‘There’s only so far I can take them’ – why teachers give up on struggling students who don’t do their homework

Jessica Calarco and Ilana Horn:

We were curious about how teachers reward students who complete their homework and penalize and criticize those who don’t – and whether there was any link between those things and family income.

By analyzing student report cards and interviewing teachers, students and parents, we found that teachers gave good grades for homework effort and other rewards to students from middle-class families like Gina, who happen to have college-educated parents who take an active role in helping their children complete their homework.

But when it comes to students such as “Jesse,” who attends the same school as Gina and is the child of a poor, single mother of two, we found that teachers had a more bleak outlook.

The names “Jesse” and “Gina” are pseudonyms to protect the children’s identities. Jesse can’t count on his mom to help with his homework because she struggled in school herself.

“I had many difficulties in school,” Jesse’s mom told us for the same study. “I had behavior issues, attention-deficit. And so after seventh grade, they sent me to an alternative high school, which I thought was the worst thing in the world. We literally did, like, first and second grade work. So my education was horrible.”

Jesse’s mother admitted she still can’t figure out division to this day.