it was as simple as grabbing the yellow social studies folder instead of the yellow math folder. BUT I also had opportunities to earn extra credit to raise my grade (I was an A student).

    Fast forward to today…my oldest is in 8th grade, very very bright, but the school he’s in has a zero tolerance late policy. ie: if it slips out of your folder on the way into class and you pick it up from the hall and turn it in 1 min past class, its a ZERO. No matter what. There is a no extra credit policy. So what I’m facing now is that my son has straight A’s all quarter, and one paper gets turned in after class and now he is failing because of how heavily things are weighted. A 62% does not reflect ANYTHING about my kid and there are 6 days left to the quarter. Teacher says too bad and there is only one more grade to factor in for the year. Awesome.

    In reality, deadlines get pushed back all the time. OR you work your tail off to complete something and then the project is cancelled. You go with the flow. In the end there are evaluations that reflect on your capabilities as a whole. Or you get fired for not doing your work.

    But this is middle school people. An F in Advanced Math that would count for high school credit is BS-if you have a solid understanding of the work and it would be ridiculous to repeat the same class next year because the school has a nonsensical policy.

  29. skl1 June 2, 2012 at 4:04 am #

    How can they think this is fair to the students, considering that many of them are preparing for college, and most are planning to be employed someday? Do they think their paychecks are going to come along with a little sticky note saying “btw, you forgot to show up and do your work”?

  30. Violet June 2, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    Caroline, really? I would suggest that you keep your ignorant opinions to yourself. My son had HOURS and HOURS of homework and MOST of it was stupid. You are judging me because you have no clue about me or my life. Obviously, this being the internet, I really can’t explain everything to you, not that it matters since you are ignorant, but when a child does hours of homework, never gets recess or PE, and has no time for a normal life, but fails to get one thing done, or loses something and gets a C in a class where he should get an B or A, then he will give up. But, I know I am wasting my time on you.

  31. Violet June 2, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    Lawyers get more mercy for late filings than my son gets if he loses a paper that he finished for homework. People at my job are treated with dignity and respect. Teachers treat children like garbage for no reason. If you are working at a place where you get fired for missing one task, then you must not have been bright enough to get a good job.

  32. Violet June 2, 2012 at 4:18 am #

    Jen Connelly, your daughter may learn from her failure, or she may do drugs or commit suicide. I hope she bounces back since she isn’t the only kid in the country dealing with ridiculous amounts of homework.

  33. dmd June 2, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    I have to agree that I have mixed feelings on this one. My son has ADHD and completing all of his homework is often a monumental task. He just finished fourth grade and 4 hours or more of homework (for him) was not uncommon. We had to let some homework go (or give up sleep which is not appropriate). I had mixed reactions from teachers. Some agreed to grade him on what was turned in; others were more severe, impacting his grade. So his grade doesn’t demonstrate what he knows – rather it penalizes what he doesn’t get done thanks to his attention deficit. A no zeros policy would benefit him. I also follow a teachers blog and many teachers there have been in support of the policy because they want to encourage kids to do the work, not just penalize them and go home.

  34. mollie June 2, 2012 at 4:34 am #


    I encourage every person to watch this, everyone, whether they have kids in the school system or not. Sir Ken has some amazing insights into how the current education paradigm fails not only kids, but our whole society…

  35. mollie June 2, 2012 at 4:38 am #


    This one, too. It’s more of a motivation / outcomes perspective on the punishment / rewards / grading paradigm and how it, too, fails kids tremendously. Alfie Kohn wrote a book called “The Homework Myth.” I recommend it to all parents who feel a sense of overwhelm and doubt about the “second shift” most kids feel compelled to work throughout their schooling. The research is on the side of eradicating homework entirely for elementary and middle school, and having much less of it in High School as well.

  36. K June 2, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    Teachers should absolutely give zeros when a student fails to turn in work. I (a college instructor) give zeros once an assignment is one week late (ten percent per day deduction prior).

    In answer to Violet’s problem: Absolutely! The mindless busywork that my kids’ teachers sends home makes me gag. I think that if they can’t demonstrate how this particular assignment provides sufficient educational value-added over family time – they shouldn’t be allowed to send it home.

    I may throw up if I see one more assignment from the GIFTED program where a clever book is assigned with an accompanying instruction to “write a paragraph summary of each chapter”. Talk about busywork sucking the life out of learning…

    For each assignment, I reduce the amount of work and provide a summary (for my own purposes) of what my educational goals are. Then, there is a rubric that tracks that development. And, no, I don’t provide rubrics to my students – but, that’s a discussion for another day/post.

  37. Yan Seiner June 2, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    @Heather: That sounds equally as silly as the no-zero policy… What exactly is the school hoping to teach with that?

  38. John Kim June 2, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    @Yan: I think it is nonsense to think that the only two choices are never-fail happy-happy-joy-joy fun fluff and pointless grind. When I teach chemistry, I give my students assignments designed to help them actually learn chemistry. If they don’t do them and don’t learn the chemistry, then they will fail the tests and fail my class. However, I won’t give them pointless grind just to teach them a life lesson that sometimes pointless grind needs to be done.

  39. Uly June 2, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    That’s just asinine. So, if the kid decides to turn no papers in they still pass with an A if they got good grades on the tests even though they did zero work the whole year. Makes zero sense to me.

    It makes zero sense to ME that handing in a bunch of busywork (and nearly all homework IS busywork, frankly – easy to grade and hand out in bulk) is more important than mastering the material.

    God, I still wish I could’ve just tested out of high school.

  40. Donna June 2, 2012 at 4:56 am #


    It isn’t a matter of Yan job, it’s EVERY job. Every job I’ve ever worked from bagging groceries to criminal defense attorney requires a certain level of rote work and balancing. A good bit of every job is boring and mundane. I’ve never heard of an employed person who only has one ball in the air at a time. Even bagging groceries, I had other tasks that had to get done during a shift along with bagging groceries.

    I have great ability to be creative in my actual representation of clients. I also spend much of my time dealing with filing deadlines, routine motions, managing files, completing routine paperwork and on and on. No job – even my mother’s as an ARTIST – is 100% creative. She still has to handle the business end of her creative business. She could be the next Michaelangelo; she is still going to die destitute if she can’t handle the business end.

    Further, nobody starts right in on “creative problem solving.” Even after that expensive college education, it is awhile before anyone cares about your creative solutions rather than expecting you to handle the grunt work that nobody else wants to do. You have to pay the dues in the trenches. You can’t pay the dues; you can’t get to the “creative problem solving.”

    That is the major problem I have with all these “creative” schooling options. I see a lot of training kids to be CEO (or whatever) but not much teaching them the skills needed to work their way up to CEO. A lot of encouraging them to do whatever they want and not much teaching them that there is always crap that you don’t want to do that has to be done to get to the stuff you really enjoy.

    I’ve known way too many very smart people who can’t keep a job because they want to start off as the boss and anything rote is below them. I’ve known way too many people who can’t keep a job/business because they only want to do the “fun” parts of the job and forget that the rote things need to get done too. Kids need to learn both creative problem solving AND just getting things done because they have to be done. Kids need to be encouraged to engage in things that interest them while understanding that life is always full of crap that you don’t want to do but has to get done.

  41. mollie June 2, 2012 at 4:56 am #

    Uly, I remember in grade 10 being taught the exact same grammar material I’d been taught in grade 5. When I asked my dad about it, he said, “Everything you need to learn in the 13 grades of school you could learn by the time you are 13 or 14, that’s the truth of it. But the government doesn’t have anything for you to do during your adolescence; the days of apprenticeships, farm work and young marriage are long over. The powers that be are terrified at the prospect of a bunch of pubescent kids with time on their hands running around getting pregnant and setting fires so they incarcerate you for another four years and call it education.”

    I still see this as the honest truth. There are many more things we could do as a society to bring more of a sense of meaning, purpose and contribution to adolescence.

  42. mollie June 2, 2012 at 4:59 am #

    Donna, I think most people find a lot more meaning in the “mundane” tasks of running a business or supporting a position that has value to them simply because there is some honest context to it all. Telling students that “sometimes life is unpleasant, so you’d better get used to it” and assigning them a lot of meaningless tasks for the sake of being graded doesn’t seem like an honest preparation for real-life experiences to me.

  43. Uly June 2, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Your dad wasn’t far off, mollie.

  44. Donna June 2, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    And, no, I don’t mean that homework should be given just to give homework so kids get practice at doing rote work. Homework should only be given if meaningful to enforce or enhance the lessons being taught in class. But everyone doesn’t move at the same pace or have the same interests. Even the most meaningful homework will seem rote to kids who grasped the concept very quickly, while the rest of the class needs the practice. Projects that are meaningful to some will just seem idiotic to others. Classrooms contain 25-30 kids. A teacher cannot teach to each child’s individual abilities and interests so every student is subjected to a certain level of things outside their own comfort zone so that the entire class learns the concepts. Such is life.

  45. Yan Seiner June 2, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    @John Kim: I remember being very creative in high school chemistry, sneaking lithium into other people’s lab sinks, making contact explosives to put in the hallways, and all sorts of other stuff that would no doubt get me sent to Guantanamo these days.

    I also remember the pointless grind of learning the periodic table, electron orbitals, atomic weights, Avogadro’s number, stuff I had to know to get through high school chemistry but that was about as exciting as watching paint dry.

    But I had to go through it, know it and understand it, no matter how boring, because without it I would never have been able to study quantum mechanics which really was a lot of fun. So yes, there was a point to the grind – only I didn’t really know that and could not know that until after I learned it.

  46. Donna June 2, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    “I think most people find a lot more meaning in the “mundane” tasks of running a business or supporting a position that has value to them simply because there is some honest context to it all.”

    There is very little meaning to some of the mundane tasks I have to do. I do them because some legislature decided it should be that way 100 years ago and nobody has changed the law. Or because it’s easiest for the judge but 100% more time consuming and difficult for everyone else involved, but the judge is the king so we have to do it his way. Unless you are your own boss and never have to deal in anyway with outside sources, you are going to be stuck doing things at work just because.

  47. skl1 June 2, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    If the base problem is stupid homework, shouldn’t the solution be to assign meaningful homework (or assign none)? How does it make “more” sense to assign stupid homework and not enforce it?

    I had a HS math teacher whom I exasperated because I refused to “show my work” when I did the work entirely in my head. He nagged and threatened as I dug in. He gave me a zero on a test once (it was 100% correct), but later revised it to a 90% in exchange for my going back and “showing my work.” That was so irritating to me, and yet I lived through it. It is true that in life we do have to live through some things that are idiotic. We grumble about it and move on. That said, I don’t believe in “busy work” at the levels it is reported nowadays.

    I hear about hours and hours of daily homework – but I know nobody in real life who has that much “every day,” so maybe it’s regional or maybe some individuals just drag it out. Personally, in HS 30 years ago, I had times when I had hours of homework, but it was usually because I’d put off a long-term project until the last minute.

  48. Chihiro June 2, 2012 at 5:39 am #

    I’m in high school now, and my homework levels are off the charts. I’m a part of two extracurriculars, have two Honors/AP classes, and I work a job. I get up at 5:30 every day and I am lucky to get to bed by 10 with my workload. Sometimes I can’t get to bed until 1 and I’ve had a few occasions where I’ve had to stay up all night to get it all done and turned in.
    I find it ironic that apparently I can’t handle getting a zero put in the gradebook, but I can certainly handle crushing workloads and running on three or four hours of sleep every night.

  49. Violet June 2, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    Chihiro, so you do that much work, but if you miss one assignment on one day, you get a zero bringing your grade down considerably. You seem to be bright. What is the purpose of grading? What is the purpose of giving a zero? If you miss one assignment and get a C, is that reflective of your abilities and your effort? Or, is that more reflective of your insane schedule? Zero grading policies are just as inane as zero tolerance policies. They are for people who can’t really think.

  50. Jen Connelly June 2, 2012 at 5:45 am #


    The really sad part is my daughter doesn’t actually get a lot of homework. When I look at her progress reports (which list all of her assignments for that class) most of it is classwork, not homework.

