There has been much wringing of hands over the “Achievement Gap,” which is “observed disparity on a number of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by gender, race/ethnicity, ability, and socioeconomic status. The achievement gap can be observed on a variety of measures, including standardized test scores, grade point average, dropout rates, and college-enrollment and -completion rates.” [Emphasis mine]. One of the specific goals of NCLB was to measure and close this gap once and for all — a noble goal, even if the methods are questionable.
Imagine a high school student. He arrives home, and his Mom is waiting for him thanks to a flexible work schedule. He gets a snack — teenage boys are universally always hungry — and sits down to work on homework for several classes. At one point he needs help with his foreign language work; Mom studied that language and certainly knows enough to help him through grammar and vocabulary. Later he uses internet resources to find a news article for another class. At one point he is stumped by a science problem. While Mom doesn’t know the answer, she suggests that it’s a topic that doesn’t change a lot and might be in Dad’s college biology book. When Dad arrives home shortly, he is able to help the student with mnemonics, or clever ways to remember all that information. Later, Mom cooks a healthy dinner, and later still everybody goes to bed at a reasonable hour.
Now let’s look at all the obstacles he did not have:
- He didn’t worry about getting home from school safely, nor about his safety in his upper-middle class neighborhood
- There was plenty of nutritious food in the house
- He did not have to supervise the homework of younger siblings
- He was not responsible for housework, such as starting dinner before Mom and Dad got home
- Someone was there to keep him focused on the task at hand when necessary
- He did not need to be at an after school job to help the family finances
- He had all the resources to do homework, such as pencils, paper and reference materials
- His parents were college educated and could in fact help when he had trouble with homework
- His parents could afford tutoring services if they were necessary
- He had access to a computer and high-speed internet
- His parents were both willing and able to see to it that his physical and academic needs were taken care of.
It’s clear to see why homework is sometimes just one more academic obstacle.