Every good parent wants their child to be more educated, cared for and successful than they were themselves. With these good intentions, parents use a variety of ways to try and help out their offspring get a head start on the rest of the children their age. Some parents will read to their children while others will enroll their child into daycare programs for socialization. Unfortunately, other parents do not have the funds or time to do such a service to their children. How can you find time to read to your child when you have to work two or three jobs just to pay the bills? These are the hard questions that have no best answers. Certain aspects of your life that cannot be changed may put your child at a disadvantage. To try and help rectify this social issue, L.A. Unified School District has taken the drastic measure of reducing how much homework can count for a student’s grade. The reduction in how much this homework will matter has sparked a debate between what is more important for the students; doing their homework or work/family time. It is true that a parent’s socioeconomic status and family life have an effect on a child’s education, but will this reduction in the worth of homework be enough to help overcome these factors?
If public schools are free to everyone, how can a parent’s socioeconomic status determine the quality of education that their kid will receive and how will reducing the weight of homework help alleviate this issue? First, we must look at the disparity in income that is prevalent in America. According to the U.S. Census, the disparity between the quintiles in covered that household incomes has grown between 2000 and 2007. The lower three quintiles have all seen a decrease in income limits while the two highest quintiles have seen gains (Spring 51). At first glance, this may not look very relevant to education. However, you must look at where these people are living. Since property tax is a significant source of funding for schools, this kind of detail makes all the difference in the world. The National Center for Education Statistics performed a study that “districts with the highest percentage of students from families below the poverty level spend $10,191 per student” while “the most money per student – $10,768 – is spend in school districts with the fewest students from families below the poverty level” (Spring 53).
So what does this mean? According to a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, “states rely on locally generated dollars to cover a significant part, often more than 50 percent, of education funding. This reliance on local funding benefits wealthier locales with strong tax bases” (Thomas B. Fordham Foundation 21). In layman terms, the school districts that house the wealthier students receive more funding than the schools that are more closely associated with low income families. The better funding allows these schools to provide education in a variety of ways and can implement their lessons with technology. This gives these students a distinct advantage for a future in the Technology Era. So how does this relate to the homework issue? If teachers in the low income schools do not have the same resources to teach students during class, they are more likely to require homework to make up the difference. One of the L.A. Unified’s teachers, Chris Johnson, exemplifies this by stating that “without substantial homework, he cannot cover the necessary course work” (Blume 2). If the homework he gives to students is not worth much in the way of class grades, what incentive is there for students to complete their work?
Continuing with concept of socioeconomic status, a student’s family life has just as much, if not more, influence on how a child will do in school. In 1986, a booklet was published by the U.S. Secretary of Education which correlated parental involvement and a child’s effectiveness in learning (Labaree 150) . However, this does not shed light on the whole issue. Labaree adds on to this statement that cultural capital is a major contributor to the size of the advantage that the student receives (Labaree 150). This is supported by Annette Lareau’s study which shows that middle class and working class parents interact with their child differently. Lareau discovered that “middle class families consciously intervene (concerted cultivation) in their children’s lives to develop their talents” (Spring 45). This means that they are more likely to involve their child in after school activities, reason and negotiate with their children and be active in their child’s schooling which leads to a “gain in social and cultural capital needed to deal with a variety of social situations and institutions” (Spring 46). This is in direct contrast to working class families where the children experience natural grown by being allowed to do for themselves except where their basic needs are concerned.
In this situation, the parents let their children spend time with their family and friends rather than in organizations, issue orders to their kid without the flexibility of negotiations and tend to be powerless to the schools which lead to a level of dependency on authority to know what to do (Spring 45-46). In other words, middle class kids are taught to be thinkers and are encouraged to interact in their education while working class students are pushed to obey the rules no matter who gives them the directive. Parents at a middle class school district in southern California showcased these two thought process of parental involvement in a study done by Tyrone Howard. Interviews with one parent concluded with that parent mentioning that they heard parents saying that they “spend all this time in classes and volunteering but what about people who work and have jobs? Are they still involved even though they are not in the school?” (Howard 89). Another parent noted that teachers need to be held accountable, but parents also need to speak up about their concerns because “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” (Howard 89).
This kind of parenting contributes to L.A. Unified School Districts issue of homework. Numerous students came forward to discuss their home life in relation to them being able to accomplish the work that they have been given. The students’ home life ranged from working 24 hours a week to not having his own room while “his mother baby-sits young children at night” to one student “cooking and cleaning for her family” (Blume 1-2). With these distractions and obligations, how can these working class students be asked to focus on homework? Yet on the other end of the spectrum, a junior named Elizabeth Hernandez spends six hours a night working on homework while spending the rest of her time doing extracurricular activities to the point of not having time to spend with her family (Blume 3). How is this fair to a child as well? Yes, she is a junior in high school, but she is still a kid. She may regret not having that family connection in the future. This is where reducing homework could balance out the differences. The reduction could allow Elizabeth to spend time with her family and learn about her rich Spanish culture while also giving a break to those students who are overwhelmed with family lives that take precedence over school.
Students cannot control their families’ income or what they may have to come home to regarding the quality of family life. Should they be punished or rewarded based on factors that lie out of their reach? L.A. Unified School District has taken a major step in trying to overcome these obstacles. The reduction in the weight of homework on a student’s grade could lead to said student doing less homework, but it could also help turn the tide in an uphill battle. The reduction will not hurt the lower income, working class students by not penalizing them for having a specific home life while awarding middle class students who have more than enough time to complete their homework which would boost their grades even further ahead of those struggling students. The homework debate will rage on in many different school districts, but L.A. Unified has taken the first step in allowing students from different socioeconomic statuses and family lives to compete on a level playing field.
Blume, Howard. “L.A. Unifed’s New Homework Policy Gives Students A Break.” 27 June 2011. LA Times. <latimes.com/news/local/la-me-homework-20110627,0,6343074.story>.
Howard, Tyrone and Rema Reynolds. “Examining Parent Involvement in Reversing the Underachievement of African American Students in Middle-Class Schools.” Educational Foundations Winter/Spring 2008: 79-98.
Labaree, David. Someone Has To Fail. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.
Spring, Joel. American Education 14th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010.
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Fund the Child: Tackling Inequality & Antiquity in School Finance. Evaluative. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation & Instititue, 2006. website. <http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED495066.pdf>.