    They get assignments in class that they start together then the kids are supposed to finish them on their own before the end of class. My daughter just doesn’t do them. Obviously these are supposed to be finished at home that night and turned in the next day (or in some classes by Friday). They also have an “advisory” period which is like homeroom and study hall. It’s for like 25 minutes. They can use the time to ask for help from their teachers, go to the library or work on their homework/classwork.

    My daughter chooses to goof off. Then she comes home and does nothing because the unfinished work isn’t technically “homework”. We’ve been going around and around with her since the beginning of the school year. She had As, Bs and a C her first trimester. Now it’s all Fs. I don’t think she’s handed in an assignment in months. I’ve given up stressing about it. I can’t make her do her homework.

    She’s starting therapy, though, to figure out her behavior problems so she doesn’t turn into one of those pregnant teens on drugs, sneaking around all the time. I really don’t think failing is going to mean anything to her. I have 5 children and I spend most of my time dealing with her to the point I neglect the other 4 (including the toddler).

  51. Christina June 2, 2012 at 5:46 am #

    This reminds me of when my mother was a teacher for special needs kids in junior high back in the 80s. She had one kid who would only do part of any classroom or homework assignment. She graded him accordingly and was told by administration to grade him only on the work he had done. Her response was pretty much along the line of Mr. Dorvel’s. She wasn’t suspended, but her contract wasn’t renewed.

  52. Heather G June 2, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    Violet, if one assignment holds enough weight that a single zero is going to bring an A to a C, you picked the wrong assignment not to do or you simply don’t have a lot of assignments being graded. Neither situation makes your case for you. Have some schools gone overboard with homework? Yes. Is homework for the sole purpose of having homework educational? No. But if you absolutely believe that all homework has zero value the arguments you are making, the suicide one especially, are not going to prove your point.

    I know a lot of teachers, varying from elementary school to college professor. I also volunteer quite a bit in a school. None of them assign work for the purpose of busy work nor do their students have insane amounts of work. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist as I worked two jobs through high school while carrying a full AP/Honors schedule and three jobs to put myself through college and know all too well what years of sleep deprivation and a bookbag that weighs as much as I do. What I am saying is that demonizing all homework and teachers who have the audacity of placing a value on the work they asked the students to do does no one any good.

  53. Yan Seiner June 2, 2012 at 6:04 am #

    @Chihiro: That’s incredible. I hope you get what you’re looking for. I also think it’s silly that we have wonderful, focused teenagers out there doing great things and we still treat them like they can’t handle the slightest bit of responsibility. Sometimes I really feel like we’re already living in the future: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron

  54. Donna June 2, 2012 at 6:05 am #


    Everyone has busy schedules. You get it all done or you fix your schedule. Balancing demands, wants and needs is a lesson that needs to be learned. Schools assigning busy, unnecessary work is a definite problem. But the answer is schools assigning less busy work. The answer is not making ALL homework optional, which is all you are doing by not giving zeros.

  55. Donna June 2, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    When my brother was in school, his school (private catholic school) had a set amount of homework the teachers were supposed to give each night. The amounts of homework for each grade were listed in the school handbook so this wasn’t even a behind-the-scenes thing. For example, in 3rd grade, his teachers were required to give 2 hours worth of homework a night. This is geared toward the average student so some students complete the homework in less than 2 hours and some would take much longer. And the number of hours of assigned homework increased every year.

    This is the height of idiocy. Homework should be what is necessary to teach the concepts, not a set amount every night just to have a set amount every night. Allowed to progress naturally, some days you should have a bunch of homework while others you have none.

    That said, every assignment is not going to be meaningful to every kid. There is always going to be a certain amount of just getting through it for every kid. Maybe because you learned the concept very quickly. Maybe because the subject is not your cup of tea. Maybe because you just don’t like to build murals and scenes from WWII in shoe boxes (do kids still do that?). The kid who blows off all the homework should not get the same grade as the kid who takes the time to build all the murals and shoe boxes (and the kids whose PARENTS build the murals and shoe boxes should get a zero too).

  56. mollie June 2, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    Donna, I remember being told that school and homework was my “job” when I was a student, and that grownups had their “jobs” as well. I never bought it. School to me seemed like a lot of arbitrary hoops to jump through, and homework seemed like a lot of torture for absolutely nothing. Once I had graduated from my schooling with a bachelor’s degree and started working, I was amazed to find out how easy it really was to do a paid job! What a relief! School had been outrageously arduous and all-consuming compared to working an 8-hour day at any job, mundane or not.

    There are many reasons human beings choose a particular job. There is sustainability, meaning, purpose, contribution, survival, enjoyment, connection, community, responsibility, etc. The parts of your job that you find meaningless you are choosing to do to satisfy some value you hold: perhaps it is sustainability. You know that if you don’t do these things, you will lose your license and not be able to pay your bills. Maybe it’s responsibility, or integrity. It matters to others whether you are employed or not, if you have dependents. So there’s some meaning right there.

    For adolescents, I see very little needs met in the education system. Coming home from six or eight hours of enforced time in classes, learning things that may or may not apply to your future working life, then coming home to several hours of additional work is something that most adults in paid positions would never tolerate, for health reasons alone. No job I’ve ever held required me to work, unpaid, in any significant way during my time off. I’m guessing most HR professionals understand that a schedule that allows for no downtime is a recipe for disaster.

    Kids can smell the energy behind these policies in high schools. They have less to do with learning, and more to do with efficiency and order (can’t accommodate so many different abilities and learning styles of individual students) and sustainability (federal fundings depend on test scores), but the kids aren’t told the truth about why they’re being managed the way they are managed. More transparency would be a great start.

  57. E. Simms June 2, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t get how getting a zero on one or a few homework assignments could significantly affect the students’ final grade. When I was in high school homework generally was ten percent of the final grade; tests were ninety percent of the final grade in science and math classes. Other courses like English and history may have had projects that made up about twenty percent so that the tests were worth about seventy percent.

    Sometimes there would be a teacher who was a real hard ass and would give no homework credit at all if any assignments were missing, but all we had to do then was just slap something together and turn it in. However, most teachers would give us credit for the homework we turned in even if we didn’t do all the assignments.

    Are schools now making homework a major part of the students’ grade?

  58. John Kim June 2, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    @Donna: If the homework actually serves a function of helping students learn, and students are also tested on that learning – then students who don’t do the homework are inherently penalized even if you don’t mark zeroes for them.

    So for a class with well-designed homework, students who don’t do their work will fail the tests even without the penalty of the zeroes.

    If this isn’t true — i.e. if doing the homework doesn’t matter for passing the tests (including essays, projects, or whatever other sorts of assessments used) — then the homework was pointless busy work.

    While some parents might see value in pointless busy work as a life lesson, I don’t think that should be a primary concern of schools. My primary concern as a science teacher is making sure the students learn science.

  59. Jenne June 2, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    @Melissa – I am SO curious now . . . I am in far NW suburb with Lake in the name. I can’t believe the “extra credit” part – that’s just insane!

    @JenConnelly – I have the SAME situation with my 6th grader, and it has driven me nuts all year! I’ve asked other parents, friends who are teachers (“yeah, I’ve got a couple of those….”) but no one can tell me what to DO about it!

    And before y’all waste your typing 😉

    * She writes it in her assignment notebook, and the teacher and I both sign the assignment book.

    * She does the homework – in less than 30 minutes. (This seems to be largely dependent on the teacher you get; our neighbor has at least 2 hours of homework every night. I WISH she got more homework.)

    * She puts it in her take-home folder. We even bought a specific one that has 8 pockets (to eliminate the wrong yellow folder dilemma), since she has 3 minutes between classes & her locker at the opposite end of school (& in the basement) from her classrooms.

    * We’ve met with the teachers

    * We get blank looks when we ask WHY she doesn’t turn it in.

    * I’ve done everything short of driving her to the school (instead of taking the bus) and walking in with her to the office and watching her put the homework in the teacher’s mailbox!

    I would LOVE to send her to summer school but only our high school district offers it. Are you sending her to a private learning center?

    @gap.runner – Since the first day of SECOND grade (so for FIVE years now), I have had the conversation with every single teacher that my daughter’s papers should be marked up when there is an error: misspelling, wrong capitalization or punctuation (or lack thereof entirely), etc. Red, green, purple, pink, orange – I don’t care! But MARK THE D*^% PAPER! I don’t care if you take points off, but INDICATE THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG so she knows she has to FIX it!!!!!!

    “Well, it depends on what we are looking for from that particular assignment…” I’m pretty much looking for correct spelling & punctuation on EVERY assignment by the time she is 12!

    Yes, I know she sucks at it – because NO ONE HAS TAUGHT IT!

    Look, I went to Catholic grade school & high school in Chicago in the 70s and 80s – I *know* I got a good education. My teachers were not my friends; they were my TEACHERS. If I dotted my i’s with a circle in 6th grade, I got zero credit for the assignment. (Nipped that notion in the bud right quick!)

    My mother is utterly hysterical every time my daughter stays with her because my daughter can’t spell, randomly capitalizes and writes like a kindergartner being zapped with a stun gun. She’s offering to pay for private school so my daughter can actually get an education, even though we live in one of the best school districts in the state.

    That’s just sad.

  60. Donna June 2, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    “School to me seemed like a lot of arbitrary hoops to jump through”

    Likewise, most job involve a bunch of arbitrary hoops to jump through. My mother complains about all the arbitrary hoops that she needs to get through to do art shows. In reality, the application rules are totally meaningless and serve little more than to weed out those who cannot follow them so that they have to choose from less people for the limited spaces in the shows and prove that even free-as-a-bird artists have to follow arbitrary rules.

    “homework seemed like a lot of torture for absolutely nothing”

    Was it for nothing? How can you possibly know that? If you engaged in the torture, you have no clue as to whether you would have passed the class without the homework or not. Much of my homework by high school was reading the assignments to be discussed in class. I suppose there is some possibility that I could have not read the assignments and gathered enough information in class to actually pass a test but I certainly am not confident enough in that belief to say that reading the assignments was worth “absolutely nothing.”

    “learning things that may or may not apply to your future working life”

    And that is all that is important? Forget the fact that most 15 year olds have no clue what they want to be doing at 40 or what will be necessary to get there (and even those who do frequently end up miles from that point by 40). Why has school devolved from learning to only learning what is necessary in some future career that we may or may not have? History is almost never necessary in the workforce, however, knowing things in the past, helps us understand where we are and why. My job requires no knowledge of geography outside the small jurisdiction of the court, but it’s nice to have an idea about where things are occurring when I hear about them in the news. I know few for whom the works of Shakespeare is required knowledge, but reading Shakespeare enriched my bed of knowledge. I’ve never once spoken french or italian at work; I’m still glad I learned something about the languages and cultures in school.

    This attitude is why other countries beat us hands down on most levels as far as education goes. It’s not that our teachers are worse or our students are dumber. It is because we’ve given up any idea of learning just to be a knowledgeable human being. It’s only about what we need for a career. Everything else is a waste.

    “No job I’ve ever held required me to work, unpaid, in any significant way during my time off.”

    Then I guess you never worked a salaried job. I get paid a set amount every paycheck. Whether I work 40 hours that week or 60 hours that week is 100% irrelevant to my paycheck. I have to work until the work is done. If I can get it done in 8 hours, great. If not, I have to keep working until what needs to get done that day is done. If a day gets away from me, as they are known to do, I can’t go to my client at 5pm and say “sorry about the life sentence but I didn’t have time to file your appeal today so I guess you’re stuck there because it’s quitting time for me.” I work, at the office or home, until the appeal is ready to be filed because it’s my job to get it done no matter what time I need to take to do it.

  61. Maggie June 2, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    The administration at our local high school forced a geometry teacher to allow students to turn in late work- even VERY late work- for 90% credit. They’ve denied that it’s a way to inflate grades, but the teacher in question is not returning next year. 🙁

  62. socalledauthor June 2, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    As a teacher myself, I do sympathize with the physics teacher in the article. But, having just gone through two really rough transition years where nearly every policy I believed in was revised, there is a point when an employee has to accept the policies in place or move on.

