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Tuesday, December 6, 2022
ArlingtonEducationCritics try to get in front of APS homework proposal

Critics try to get in front of APS homework proposal

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Perhaps recognizing that the only way to stop a policy from going into effect at Arlington Public Schools is to bring pressure both heavily and early in the game, critics of a nascent plan to reduce the relevance of homework in grading are opening the new year with salvos of criticism.

The proposal, currently in the formative stage based on guidance given staff by the School Board, could severely curtail or even eliminate the use of graded homework for final course grades, turning the focus largely to exam results.

Critics pounced, including a corps teachers at Wakefield High School – who say such a measure would hurt all students, but minority students the most – and venerable Washington Post education analyst Jay Mathews, whose Dec. 26 column noted that “smart teachers are fighting a dumb plan” and went as far to call the proposal a “catastrophe.”

(Over the years, Mathews has been generally positive in his view of the Arlington school system and its leadership, but hasn’t pulled his punches when he has felt things were moving in the wrong direction.)

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Others also weighed in.

“Arlington seems likely to destroy basic standards in the name of ‘equity,’” noted local education advocate Hans Bader, who predicted the policy would turn high school into the equivalent of college classes, where some students do minimal work until crunch time arrives, then try to play catch-up by cramming for exams.

That, he said, is a bad idea, particularly at the secondary-school level.

“Last-minute study cannot make up for a failure to learn regularly,” he said. “Just as a house needs a sound foundation and layer-by-layer construction rather than being thrown up at the last minute, learning needs to take place day by day, sequence by sequence, to build on itself.”

As the story picked up traction in the media landscape, it became another flashpoint in the national debate over education policy.

At the conservative-leaning political blog The Bull Elephant, one anonymous respondent used incendiary language to posit that the proposal seemed another step to dumb down the education received by students, particularly those who come from disadvantaged circumstances.

“Democrats don’t want their slaves to know too much. They might become dangerous,” the poster suggested.

The county school system’s leadership has said the proposal is not fixed in stone, nor even far enough along in the pipeline for formal consideration. But Bader and others who have been around the track fear that, without a public uprising, it eventually will be pushed through.

“If enough parents object to abolishing graded homework, maybe the School Board will reject it,” he said.

Mathews, too, suggested that the buck needed to stop at the School Board dais, sooner rather than later.

“Many parents who hear about the proposed changes will be astonished and enraged,” he wrote. “I cannot believe the county School Board, elected by voters, would go for this.”

“But these are strange times,” Mathews acknowledged.

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