    While some schools give “busywork”, I do think there’s a bias among certain parents who think that any repetition of a concept is “busywork,” and merely intended to fill time (or slots in the gradebook.) However, repetition is a sound learning practice, up to a point. Very few kids lean to add the first time their shown a set of problems. And if they cannot add, they will have difficulty with subtraction, and later with multiplication and division. And later still with basic algebra and geometry (I JUST spent half the semester busting my butt trying to help a girl in advanced algebra when she could barely multiply… she had to use the calculator for nearly every multiplication problem. No math disability on record, I just don’t think she every bothered to learn the math concepts. After several weeks on rational expressions, she was finally starting to keep track of the steps on using them in problems. If we hadn’t done the “busywork” or rather the repetition of those concepts over and over, she wouldn’t have gotten it even that much.)

    The problem with repetition is that it’s not one-size-fits all situation. Some students will get the concept easily and not need as much practice. Others will THINK they have it but struggle with the harder concepts. And others need more help and practice than the allotted work– thought hey may not even bother with the opportunity presented to them.

    Students have many, many reasons for why the make the choices to not do their work. From “it’s too easy” to “it’s too hard” they are still making the choice. I have poked and prodded and cajoled and sat next to students to assist them with their homework… and some will still not even put their name on their paper. They are aware of the choice… let them accept the consequences.

    After all, in a twist on an old saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t stop him from drowning himself. This is exceptionally true, imho, having worked for several years with alternative high school students, who want all the fun of adult decisions (drinking, smoking, sex, jobs, etc) but none of the adult responsibilities since they are “just kids.”

  63. L June 2, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    Also from Edmonton – I have been assured by several people familiar with both the teacher and the school that there is significantly more to the story than the grades. My understanding is that the school board is not permitted to suspend a teacher on this issue, and that some other action he took led to the suspension.

  64. Donna June 2, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    “If the homework actually serves a function of helping students learn, and students are also tested on that learning – then students who don’t do the homework are inherently penalized even if you don’t mark zeroes for them.”

    Which assumes that the only point of school is just to pass tests. Could I have passed many of my TESTS without doing homework? Absolutely. Would I have failed to learn some of the things that I now know without doing homework? Absolutely.

    Tests can’t cover every single thing that kids need to learn in school. Nor can tests evaluate every skill. I find it interesting that so many people argue against teaching to the test but now seem to have the attitude that the test is all that matters. If it’s not on the test (and is instead in homework or a project) it is meaningless.

    Would anyone have ever written a book report if there wasn’t a zero in it for us if we didn’t? That book wasn’t on any test. In fact, you could have passed every test given in the class without ever reading that book or writing the report since the book itself was not part of the curriculum but instead was something selected by you. But that doesn’t make the book or report meaningless to the learning process. Reading it developed reading ability. Writing the report developed spelling, writing, expression skills. Eventually, failing to develop your reading and writing skills will effect your grades, but failing to do book reports in 3rd grade probably won’t effect your performance on tests in 3rd grade.

  65. mollie June 2, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Agh, gadzooks, don’t get me started about book reports and reading lists. If anything ever threatened to take the joy out of reading for me, that was it.

    Honestly, I just can’t get behind the way school is run, the paradigm of our education system. If you want to see ideas of an alternative paradigm that would serve our real needs, right now, I’d love to contribute to a sense of inspiration by suggesting a ten-minute break to watch the videos I posted. It’s hard to imagine any parent saying YES to the way our schools run after watching them.

  66. Leslie June 2, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    I taught in Georgia six years ago and was pointedly told by the administrators not to give zeros and not to make any deadline absolute. Why? If I did, they would almost all fail because so few of them did any assignments… and their failure to work amounted to the school losing money. Imagine for a minute being a teacher when you must accept any assignment at any date past the “due date” and cannot give zeros for missing work. The admin expected me to stay after school to re-teach these kids who would lay out of school for weeks at a time and then accept the assignments at whatever point they decided to do them. Ludicrous. I packed up my classroom by Labor Day and was gone by Christmas. THIS is why decent teachers don’t stay.

  67. Uly June 2, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    Would anyone have ever written a book report if there wasn’t a zero in it for us if we didn’t?

    Oh, I never wrote a book report anyway. Writing book reports took away from valuable reading time, and I just wasn’t about to have that. The teachers all lied anyway. Every year at the beginning of the year they swore they weren’t like those OTHER teachers, they actually took homework SERIOUSLY. Then at the end of the year they said they’d pass me THIS year but NEXT year I wouldn’t pass.

    And the next year it was the same thing! (They just didn’t want to risk having me in the class twice running.)

    Also – affect, not effect. Affect is (usually but not always) the verb and effect is (usually but not always) the noun.

    I do think there’s a bias among certain parents who think that any repetition of a concept is “busywork,” and merely intended to fill time (or slots in the gradebook.)

    One niece has to do, every week, triangle writing for spelling. That is, writing the words like this:

    spell… well, you get the point. Stupidest and most tedious homework I’ve ever seen in my life.

    Another homework popular at the school is marking up words due to the orthographical principle they show, which would be fine in theory except all the words are ultimately marked in the same way. “Circle the silent e at the end!” and every single word has a silent e. “Underline the ay!” and every word has the ay in the same place, at the end.

    Then, of course, there’s “Do ten math problems then color the picture according to the rules” which is, I suppose, intended to be fun… if we could ever find a red crayon, and if they didn’t invariably try doing the coloring first then get upset because you can’t erase crayon. And all it really does is double the length of the assignment. The math problems is fine, but the coloring I can’t stand.

    And for a whole year they were supposed to write “about their day at school”. The same assignment every single day. “It’s so they talk about the day with parents!” What’s so interesting about their day at school? If it has to be assigned, it can’t be very interesting at all. Every single day, after 30 minutes of begging and pleading, Ana would write “I went to school. We did math. We did English. We ate lunch. I came home.” because there literally was nothing else to say and any attempt at creativity or interest got her a snippy comment about how she was supposed to just report on her day. Her life isn’t that interesting!

    Two kids, the older one has been through four years of school, and I’d say that the percentage of useful work to busywork is not that great. But at least they don’t have too MUCH homework. Two hours in third grade? I’d pull the kid out, seriously. The national PTA and the NEA each recommend no more than 15 minutes per grade, per night.

    Since the first day of SECOND grade (so for FIVE years now), I have had the conversation with every single teacher that my daughter’s papers should be marked up when there is an error: misspelling, wrong capitalization or punctuation (or lack thereof entirely), etc.

    My other niece’s first grade teacher has this idea that I should sit over her and correct all the mistakes myself. Because with two nieces to watch and dinner to make and swimming to get to (or the library), I should perfect her work for her as well? (She’s also fond of sending home monthly book reports that are really family projects. “They’re fun!” Like hell they are. See my comment on book reports at the top of this.)

    With that said, are you sure your daughter doesn’t have a learning disability? Maybe one with executive function? Or anxiety? When I was a kid, even if I did do the homework, I never turned it in. If I turned it in, that’d be like saying I should turn it in, and then they’d expect me to do that all the time. Is her work (such as it is) typical of other students at that school?

  68. Ms. Herbert June 2, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    We had that policy a couple of years ago. We had to reteach if a child failed an assignment. That was an actual improvement because before that we couldn’t give a grade below 50 on the report card even if they had earned below a 50. (That policy was actually ruled illegal).

    Well during feedback sessions our district administration has with teachers, they heard how kids were taking advantage of the situation and making the teacher run after them to get the reteach done.

    The policy changed again this year. If a child scores under 70, the teacher has to OFFER 1 opportunity for a reteach and reevaluation. The higher of the 2 scores is taken but the reteach grade can not be above a 70. If the child refuses to participate in the reteach – the original grade stands. Even if a zero.

    I think the secondary teachers still have some issues with the policy because often the kids get below a 70 because they are being lazy. I’m a 2nd grade teacher. 99.999999999% of the time one of my students fail – it is because I didn’t reach them. At this age the mostly want to learn.

    At my level there are some kids, who should be in a more specialized education program. They aren’t because federal law says that only X% of a district’s children can qualify for special accommodation for the all mighty test. If too many kids are even tested for special ed, you get dinged on the AYP report card.

  69. Christy Rachelle Ford June 2, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    I just really hate the school system in general. Stuff like this, just another nail in the coffin.

  70. Maureen (@moeyknight) June 2, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    You know why there is too much busy work? Because teachers are required to fill up EVERY SINGLE SECOND of the school day with standards-based learning. What has happened is that a bunch of people that aren’t educators (or should never have been, which is why they are administration now) are making all the decisions. No one asks the teachers. What I see now is that the new crops of teachers being hired are nothing but corporate yes-men in disguise who totally buy into the latest teaching fad.

    And I am glad this teacher is standing up to this dumb rule. Some of you think he’s getting what he deserved – not following the rules. That’s fine. But sometimes someone has to stand up to the establishment and call them on their stupidity. It’s all too easy for the rest to sit around and grumble and complain but do nothing. I applaud people like him.

  71. Uly June 2, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Some of you think he’s getting what he deserved – not following the rules. That’s fine. But sometimes someone has to stand up to the establishment and call them on their stupidity.

    Who thinks that? Can you name names here?

  72. skl1 June 2, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    OK, I’m not a rabid fan of homework, but I think some of the above is a bit over the top. I was a conscientious student, young for my grade, and I finished high school in 3 years (“college prep” track, the highest in those days). I had jobs and chores and hobbies, more so than many kids. I chose to do all of my homework, except for one project that I refused to do out of protest (after confirming that it would not stop me from getting my “A” since my grade otherwise was so high). While I would agree that some of the work was “busy work” for me (being academically advanced), most of it at the HS level truly was not. Granted, I may not have appreciated having to copy the Biology drawings and such, but I will say that after 30 years, I still have more knowledge about biology than most educated adults. And yes, I think there is value in that. Some of the folks above make it sound like homework is a human rights violation. In fact, it’s a choice kids make based on how well they want to learn and how high they want their grades to be.

    To Chihiro, I have to say that 10pm is by no means an inhumane bedtime. It is much earlier than I ever went to bed as a teen. I also have to say that you should own the choices you made. You must have known when you set up your schedule that you would have homework for each class, plus practice for the extracurriculars, plus hours at your job, plus whatever else you choose (or your parents choose for you) to do. You could have taken fewer or easier courses, fewer extracurriculars, or a less demanding job (or no job). You will realize benefits from the choices you did make, so it only makes sense to accept the costs of those choices. There is nothing new or surprising about homework.

    I have a problem with a lot of homework in the elementary years (especially the primary years), and in higher classes that are not for the “academic track.” I don’t believe there should be a “minimum” amount of homework in any class, but if the teacher decides that homework will help the students learn, then I’m not opposed to it. It should be viewed as part of getting an education. If some teachers assign too much, students should address the issue with that teacher or drop / decline to sign up for their classes. But having made a decision to take the class, it seems kind of silly to whine about it.

    As for nobody having to work outside their paid hours, ha ha ha ha … I have never in my adult life worked as few as 40 hours per week (unless you count a few times when I was a full-time student and held part-time / temporary jobs). I am not raising my kids to expect to work only 40 hours per week. Being willing and able to work more than 40 hours opens a lot more opportunities. The 40-hour work week was designed for people whose jobs were very physically intense.

  73. Donna June 2, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    “Also – affect, not effect. Affect is (usually but not always) the verb and effect is (usually but not always) the noun.”

    Sorry, typo. Sometimes typing while answering the phone at work and listening to the 6 year old whine about getting to her upcoming sleepover is a distraction. Possibly it is best not to assume the worst of people. I’d not say anything except that this happens regularly here usually from the same couple of people. Not everyone on this blog is a native English speaker. Few are focusing directly on this. Mistakes happen, even from people who know better. And, even if they don’t, they are not looking to this blog and Uly to correct their grammar.

  74. Obi-Wandreas June 2, 2012 at 10:50 am #

    Being responsible enough to complete an assignment on your own, regardless of your opinion of that assignment’s value, is a skill itself. Career preparation work, whether that be college or technical school, requires massive amounts of independent work. To expect someone to be able to do this successfully if they never had homework at all before high school is sheer idiocy. Being able to do homework is far more important than being able to do any individual assignment.

    Furthermore, to not give a zero when work is not completed is to give an undeserved grade. To give an undeserved grade is fraud. When district policy requires the commission of fraud, it becomes unethical to follow that policy.

  75. AW13 June 2, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    With my subject (Latin) all homework was practice of the concepts, and all homework was done (or at least begun) in class, so that I could address any questions. The practice was necessary to learn the language. I didn’t give homework every night, and although I did give zeros, homework did not count for the majority of their grade. And someone up above made a point that was true for my students: if they didn’t do the homework, and didn’t understand the concepts, it was evident on tests.

    But what was most frustrating is that I graded all homework on COMPLETION. I didn’t care if they’d made mistakes – heck, that’s part of the process! Mistakes I could work with, mistakes I could help them understand, but when they didn’t even TRY? When they couldn’t even tell me a vocabulary word because they hadn’t bothered to look it up? That was very frustrating. And not conducive to learning.

    And my last point: I love teaching. I’m still a teacher now (albeit of a different subject). But there is a lot of paperwork inherent in teaching. And a lot of mundane, jumping through the hoops kind of work to do. In my experience, the real job world does require a certain amount of slog.

  76. AW13 June 2, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    And when I was teaching high school full time, 40 hours a week was not the norm. 40 hours a week was what I spent there from bell to bell. 50+ was the amount of time I spent working any given week. And that doesn’t include extracurriculars that I supervised.

  77. Sarah June 2, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    When I was teaching 4th grade, I never gave much weight to homework simply because I didn’t really know who had done the work. (It was amazing how some kids’ handwriting miraculously changed overnight.) If I had had a choice, I would have given homework out only on a case-by-case basis when I felt the students needed extra practice in a particular skill. As it was, though, I was required to assign it every night. Parents would actually get upset with me if I didn’t assign “enough.” That is, they wanted more busy-work for their kids to keep them occupied in the evenings. Personally, I didn’t feel it was my job to simply keep their kids busy and out of their hair.

    I really hated homework, though, because of the busy-work it created for ME. How is my time better spent: correcting mountains of homework sheets and recording the grades, or assessing the students’ daily work from class to see if they’re actually understanding anything? For the most part, I felt it was a gigantic waste of time for both parties.

    That said, I do think zeros are warranted for incomplete work, if the work is actually relevant to the class. So, beyond worksheets, “real” assignments should carry weight, and if it’s not done, a zero is appropriate. Of course the teacher can decide whether to accept late work at a reduced grade, etc. That’s just it, though–teachers should be trusted to make these decisions.

  78. blue June 2, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    For anyone who thinks that “incomplete” is more appropriate than “zero” for a high school student that doesn’t turn in his/her PHYSICS homework…well, let’s just hope those kids don’t want to be engineers. I hope never to drive over one of their bridges. In my opinion that teacher is doing the only responsible thing.

  79. Donna June 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    mollie, maybe it was the fact that the drawing and writing in the film annoyed me so much that I had to force myself to watch, but your films haven’t sold me on anything. That’s not to say that I don’t think that the education system could be improved and restructured somewhat. But I see no reason for a complete upending of the educational system, and since he gave absolutely no basis for his assertions whatsoever, I’ll take them with a grain of salt.

  80. Eldo June 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    I remember having a 7th grade math teacher who was obsessed with long division. Normally when we finished a chapter in the textbook we had a test and moved on to the next. Not so with long division. We had extra worksheets and a small booklet with more long division. We must have spent two months on it. I eventually just wrote a computer program to do the long division and show all the work because I just got tired of all the busywork (and this was in the early 80s when you would have to know more than how to move and click a mouse to use a computer). I was getting ready to set up the program to just print out the answers (rather than having to copy them by hand) to hand in when we finally moved on.

  81. LRH June 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    I side both with the concept that if you fail to complete an assignment, you should get a 0 on it–as Lenore stated, we’re really going overboard with worry about what we think kids can’t handle. And we SHOULD hold kids accountable for their mistakes, all of these things like not using red ink for marking mistakes, grading on a “curve”–horse manure. Give the kids what they earn, and as the one person said, the adults have their job the kids have their job, as the parent, it is NOT my place to do my kid’s homework for them, or even HELP them with it any at all. It’s THEIR homework, NOT mine.

    At the same time, I do think from what I’ve read (my kids aren’t old enough for me to experience it firsthand yet) that there is too much homework in school, and I don’t approve of it.

    I am in disagreement with the idea that we need to be so busy all the time. It’s ridiculous. Yes there is work to be done, responsibilities to take care of, but as I’ve said to people even as they said to me “that’s why you never amounted to anything,” the day that responsibilities take over my life to such an extent that I don’t have any sense of my own self anymore and what I like to do and what I enjoy, I can honestly say I’d rather be dead. Work & responsibilities are a part of life, one shouldn’t be totally into leisure that hasn’t been earned, but life shouldn’t be TOTALLY about NOTHING but responsibilities either.

    To that end, one thing I strong and I mean STRONGLY disagree with–and, and I mean any homework for students over the weekend. ANY. There should be none whatsoever. Kids should be able to enjoy their family time and playtime Saturday & Sunday totally without reservation. Most jobs I’ve had are like that, and the ones that weren’t, I quit them the MINUTE a 8-5 M-F job became available. I do what I have to do 8-5 M-F at work, but the minute 5:01 displays on the wall, my work is DONE.

    It’s MY time now.

    And I want my kids to be able to do the same. I will be damned if I want my kids & I to go to the lake on Sunday only to have the occasion ruined because they have weekend homework on their mind getting in the way. No, no, no. Some things like that are sacred, and ought to be left alone.


  82. linvo June 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    I agree that kids should be taught to take responsibility for their own actions/inaction. And getting a 0 for not handing work seems like a perferctly fair natural consequence to me. And I commend the teacher for being consistent and fair. Though I can also see why the school had little choice to suspend him if he didn’t stick to the rules.

    In Belgium, where I grew up, they banned homework a few years ago in all schools. After studies had shown that it didn’t make one iota of difference to the kids’ learning outcomes. And the experts also concluded that it was therefor an unnecessary strain on students, but even more so on parents. Especially as the number of kids in the household, their respective levels of motivation and learning ability and the parents working hours have a huge influence on the marks and the effort that goes into achieving those and make it a very inequitable practice. So learning is now kept to school hours for those young students and I think that’s great. I personally think that is plenty of time to spend on academic stuff a week. Free time is still very important at that age. I am also happy that we don’t have summer school here.

    Studies here in Australia also show that letting kids repeat a year in school doesn’t seem to have any effect on their learning outcomes. But it can negatively affect kids’ self esteem and confidence and mess with their social development.

    So even though I was raised with a pretty strict and unforgiving school system myself and I am all for natural consequences, I am not a huge fan of all this pushing kids too hard in relation to school work. There are ways to prepare kids for tertiary education and work life that do not involve trying to imitate those environments at an early stage of their lives.

    Just my 2c.

  83. owen59 June 2, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    I remember with fondness and clarity being given a zero on an advanced maths assignment some 37 years ago. I had even put significant effort into the work but just got the whole concept wrong from the outset. The zero was almost too big a shock to hurt. But it provided me the clarity of the mathematics that allowed me to finish the semester with a distinction.

  84. Heather June 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    My school was a boarding school, and in the final two years, when we were studying for A levels (I’m in the UK), some of the day girls chose to start boarding, including the daughter of my applied maths teacher.

    So one evening, I had been struggling with my homework on the centre of gravity, and I came out for a break and spotted my teacher. I told her I was having real trouble with the homework, and she said if I could tell her the centre of gravity of the earrings I was wearing, she’d let me off.

    At 10pm on Sunday night, I ended up drawing out the damn earrings, because for the first time in my life to that point, I utterly failed to get a maths concept.

    She let me off the homework, and we went over it after class the next day.

    I did still hand *something* in, but without meeting her like that, I would have had to hand in a bunch of working that I knew was all wrong, and I’m not sure my 17 year old self could bear to do that.


  85. This girl loves to talk June 2, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    our state in australia is currently undergoing the opposite. We are joining the national curriculum and the marking is harder. a C now means you are doing exactly as you should for your age. A C means you are accomplishing everything you should at that age group (to give a higher level for smart kids, genius’s to reach?) so there are a few people concerned about my kid used to get a B + etc and now seems dumb I have a lot of expat american friends and one of them told me her american friend withdrew her kids from the public school system here as a C grade would not fly at home in america!

  86. Cathy June 2, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    My school gave zeros when work wasn’t completed. Never bothered me. It’s common sense when you don’t do your work, you don’t get credit for it. From what i remember the only kids who had break downs over grades were the ones whose parents made them feel like scum of the earth for not getting straight As. Their issues were obviously home problems, not problems with curriculum. Letting kids slide through school when they are too lazy to do the work assigned is disgusting. Though I must agree it is also insane to give kids so much work to do after school they cannot get everything else done in their daily lives without struggling and being stressed. Every time I read something about the nations schools it makes me so glad we’ve decided not to, and are able to not, send our kids to brick and mortar school(planning on an online school or homeschooling). The whole system seems to be spiraling downward more and more. No surprise to me that more families than ever in my area are pulling their kids from schools to teach them at home. Last night my local high schools graduating class had 58 teens. My own class, 8 years ago, had 100. (it’s a small area, but still 58 is a small # for the school)

  87. Yan Seiner June 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    @linvo: My kids went to school in the Czech Republic for a while. Homework is optional; you have to ask for it. However, the school year runs 10 months, each day is 6 hours of class, and there are few holidays.

    In the US, our school years are determined by funding, and with the current political climate, school funding gets cut more and more each year. My kids have many Fridays off, long vacations (3 months for summer) in addition to holidays, teacher furlough days, etc. Many classes have been cut, so even when the kids are in school, they get “free periods” instead of instruction.

    The only alternative the teachers have if they want to meet the curriculum needs is to assign bucketloads of homework. So let’s fund schools at European levels and we can get rid of homework.

    For the homeschoolers: my wife works with homeschooling parents as a tutor. The parents and the kids work hard (most of them, anyway). Yes they get more flexibility with time, but the total amount of time kids spend studying is probably greater, and the teaching parent ends up spending a lot of time studying as well.

  88. Tsu Dho Nimh June 2, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    My physics geek breakfast buddy has this suggestion:

    Do not give a ZERO, Give a MINUS ONE (-1) with one point for turning it in, complete, even if late. Or any negative number, with an equal number of points for turning it in.

    That sidesteps the “cant give a zero” edict, and makes it very clear that slacking on the homework can ruin your grade.

  89. skl1 June 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    Yan Seiner, unless things have changed profoundly in recent years, the US does spend more on education per child than any other country. Much more. The problem isn’t the number of dollars, but how they are spent.

    I think a distinction needs to be made between high schoolers and younger students. High schoolers have a lot of freedom to choose how rigorous their education will be. It’s largely on them to make choices they can live with. If they choose to have very little free time in favor of a really stimulating education, I have no problem with that. Parents and school admins need to help students be realistic about the demands of various tracks.

  90. backroadsem June 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    While the teacher didn’t help by directly going against the school’s policies, I’m against those policies. As a former teacher, I am sincerely against “busy work” and I believe assessment should be done on what I can see. But a little bit of responsibility in schools goes an awfully long way and schools don’t help kids by discouraging responsibility. The student failed on providing information for assessment. That means a 0.

  91. Jenn June 2, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    @ski1 : Actually the US does not spend more on education per child. Nor does it spend a higher percentage of the GDP.


  92. skl1 June 2, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Jenn, what is “tertiary education”? Your chart was limited to % of GDP spent on tertiary education. So Togo spends more than the USA by that chart, but I am not sure how relevant that is to US kids getting prepared for working-class jobs or college entrance.

  93. AW13 June 2, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    @ski1: I agree. I am all for well-constructed, necessary homework for high school students (not busywork). And since high school students do have the option of choosing their curriculum, to an extent, they should not be surprised by the amount of homework that they get. But homework in elementary school is ridiculous. Little kids need to be outside running around after school. That is also an important part of their education.

    Part of the problem as I see it (and I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this), is that, where I taught, parents were rabidly anti-C because there seemed to be an overarching philosophy that ALL students NEEDED to attend a four year, liberal arts school, post-graduation. (A good one. Preferably Ivy League. Notwithstanding that the majority of the graduates went on to the state universities.) And I vehemently disagree with this! I watched several smart young men struggle through classes that they were not at all interested in because they were classes that they (or in many cases, their parents) felt would look good for college. In many cases, the parents of these kids had mapped out a future for them that these kids had no interest fulfilling, and as a result, they were irritable and depressed and all homework felt like busywork to them. But it had less to do with the actual homework and far more to do with the expectations being thrown at them, with little regard for their natural talents and inclinations. It used to break my heart, because there was nothing I could do for them.

  94. skl1 June 2, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    AW13, that is another free-range issue in my opinion. When I was in HS, I chose my classes and my parents didn’t even say a word about it. The school had a minimum number of credits in each general area and students chose within those guidelines. My mom had convinced me long before that I was college material, but I always viewed it as my own choice. My brother, who was also “college material,” chose to go to the vo-ed because he didn’t want to attend school any longer than necessary to get a self-sustaining job.

    In my view, the time to take charge of your kid’s education is when she’s little. If she goes into HS with a good foundation, she’ll be OK choosing her own path from there.

  95. Violet June 2, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    The issue is not really the zero or what you want to call it. The problem is assigning too much weight to the missing homework. In many cases, the zero has a disproportionate impact on the overall grade. There are a number of teachers who are smart enough to give a percentage of the grade for homework, a percentage for classwork, and a percentage for tests. But many simply add all the grades together and divide.

  96. Cynthia June 2, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    My brother and I were talking about this the other day. He’s a Spanish teacher at a distance learning center, which means he teaches internet classes to high schools in small town districts. He said this year he reminded himself that his goal is for the students to learn some Spanish, and allows them to retake a (different version of) a test as many times as they want. It leaves the burden on the student to decide how hard they want to work for what they get.

    My first semester in college, I had a class with a set-up I really liked. There were several tests and labs during the semester. Then there was the big cumulative test at the end. Each student could choose as his final grade either the final test score or the average score from the semester. I thought it was a great system, especially for a class where many students probably already knew a lot of the material (it was a physical science class, and didn’t cover anything you wouldn’t get in a good high school physics class).

    My opinion is that it’s not a teacher’s job to teach students how to be responsible, it’s their job to show how acting responsibly has benefits (and to present the material).

  97. Staci June 2, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    Mollie- I show the “Shifting Education Paradigm” clip to my Advanced Placement classes. I have students who would benefit from a change in the system. Of course, I also frustrate most of my students who want to know the “right answer” because I believe in “shades of gray” when analyzing and writing. Everybody perceives things differently and has a different schema/experiences that color their perceptions and understandings… 🙂

    My zero policy and homework policy? If a student doesn’t turn in an assignment, then they don’t get a grade. I can’t remember who said it, but I believe is fraud and grade inflation. I have high standards for my classes, particularly the AP classes. I’m suppose to be preparing these students for college and life! I often tell students that their professors will not care about their other class load, sports, etc. and neither will their future boss. However, because I occasionally messed up in high school and had teachers show me mercy, I often take late work (not for full credit) or will work with students. Not all professors and bosses are jerks! Oh, and my grade book is broken up into categories that are weighted. I explain to students that missing an classwork assignment here and there will not hurt as much as choosing not to turn in a major essay or failing a test. I also remind them that the classwork is designed to reinforce skills, concepts,etc. in class that will not only be on the test, but help them in life (hooray for analytical thinking!).

    Homework: I try to give students plenty of time in class to do their work. This way I can help them or see where they are struggling. If they don’t finish an assignment then they must take it home and bring it back the next day completed. I do assign at-home reading when teaching a novel unit but that is after I have modeled active reading skills in class. As for large projects- I mostly save those for my upper level classes. There are a great deal of professions where people end up working after hours. Before I was teacher I had to take my work home or put in long hours. Now I spend a couple of nights a week correcting or planning at home.

    I feel that we are setting up our children for failure by worrying too much about their feelings and self-esteem. I strongly dislike math, but my self-esteem and pride sky-rocketed when I finally understood a difficult concept and earned a B+ on a test! That is what we should be focusing on- that hard work and comprehension is more important than getting an “easy A.” I apologize for rambling, but not all teachers are big meanies and most do actually care about your child and preparing them for life in general!

  98. are we there yet? June 3, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    This — “kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for.” — need to be tattooed on some people’s foreheads. Didn’t the late Maurice Sendak say something like, “kids know a lot more than they admit to but they don’t tell adults in case we can’t handle it?” I see great example of compassion and tolerance in kids everyday, as well as the usual nonsense… And I see how a compassionate, competent teacher can elicit solid work from a reluctant learner but with clear consequences.

  99. mollie June 3, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    “I am not raising my kids to expect to work only 40 hours per week. Being willing and able to work more than 40 hours opens a lot more opportunities.”

    Opportunities for a life focused on achievement, I guess, and money, and all the things that money can buy. Most people on their deathbeds wish they had worked LESS, bought LESS, and spent MORE time with the people they loved, DOING MORE of what they LOVE. If your work is what you love, well, great! Do as much of it as you can while still attending to your overall health and fulfillment. But if it’s just a way to earn money to have a “better quality of life,” watch out for that slippery slope of working more for the sole sake of “advancing.” It seems schools are setting kids up for a life of chasing the carrot, first the star stickers, then the grades, eventually the paycheque. What kind of life is that, really? No wonder people have so many stress-related maladies in our culture.

    “In Belgium, where I grew up, they banned homework a few years ago in all schools. After studies had shown that it didn’t make one iota of difference to the kids’ learning outcomes. And the experts also concluded that it was therefor an unnecessary strain on students, but even more so on parents.”

    Well, amen to that, and way to go, Belgium. The research is indeed pretty conclusive.

  100. skl1 June 3, 2012 at 1:01 am #

    Well, mollie, you don’t know my life. Anyhoo, being pen to 40+ work hours does not equate to being stressed and materialistic. Actually, I think you’re more likely to be stressed and materialistic if you have less money, but whatever.

    In my life, I have gotten satisfaction from volunteer work, starting my own ventures, and other activities that do’t have anything to do with chasing a carrot or dollar. I’m able to take time to do what I want at times (such as travel) because I am disciplined enough to get work done in advance when I choose to. I have zero debt-related stress because I worked long hours until I paid off all my debts. It’s because of my history of long working hours that I was able, at age 40, to become a single adoptive parent of two.

    I’m not saying everyone needs to work 40+ hours, but I’m saying the willingness to do so opens more opportunities. You can always say no to opportunities if they aren’t your cup of tea. I’ve done it plenty, since I am a very frugal person and do not need to let money guide my life decisions.

  101. skl1 June 3, 2012 at 1:02 am #

    My second sentence should read “being open to 40+. . . “

  102. skl1 June 3, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    And when I was in HS, I did my homework not because I was “chasing a carrot,” but because I took my chosen classes seriously. Why would I choose a challenging course and then blow it off? It’s called taking pride in one’s work.

  103. skl1 June 3, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    Speaking of “chasing the carrot,” I really dislike that as a general rule, but there are times when it is helpful to show kids what they are capable of.

    This year my KG daughters had a weekly sight word list of 10 new words, iwith a test every Friday. They cared enough to try for 10/10 each Friday. I think their teacher might have given them a couple of skittles for a 10/10, and I included the 10/10 as one of several requirements they had to meet if they wanted a few chicken nuggets on the weekend. I also congratulated them etc., because for one of my daughters, this is a real accomplishment. They did usually get 10/10. This past week, they were tested on all 217 words covered throughout the year. The carrot (from the teacher only) was that kids who got an “A” would be taken to McDs. My vision-impaired daughter got 205 of the words correct. Carrot-chasing? Only partly. She has great attitude, but really needed the encouragement of seeing that she can indeed learn and remember so many words. Although I never got involved in her daily written homework (she had to finish that during after-school care), I did work with the words (and reading together) to build her confidence. That said, she’s too young to be expected to do all of that without any parental guidance.

  104. mollie June 3, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    I would also recommend Alfie Kohn’s book, “Punished by Rewards.” While using motivators such as prizes, bonuses, or special privileges “works” in the short term, research shows that it is consistently disastrous for both children and adults when it comes to “intrinsic motivation,” and actually works against people’s enjoyment of what they are doing in the long run.

    That being said, I got plenty of “rewards” as a child. I can only say that for myself, it took me a long while to sort out my sense of self-worth when I wasn’t being graded, rewarded, recognized, or applauded. I didn’t even realize how externalized my motivation was, or how terrified I was of not measuring up. It took a lot of un-learning to free myself of being overly concerned about others’ evaluation of me.

    Our culture runs on judgement, punishment, and rewards. We justify teaching kids that way because we want to “prepare” them for the “real world” that operates the “same way.”

    I’d prefer to teach my kids the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and support them to be self-aware enough to understand when they are being punished or rewarded, and whether they want to go along with it for their own reasons.

    My ex-husband will shout at my son from the stands at the little league game: “I’ll give you $200 if you hit it over the fence!!” Well, isn’t that what he’s trying to do anyway? Wouldn’t he have enough motivation for his own reasons already? And if he did it, and then got the money, wouldn’t that kind of cheapen the whole thing? If our kids already enjoy mastering new concepts, do we need to pour sugar on them?

  105. baby-paramedic June 3, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    Like others here – when I entered the world of paid work it was wonderful. And SO EASY. I came into work, I sat at my computer, I worked for 7.25hours (plus was permitted 1x45min and 2x15min breaks per day in addition to the 7.25hrs). And then I went home. Once a fortnight pay appeared in my bank account. Compared to my final years of schooling where we were expected to have a minimum of three hours homework a night, and a minimum of six hours over the weekend. Holidays also had an (excessive) set minimum. This was after being at school from 0800-1600 (some days started 0730) and an hour after school for sport or cultural activity or community service (all compulsary, had to do a certain number of hours/activities per year). Now, to survive all this I just didn’t do any homework I deemed “busy-work”. My English teacher sighed every time I didn’t hand in a report, but at least she knew I was reading widely (her words). I even got an award for having such a good knowledge of all the assigned texts (which I rarely read, unless they look interesting. Thanks sparknotes).
    Quite frankly at that age I was more interested in 9/11 Commission Report, The Communist Manifesto and tackling Mein Kampf in the original language than the seemingly endless poetry about how beautiful yet deadly the Australian bush is.

  106. baby-paramedic June 3, 2012 at 2:15 am #

    Naturally once I moved onto another profession (the 7.25hours four-seven days a week was to pay my way through university), the rules/expectations changed slightly. But I am doing what I love. And I certainly held no love for Art or PE.

  107. Tsu Dho Nimh June 3, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    @John Kim, on June 2, 2012 at 07:14 “If the homework actually serves a function of helping students learn, and students are also tested on that learning – then students who don’t do the homework are inherently penalized even if you don’t mark zeros for them.”

    The time between the act and the reward/punishment has to be VERY short for learning to occur. When the undone homework is separated from the consequences by several days to weeks, they aren’t going to connect the dots.

  108. Sera June 3, 2012 at 3:53 am #


    I just had to comment after reading all this because my Australian school experience (re: grading and workload) is so different from what y’all are talking about, in both high school and university.

    When I went to school, I don’t recall ever being given a “grade” in terms of A+ to F or whatever. We had what we usually called “marks” for any given assessment task. The assignment/essay/report/whatever had, say, 20 marks available, and the student got it back with anywhere between 0 and 20 out of 20. Thus, there is no fuzzy “performance level” that you can feel good/bad about because it is in a fuzzy concept of good or bad. There is a criterion for each mark. You don’t fill the criterion, you don’t get that mark. You fill it, you get it.

    Example: I have a chemistry report. It’s a mark out of 20. A major component of the report is a graph, so 5 marks are associated with the graph. One mark for appropriate title, one mark for appropriate, labeled X axis, one for appropriate, labeled Y axis, one for appropriate scale, and one for presentation. This removes a lot of the fuzzy and a lot of favouritism or elements of the teacher’s personality. A teacher is NOT meant to be “doing a favor for a student” or “is a real hardass”. If there is a title, and the title is appropriate, the student gets the mark, end of story. If the graph is messy and hard to read, the student doesn’t get the mark, end of story. In text work there’s marks for including particular concepts, clear explanations, mentioning certain points (for example, the boiling point of a certain substance, or the colour), etc. In an English essay on a text, you might get 5 marks for explaining 5 different literary techniques.

    More importantly, the marking guidelines are generally made available, or at least explained to students. Before you construct that graph, you KNOW that there are five marks for it, and that one is for the X axis. You need to figure out what scale, label and units are appropriate for yourself, but you know where the mark is to be gained.

    Also, I recall that the “late work” policy was a 10% deduction in marks for every working day late, and after 5 days it’s a mark of 0. That’s faculty rules. You can’t have an “asshole teacher” who refuses to accept or grade late work, or another really nice one that gives the full usual grade for late work because the student is “usually good” or whatever – that isn’t allowed.

    University was more or less the same, except that your cumulative marks were calculated to a percentage, and your percentage range was a grade of 1 – 7, where 1 – 3 were failing grades and 7 was high distinction (sort of like an A?). About half the time we got a mark out of whatever, and the other half of the time there were several criteria, and seven descriptions, and the marker picked the one that best described the work (e.g. “very strong understanding of”, “limited understanding of”, “no evidence of understanding of”), which had a grade 1 – 7 associated with it.

    I’ve certainly never met with the concept of “certain grading styles might damage my self esteem”. Nor with the ridiculous lack of transparency that many of you are describing. Nor with the WORKLOAD many of you are describing. Three hours a night??? More??? Nowhere near. I don’t think Australian schools believe in distributing homework based on filling a certain amount of the student’s time per night/week/whatever. Schoolwork is meant to EDUCATE. Not take up a particular amount of time. (I think someone, somewhere, has confused school with a job. If you’re paid to work for eight hours a day, do whatever work you can find for eight hours a day. If you’re at school to LEARN, do what you need to LEARN. There is a difference!)

    I also think that in Australia, a non “A” or A equivalent grade is not unacceptable. I suppose that if you really need to get an A or A+ on a piece of work, then you will take three hours to do a one-hour piece because you’re obsessively checking it for any flaw that might cause you to lose a point, get a B+, and then your parents and teacher will hate you and you’ll end up dropping out and becoming a janitor, or whatever.

  109. Donna June 3, 2012 at 4:31 am #


    I work 40+ hours a week in a non-profit setting. I’m sure not chasing the all mighty dollar. That said, money has it’s place. There is certainly a level where more money is meaningless – doesn’t make you happier and probably leads to more stress. But there is definitely an income under which money, and the lack thereof, is the major stressor in your life. That amount varies from person to person.

    Frankly, the only jobs I’ve ever worked where I clocked in for 8 hours and didn’t give a damn about it when I went home were mundane jobs like grocery store cashier that didn’t challenge me in the least. Really, that is what we should want our children to attain in life? Mindless work that does nothing except get them paid? I’d prefer my child be passionate about what she does and be proud of her work, even if it means that she does it for more than 40+ hours a week.

    Same for school. My kid is bright. She can take average classes, never do a lick of homework and pass with As. Or she can find classes that challenge her but also require outside effort. I know which one I would prefer for her. Only time will tell which way she falls.

  110. Virginia June 3, 2012 at 4:47 am #

    What I really appreciate about this teacher is that he works with students to help them understand and make up missed assignments. Too many teachers at my son’s middle and high school give automatic zeros if homework isn’t turned in the day it’s due, with no opportunity to make it up. To my mind, that’s unreasonable, especially given the administrative load these kids are expected to handle.

    On the other hand, pretending that a missed assignment never happened does no one any favors. Under the “no-zero” system, it sounds like you could theoretically get a higher grade by not turning in half your assignments than by turning them all in but doing poorly on half of them. Mr. Dorval sounds like a stand-up guy and a caring teacher. Here’s hoping he’s able to finish out his teaching career at a school that appreciates what he has to offer.

  111. Donna June 3, 2012 at 5:05 am #

    skl1 – I believe that tertiary education is early education. I’m not sure if it excludes just college or high school too.

    The US spends a lot of money providing classrooms, teachers and books for kids who don’t want the education being forced down their throats. It is a complete waste of resources and, until we stop, the US will not show the achievements of other countries.

    It goes back to AW13’s comments about needing to go to college. Everyone doesn’t need to go to college. Everyone doesn’t belong in college. Everyone doesn’t WANT to go to college. We need to get rid of one-size-fits-all college-bound education. We would save so much money in the long run by providing real, viable, good options for kids who are not college-bound and get them out of the classrooms that are meaningless to them and where they, at best, take up resources and, at worst, cause chaos.

    We also need to get rid of our snobbishness of looking down on people who don’t go to college. The world needs plumbers and auto mechanics as well as doctors and bankers and there is nothing wrong with choosing one career path over another. Heck, a good mechanic or plumber probably even make more money than a general practitioner these days.

  112. LSL June 3, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    skl1 & Donna,
    Primary (1st) education is pre-K-5th grade (~ age 11)
    Secondary (2nd) education is 6th grade-12th grade (~age 12-18, usually)
    Tertiary (3rd) is technical school, college, graduate school, basically any continuing education in adulthood

  113. skl1 June 3, 2012 at 5:33 am #

    Thanks, LSL. That’s what I suspected. I don’t think most of us here are debating tertiary education matters, so the linked statistics are not helpful.

  114. Donna June 3, 2012 at 5:40 am #

    Well then, that makes perfect sense as to why so many other countries spend more than the US on TERTIARY education. College tuition is low or non-existent in many countries so a larger percentage of the cost is borne by the populous. But that is a whole different topic.

  115. jennifer June 3, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    I see two problems with the way the story is being reported. One is the basic misconception of the “no zero” policy. Many students simply do not do the work assigned to them. Often, very little the teacher does gets them to hand it in and they skate through. With this new policy- the teacher is to choose 10-15 meaningful assessments for the year. ( thus eliminated the “needless busywork” I’ve seen mentioned) These MUST be submitted. If the student does not submit any of these- he/she should not be able to complete the course. – they cannot just “take” a lower grade- they do not pass or even get any kind of mark until they have handed in these assignments. There are other smaller assessments as well- these do not necessarily get graded, but the student does get feedback from the teacher. The idea being a “0” is not an assessment of the learning- it is an assessment of the behaviour. My second problem is that I have no way of knowing if this is how the policy is being implemented at the school level. Ross Shepard might or might not be implementing this policy the way it is meant to be used. What would you rather have- a kid who coasts through high school by doing the minimum possible or a kid who actually has to finish all of his( or her) work in order to finish high school and hopefully learn to apply himself along the way?

  116. LSL June 3, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    actually, there was a menu to the left of the statistics on the page you linked to, skl1, & it included % of GDP spent on Primary Education, % of GDP spent on Secondary Education, several different stats on % of girls in various levels of education, and more. It was quite useful.

  117. Evelyn June 3, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    Way to go and well done. This is one great way to say this is your wake up call. This reflects the feelings of a great number of frustrated teachers, and technologists in the post secondary academic world. Students coming in with an 85% average, and then not even being able to do the basics. How do you justify one student who is busting his/her backside to get a 93% by attending classes and doing the work, and then giving the student who doesn’t feel like attending or not doing the assignment 55- 65% just to pass and move forward. I would be highly insulted by this type of arrangement if I were a student. High school needs to tighten up and stand for something rather than just pushing kids through the system to be someone else’s problem later. This zero mark attempts to set a standard, and this is sorely needed in the academic world and the work place. How many times have you worked next to someone who either cannot or will not do the job they are hired for, because they feel their way is better than the employer standards, and seriously… work interferes with their social life. We need more teachers to stand up and say no assignment, zero, Did not attend class today, zero.
    I say well done. I suppport Mr. Dorval. He cares enough about his students to give them a zero, in hopes they will turn out to be better students, and employees.

  118. skl1 June 3, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    I don’t think %gdp is actually helpful here, since gdp is so different by country. I think this is something that can be discussed in real terms. I mean, in developed countries, there is not going to be a huge range of basic per-capita costs of the factors that go into education. Buildings, personnel, curricula, supplies. Where do we differ? I know we have costs for special ed students and hot lunches and various social services, and I don’t know how those compare to other countries. I don’t know how our personnel costs compare. Are our labs and libraries better or worse? How about tutoring, gifted resources, extracurriculars, retention and repeating a grade? Do our students’ behaviors differ and does this impact the amount we can effectively spend on educating them? Are we putting too much money into college-prep type classes for kids who have no expectation of going to college? Are we demanding more or less materially from the students/families compared to other countries?

  119. Lars June 3, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    From a European perspective, this Canadian practice of not giving out a grade of zero for work not done seems completely ridiculous. What does it teach kids? That it’s OK not to do your work on time. Kids, I’m sure catch on to it very quickly. Is this really what you want to teach your children?

    (This is not to say that the European way is perfect. We rely way too much on memorization and standardization, and the default teacher-student relationship in many high schools is truly dysfunctional.)

  120. PLS June 3, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    I teach high school English in the province of British Columbia in Canada (education is under provincial jurisdiction so it varies to a degree from province to province). We are not to take marks off for late assignments nor give a zero during the course. This is not out of concern for self-esteem, however. When I grade a student in English, our Ministry of Education has stated that grade is to reflect his or her ability in English only, not effort, work habit, organizational skills, etc. We have a separate work habit of Good, Satisfactory, or Needs Improvement which we are to use for those purposes. At the end of the course the student must have demonstrated the learning outcomes. If he or she has not – perhaps because he or she has not done the work – that student does not get credit for the course and must repeat it. I understand the rationale but ultimately do not believe it is good for the students as they are not learning important life skills. It comes down to your philosophical beliefs: what is the purpose of education? To teach course material or develop good workers or both? No lates and no zeros does not teach responsibility nor accountability.

  121. Donna June 3, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    “I mean, in developed countries, there is not going to be a huge range of basic per-capita costs of the factors that go into education. Buildings, personnel, curricula, supplies.”

    That’s not necessarily true at all. These costs can likely vary greatly per country, even among “developed” countries. Heck, they vary greatly between Georgia where land is cheap and cost of living (and accompanying living wage) is low and California where land is dear and cost of living is high.

  122. Sara June 3, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Violet, you sound like one of those parents who blames everyone else for problems with your child. You remind me of the parent who wanted to sue the police department and the school board when her kids were caught dealing drugs in the school for the nth time. Her argument was that her kids were being targetted. I can’t speak for every school district, but most spec ed kids have legal modification plans that are adhered to. As a teacher, I try to be aware of what is happening in the lives of my students so that if that student has a bad day or a legitimate problem, I will cut that student some slack. On the other hand, I gave a zero to a student who chose to work 40 hours a week, was on every extra curricular team that could be sqeezed into her time table and then expected extra consideration for cutting class to go shopping. I might add that she was going shopping with a man she met on the internet from what I was later told.

  123. Monica Jones (@Dirty_Hooker) June 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

    Not allowing failing grades seems like the kind of policy that hurts exceptional students more than anything. I was the kind of kid who tried hard on everything and got really good grades, and I would have felt like all my effort was meaningless if kids were passing without having to do anything. I don’t see what the motivation is for very good students to continue to be very good students.

    When I was in grade school, about 20 years ago, we could get a zero on an assignment, but the homework was counted for 10 or 15 percent of the overall grade. So a zero on a homework assignment would hurt your grade, but not as much as a zero on a test or paper. That seemed fair.

    One danger of coddling kids like this is that is DOES extend to college. My ex-husband, my boyfriend at the time, blamed his professor for failing one of the joint classes we took together. I got an A. The difference is that I did the assignments, and my ex “forgot” the deadlines. He blamed the professor for not reminding him. This was the kind of professor would would spend hours helping students with projects at any time if you simply asked. I told my ex to look at the syllabus we all got at the beginning of the year. This wasn’t a 10-year-old. This was a 22-year-old man.

  124. mollie June 4, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    “I was the kind of kid who tried hard on everything and got really good grades, and I would have felt like all my effort was meaningless if kids were passing without having to do anything. I don’t see what the motivation is for very good students to continue to be very good students.”

    Right. Because grades are the only motivation to apply your effort or to learn anything. Seriously. Does this make sense? What is the goal of education? What are teachers there for? To present concepts and to inspire, or to be judge and jury and evaluate and give “grades”? It’s tragic to me that there is even one student who works for the “A” instead of working for the intrinsic goal of advancing their skills or knowledge.

    Grades are arbitrary, like all judgements. They are in the eye of the beholder. People go apoplectic when they get a grade on a paper that they think should have been higher. Why grade them at all? Why not give feedback that lets the student know whether they are getting the concepts or not, where their issues are with sentence construction or communication of ideas, but why the letter of the alphabet?

    It’s a short-cut, but it’s taken on a life of its own, clearly.

  125. Monica Jones (@Dirty_Hooker) June 4, 2012 at 1:07 am #

    ****To present concepts and to inspire, or to be judge and jury and evaluate and give “grades”?****

    They exist to do both. Education for its own sake is a nice concept, but meaningless to a 4th grader who wants proof of achievement. I value education for its own sake now, but not so much then. Also, if learning for its own sake were the only goal back then, I would have skipped school entirely and just read books. The grades were the incentive to slog through stuff I didn’t want to. And teachers need a way to judge and evaluate a student’s progress. Otherwise, just give everyone an A for effort and be done with it.

    Of course teachers should give constructive feedback. No one is arguing that they shouldn’t. Getting good or bad grades doesn’t negate the value of that. Whenever I did poorly on a test or assignment, the good teachers were willing to show me where I went wrong, if it wasn’t obvious. If I hadn’t handed in the assignment, I would not have been confused about why I got a zero.

    School is for learning lots of things, and one of those things is that we are evaluated based on how we perform.

  126. skl1 June 4, 2012 at 4:35 am #

    Um, the purpose of a grade is that someone other than the teacher and student has an idea how well the student learned and prepared for the next related challenge. I suppose it would be awesome if we could all self-report how competent we are to our parents, prospective employers, and college admissions folks. But that would seem to reward liars, now, wouldn’t it?

    I don’t agree that diligent students will get all upset about the removal of “zero” grades, as long as it remains impossible for uninvolved students to get an “A.” Personally I wanted to see an A if I’d worked hard, because I wanted to know that my teachers (and selected others)
    recognized my hard work. I didn’t want to see anyone get a higher grade than I got, unless they performed better than I did. I didn’t really care who got a “C” versus an “F.”

  127. Donna June 4, 2012 at 5:16 am #

    “Right. Because grades are the only motivation to apply your effort or to learn anything. Seriously. Does this make sense? What is the goal of education? What are teachers there for? To present concepts and to inspire, or to be judge and jury and evaluate and give “grades”? It’s tragic to me that there is even one student who works for the “A” instead of working for the intrinsic goal of advancing their skills or knowledge.”

    A successful life is motivated by both intrinsic and extrinsic goals. I do my job well because intrinsically I like to help people. I also do my job well because extrinsically I get a paycheck. Some days and some clients my intrinsic desire to help people is all that is needed. Some tasks and clients are distasteful, and but for my desire for a paycheck, I’d just as well skip them altogether. I know few people who would truly keep their full time job if they won the big jackpot tonight. Many who would continue to contribute on a volunteer basis, but few who would deal with the day-to-day crap every day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year if the extrinsic need for money didn’t apply.

    Intrinsic desire to learn is important to school success. So is a desire to get good grades. There are always going to be things – lessons, subjects, teachers – that you don’t have any desire to learn that you have to get through in school. Nobody is equally interested in every subject known to man. The desire to get good grades gets you through those things you don’t have any interest in. And the desire itself is intrinsically motivated. You have to want to do well to care about good grades.

    A life built solely on extrinsic rewards is generally an unhappy one. A life built solely on intrinsic rewards is generally a failure because there is nothing to get you around the road blocks of things everyone has to do that give them no intrinsic reward whatsoever.

  128. Donna June 4, 2012 at 5:45 am #

    “I don’t agree that diligent students will get all upset about the removal of “zero” grades, as long as it remains impossible for uninvolved students to get an “A.””

    I disagree. That only makes the A students happy. It means nothing to students who work their butts off and still get less than an A. No diligent student, regardless of grade, wants to see a less diligent student get the same or better than him. Even if the best I could do was a C, I’d be annoyed that someone who did nothing – and suffered no penalty for it – got a C too.

  129. skl1 June 4, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    Well if they did nothing, how would they still get the same grade as a diligent student? The only way that would work would be if they were intelligent and knowledgeable as shown on tests, which would frankly deserve recognition as well. I do not believe that harder work must always lead to higher rewards. If a person can’t learn biology, he shouldn’t qualify to be a doctor, no matter how hardworking he is.

  130. Francesca June 4, 2012 at 6:42 am #

    I can say as a Ph.D student that I wish my teachers had actually prepared us for college. The busy work drove me nuts, It was extrapolating, BS’ing, on whatevery the lecture had been on. No teaching us how to assess or analyze a material. This carried on into my undergrad years. Just write a paper using 10 sources summerizing what they say. I only just got done with two classes, one on critical thinking and one on writing style which finally laid out how to form arguments of your own supported by other sources.

    But I would like to know why these busywork assignments are grades so high? For me 30% is my final paper, 30% is for 3 shorter essays I write during the year, 10% was for three presentations of our weekly material that I was responsible for, and 20% was discussion participation at least three times a week in our online disscussion forums. And if we showed improvement between the beginning of the semester and the end that was taken into account, because it showed we were learning.

  131. Donna June 4, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    skl1- You are forgetting that everyone doesn’t have the same abilities. A student may work as hard as he can and still only manage to get a C in a class. I agree that a person who can only pull a C in biology should not be a doctor. Nobody is arguing that he should. The issue is whether someone who did all the work has a right to be annoyed when he gets the exact same grade as someone who did none, because there is no penalty for not doing the work.

    Under your theory, you shouldn’t care if someone gets an A without doing any work. Why would it bother you if a student managed to be intelligent enough to score an A on every test without doing homework? And why should whatever argument you come up with not apply to the student who worked equally as hard but only scored a B? Or a C?

  132. Uly June 4, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    Donna, who cares what they think about it?

    Seriously, if it’s ridiculous to forbid giving a zero because it might hurt students’ feelings, why is it less ridiculous to grade for work (instead of tests) because other students might feel bad that they’re stupid?

  133. Metanoia (@metanoia_chan) June 4, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    He sounds like a fantastic teacher and it is a real shame to see him get punished for teaching. I had a maths teacher similar to him who offered extra classes during lunch time in high school during my senior year and I did all of them to try and improve. It did help and I’m grateful he freely gave up his extra time when he could have been sitting in the teachers lounge eating his lunch in peace.

  134. Donna June 4, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    I didn’t say it should matter. I don’t know who said that. I was simply rebutting skl1’s comment that the only time the other students should care is if the kids who don’t do anything get As.

    I also would never refer to anyone who didn’t do well in a particular class as “stupid” because that is highly rude.

  135. Donna June 4, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Nor do I think that they should grade for work instead of tests. I think they should grade for everything – work and tests. Assigning work that you don’t care if anyone ever does if idiotic.

    Further, it does the complete opposite of what you want homework to do. If you don’t give zeros, the students will be the least likely to complete the homework when they need practice the most. This seems like a no-brainer to me. If only the homework you turn in counts, why the hell would you ever turn in an assignment that you didn’t know was perfect? I’d turn in every bit of homework when I completely understand a concept. It will take me a short period of time and help my grade. I wouldn’t turn in any homework when I was having trouble with a concept. It’d do nothing except hurt my grade. The only reason for a C paper to ever see the light of day is when not doing the paper would be an F. Otherwise, if the best you can do is a C, keep it to yourself and hope it isn’t on the test.

  136. skl1 June 4, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Donna, I’m assuming that the policy to not give zeros for work not turned in still allows some impact on the grade for failing to do any homework/projects. It’s not necessary that the impact be disastrous.

    I mean, if you think about it, failing someone for not doing one project is rather arbitrary. When I was in 10th grade biology, I was an acer and did all my homework too. However, I did not think the final project was fair, because it required the purchase of a lot of materials that I didn’t have the budget for, and the teacher already knew I had mastered the material. I confirmed it would not ruin my overall HS GPA before telling the teacher I would not be turning in the project. He was miffed, but he dealt with it. Now if you think I should have flunked biology because the other students built their 3-D frog and I didn’t, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that. It was very obvious that I learned a lot; I got 100% on the annual review test and was chosen to represent the school on the biology scholarship test. And everyone in my class knew that I was the acer. I doubt they even noticed or cared whether or not I turned in a frog project. The point was that I learned more than everyone else, and grades are going to reflect that.

    Likewise, if I had a classmate who could ace every test without having to do the homework, I would not want him to fail. I would expect him to get a grade haircut but still get credit for knowing the material. (Actually, I think I had a brother like that.)

  137. Uly June 4, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    I also would never refer to anyone who didn’t do well in a particular class as “stupid” because that is highly rude.

    If they feel bad because somebody else did better than they did, whether or not they did the work, and because they barely scraped by, they probably call themselves stupid and hence feel bad for that reason.

    Whether or not I think they’re stupid, or they are by some arbitrary measure is beside the point. That’s why they feel bad.

  138. Donna June 4, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    skl1 – That is not the way that I read it at all. It seemed to me that failure to turn in homework is considered a behavior problem and impacts the behavior marks but not your overall GPA.

    I find it interesting that so many are against teaching to the test but now insist that how you do on the test is all that matters. So, why again, are we doing anything other than teaching to the test if only the test results matter?

    And I guarantee you that everyone noticed that you didn’t do the frog and most probably cared.

  139. Donna June 4, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    “Whether or not I think they’re stupid, or they are by some arbitrary measure is beside the point. That’s why they feel bad.”

    No they feel it is unfair that they did their homework and got no value for it. If someone does nothing and doesn’t get penalized for it, there is a general feeling of unfairness among those who do the work. You probably don’t care if the person who does nothing gets a C while you get an A. You probably do if the two of you get the exact same grade on a test and then exact same grade overall – meaning you got nothing for all your efforts.

    In college, I took a class that involved nothing other than reading Ulysses and writing a paper. I thought the book was putrid. I read less than half and ditched more than half the classes. I BSd my way through a paper and got a B. A classmate who also got a B was pissed as hell. He didn’t think he was stupid. In fact, he was quite proud of his B. He just thought that I deserved a lower grade than him because he read the book and attended class. I totally did but effort wasn’t rewarded, just the quality of the final paper.

    And I can attest that I still have absolutely no knowledge of Ulysses beyond about page 120. My final grade in no way, shape or form reflected my mastery of the subject. It reflected nothing more than my ability to BS a paper. So maybe those results on some final test of a kid who never does homework are equally indicative of his mastery of the material.

  140. CrazyCatLady June 4, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Did anyone hear the interview of the teacher on NPR? He did this on purpose, because the students, when the realized the effects on their grades, actually made an effort to learn the material. His classes consist of seniors, most of whom are going on to college. He made a very good argument for why to give zeros, and how it helped students to learn good work ethics.

    He also said that other teachers feel the same, but were not ready to retire (he is about ready to retire) and they were giving grades of 2.5 out of 100 for missing assignments, thus avoiding the zero in the computer system that tips the school officials off.

  141. Uly June 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    “No they feel it is unfair that they did their homework and got no value for it.”

    The point of homework, as I was assured all through my school years, is to teach and reinforce the material. The value you get from it is that you learn something.

    The student who’s going to ace the test anyway is going to get no “value” for the homework. Why should they bore themselves with it just so their classmates feel better?

    And I can attest that I still have absolutely no knowledge of Ulysses beyond about page 120. My final grade in no way, shape or form reflected my mastery of the subject. It reflected nothing more than my ability to BS a paper. So maybe those results on some final test of a kid who never does homework are equally indicative of his mastery of the material.

    In that case, really, will the teacher be better able to assess the learning if it’s all done by homework?

    A classmate who also got a B was pissed as hell. He didn’t think he was stupid. In fact, he was quite proud of his B. He just thought that I deserved a lower grade than him because he read the book and attended class.

    Well, bully for him! Does he want cookies and a gold star too? Again, please explain to me why other people’s feelings on fairness and effort determine classroom policy. I started off very plainly asking why anybody should care, and you’ve yet to answer that. You’ve just repeated over and over that many people are so insecure that they care what grades other people receive.

    I find it interesting that so many are against teaching to the test but now insist that how you do on the test is all that matters. So, why again, are we doing anything other than teaching to the test if only the test results matter?

    Understanding the material matters. If that’s being assessed via tests, then the homework shouldn’t be weighted very heavily. If it’s being assessed via essays and the like then, by all means, weight the homework more… but I bet most teachers prefer the relatively cheat-proof methods of testing where they can *see* if the kids are writing their own work.

    And I guarantee you that everyone noticed that you didn’t do the frog and most probably cared.

    Then they ought to get a life. It’s not my job, or her job, or anybody else’s job to make our classmates feel better about the fact that some of us grasped the material more quickly than others. My high school classmates certainly never cared about my feelings, so no, I’m not beating myself up years later about whether or not they cared that I didn’t do my homework.

  142. skl1 June 4, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Well if they noticed that I didn’t do the frog – and cared – then they also noticed that this was the only assignment I didn’t do all year, and I had the highest A in the class by far, and my A for the grading period was reduced to a B because I didn’t do the frog. If that wasn’t enough for them, hopefully someone will give them a tissue.

    As for teaching to the test, we’re talking high school biology here. The tests were not fill-in-the-bubbles. They were “draw and label 44 parts of a frog” and “list __ organelles and describe their function” etc. There was also a lab that involved dissections etc. We also had to teach the class and otherwise participate. Once I lost points because some kid fell asleep during my lecture on worker bees. (I thought it was fascinating.) It’s rather insulting to my biology teacher to suggest he was “teaching to the test.” He wrote the dang test.

    What Uly said is true. Assuming there was another student who put in more effort than I did in that class, but still could not get a better grade, that could only mean he was not as capable. And that is not my problem, nor my teacher’s problem, nor necessarily a problem at all. The problem, if any, would be students comparing among themselves. If I had failed the class, how would that help any other student? It wouldn’t. People need to get over themselves. (Not that I knew of any of that actually happening in my class.)

  143. skl1 June 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Actually, a funny about that biology class. Once on test day I had to sit in a seat I normally didn’t sit in. The person next to me politely requested to borrow my cheat sheet. I came to understand that I was in the minority in not ever using a cheat sheet. I was honestly surprised that anyone would do better by taking the time to write a cheat sheet versus just studying and answering from memory.

  144. andersoninedmonton June 4, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    My thoughts on the matter, as a former educator and a concerned citizen, are found on my blog about it at:


  145. Tamaya June 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    All it says is he can’t give a 0. So give a 1%. Then he isn’t violating school policy and the student still gets the bad mark.
    My son gets the busy work in Math his easy subject, but they won’t give him homework in English the subject he struggles with.

  146. Uly June 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    I was honestly surprised that anyone would do better by taking the time to write a cheat sheet versus just studying and answering from memory.

    And doing neither no doubt results in a definite failing grade.

  147. Neener June 4, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Violet, on June 2, 2012 at 04:18 said:
    Jen Connelly, your daughter may learn from her failure, or she may do drugs or commit suicide.

    Wow – you stay classy, Violet!

  148. Donna June 5, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    “Again, please explain to me why other people’s feelings on fairness and effort determine classroom policy. I started off very plainly asking why anybody should care, and you’ve yet to answer that.”

    And I started off very plainly answering you, Uly. You chose to ignore it so that you could continue to argue with me. But again, since you have a reading comprehension issue – I DIDN’T SAY THAT IT SHOULD! Somebody else brought up the other student’s feelings argument. SKL1 responded that should never be an issue, not because teachers shouldn’t care about student feelings, but because the other students shouldn’t have any feelings about it at all unless the non-homework student gets an A. I questioned why the other students should care about As, but not Bs and Cs.

    I am still wondering why skl1 insists that the other students should only care about As. If it’s okay to be upset if someone gets an A without doing homework, why is it not okay to care if that person gets Bs and Cs too? (Again, since there is a reading comprehension issue on the board, the STUDENTS care, not the administration). I agree that, if you get an A, it’s ridiculous to care about a C, but people who worked for C’s might care. Instead of answering that skl1 responded that people who get Cs in biology shouldn’t be doctors. So I’m still puzzled as to her rationale about it being okay to care about ill-gotten As, but not Bs and Cs.

    “You’ve just repeated over and over that many people are so insecure that they care what grades other people receive.”

    Because that was kinda the point that you chose to ignore and continue arguing off by yourself. And people are bothered by the grades because they deem it unfair, not because they are insecure or “stupid.” It is basic human nature, no matter how secure, to be jealous when someone gets something for free that you worked very hard for. Even if that something is just a C.

  149. Donna June 5, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    “Well if they noticed that I didn’t do the frog – and cared – then they also noticed that this was the only assignment I didn’t do all year, and I had the highest A in the class by far, and my A for the grading period was reduced to a B because I didn’t do the frog. If that wasn’t enough for them, hopefully someone will give them a tissue.”

    I didn’t say that you should care that they noticed, just that I’m fairly certain that they noticed. Not caring what people think is one thing. Hiding your head in the sand as to whether people are going to notice what you do and form an opinion is another. You don’t have to care about the opinion, but should at least acknowledge to yourself that there is going to be one drawn. Saves you from getting blind-sided by negative attitudes later.

  150. SKL June 5, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    OK, I wasn’t saying that there is an absolute line beyond which nobody cares what grade others get. My point was that as long as there is a significant ding for not turning in a project, that should be sufficient. It does not have to be a huge chunk of the overall grade. It should reflect the actual relative value of that project compared to the overall coursework.

    But yes, I think it is OK if a really brilliant but unmotivated student gets a higher grade than a slow but diligent student gets, particularly in classes that are in the nature of higher knowledge.

    A lot of gifted kids drop out of school because the environment is so uncomfortable for them. What is challenging work for the majority is largely busywork for these kids. Like me having to show my work in math when I did the work in my head faster than I could write. If some kids don’t need it, and they show up for the tests and don’t disrupt the class, why make homework a life-changing issue? Ding them, promote them, and move on.

  151. Nicole K June 5, 2012 at 3:27 am #

    I wish this policy had existed when I was a kid! I always aced tests and major papers, but forgot to do the busywork.

    Having said that, yeah, if you didn’t do something you shouldnt get credit for it. But the teacher’s grading needs to be in line with school policy, even if he thinks its stupid.

  152. andersoninedmonton June 5, 2012 at 4:20 am #

    Nicole K.,
    Yes, but if everyone who ever didn’t believe in a policy chose to just follow it anyway, we would not have progress. Sometimes someone needs to stand up, if for no other reason that to start a discussion, which clearly Mr. Dorval has done. Whether anything changes at EPSB remains to be seen, but at least Dorval stood up for what he thinks is right. I commend him for it.

  153. Jenne June 5, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    My husband’s mother received an honors invitation and a failure notice in the mail one day — for the SAME class! He excelled so well in class, he was invited to Honors night; because he didn’t turn in any homework, he was close to failing.

    I am a re-rider at age 40. When I started riding, I frequently rode a draft cross that learned to read my nervousness as not really wanting to canter. As I’ve gained confidence, and really do want to canter, he is occasionally difficult to get to move out on command.

    My instructor reminds me that I am asking correctly, and the horse is just being himself.

    The A grade is the equivalent of my instructor confirming that I actually am asking correctly. Yes, I’ve learned the commands and worked on my seat, and continue to take lessons based on internal motivations, but the external validation from the instructor weekly, and my sister (who is an expert performer and trainer) when I visit her and she remarks how much I’ve improved, is encouraging and nice to hear!

    And honestly, if someone can get an A because of a natural gift or talent for the subject without slogging through hours of busywork, rock on! Because chances are I will excel at something that will be difficult or require concentrated effort for someone else.

    My grade is a result of MY knowledge and MY ability to communicate my interpretation of how I understood the material; it has nothing to do with anyone else.

    I think the whole reality TV phenomenon has brought an uber-awareness of everyone’s feelings and boo-boos, when frankly, I’ve learned the hard way that very few people give a gosh-darn about what I think of their choices, actions or anything else.

  154. Uly June 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    But again, since you have a reading comprehension issue – I DIDN’T SAY THAT IT SHOULD

    But you keep talking about it! If you don’t think it matters, why are you still, and I mean still, talking about it?

    You said you didn’t think it mattered, and then you posted a comment about how you’re certain that everybody noticed if so-and-so did her frog project (and cared deeply) and how this classmate of yours was very upset that you got the same grade he did with less work,

    You sure seem to *think* it matters.

  155. E. Simms June 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    @skl1 “I was honestly surprised that anyone would do better by taking the time to write a cheat sheet versus just studying and answering from memory.”

    Actually, I used to make “cheat sheets” to use as study aids. It was a good way to focus on the most important points instead of getting tied up with minutiae. The value comes from making the cheat sheet, not from using it during the test.

  156. Donna June 5, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Uly, I’ve never been talking about it at all. You have been. I was trying to get an explanation from skl1 about a comment she made that she has now explained. I’m not really sure why you interjected yourself into it at all, except to call people “stupid.”

    And please point out where I said anyone “cared deeply” about a frog project. I said they noticed she didn’t do it. Nothing more. People notice lots of things. Whether they give a damn or not depends on the person and the thing.

  157. Donna June 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    But you are correct that I should not have let you bait me into a discussion by calling people “stupid.” That was an error on my part.

  158. kiesha June 8, 2012 at 12:50 am #

    I haven’t read all the comments, but the one early one about people not having jobs like school, i.e. station to station, working on different assignments at once and requiring permission to go to the bathroom– I had that job. It was called working in the music department of a Barnes and Noble. Every hour we had assigned spots we needed to be in: 1 to 2- reigster. 2-3 category maintance. 3-4 customer service, etc. etc. If you were doing anything other than customer service, you also had to do customer service by keeping your head up and asking people if they needed help. I also had to get permission from the manager to leave the department to go to the bathroom. She was the only manager that did that, but it was still a thing for four of the five years I worked there.

  159. baby-paramedic June 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    Sera – I attended an Australian private school (on scholarship), located in a regional area, one that regularly appears in the “Top 200” for HSC results for NSW, and finished my schooling within the last decade.
    I am not sure, but I suspect you attended Queensland educational institutions, which were less educationally vigorous than their Southern counterparts, as evidenced within the difficulties with the new National Curriculum. However, the remarks about the marking at school level matches most states prior to the implementation of the National Curriculum.

  160. Julie Lewis June 13, 2012 at 3:21 am #

    The students seem to support the teacher:

  161. StudyMom June 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Giving a zero sounds like a simple solution for a failed assignment, but consider that, for whatever reason, a student gets a zero and then turns in five (5) assignments with a C (average-75) on all five, his grade is now…..F (50 pts). Giving a zero instead of bringing that zero to an F point of 50 makes the grades unbalanced and doesn’t represent what the student is doing. There are students who really have a hard time staying organized and really lose the papers (ADD, etc.). Or don’t get it, or get overwhelmed with homework from other classes, or forget. Deadline was today, so you get a zero. So if they blow it, they can struggle for the rest of the semester to try to make it up, and then it happens again. It just makes some give up because the math is against them.
    There are some people who just ‘get it’ easier, too. My cousin’s son doesn’t study at all and got a 4.0.

  162. cobaco June 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    @all who are comparing homework assignments to work:

    a couple of points
    – I get payed for work, you don’t get payed for homework assignments
    – I work a 9-5 office job, when I leave my employers building my job’s done for that day.

    a certain amount of sepperation of work and home life is essential.to a healthy life. homework teaches all the wrong lessons from that point of view


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