I had two recent conversations that highlight what seems to be a growing practice in schools -- not holding students accountable for deadlines.
A few weeks ago, I talked to a group of high-achieving teens about school policies that bugged them. They shared a frustration over the reluctance of schools to enforce deadlines.
A quarter of the class doesn’t. All the teacher tells those students is, “Have it to me by tomorrow.”
Students complained most teachers now accept late projects, reducing deadlines to suggestions.
Don’t teachers detract points from late submissions?
Seldom, said the students. Even more annoying to the teens, no extra points are ever awarded for turning in every assignment on time.
In the book, "The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way," foreign high school students spending a year in U.S. schools commented that American students weren't held to deadlines by teachers and late work triggered no consequences.
This brings me to the second relevant conversation. I met a veteran literature professor from a top northeastern college and asked if students today were really that different from earlier generations.
Yes, he said, they’re better prepared. Many have traveled out of the country with their families or youth groups. They’re interested in the larger world, and want to live or work abroad someday.
But the professor also said today’s students expect more accommodations. They believe they ought to be exempted from an assignment or turning in a paper on deadline because, “I had to go home for a family wedding,” or “My parents were visiting from Ohio, and I just didn’t have time.”
He blamed high schools for allowing students to shirk deadlines. As an example, he cited the “farce of high school summer reading.” He said most students don’t complete the reading or scan a few chapters of the book the night before classes start.
When the college professor asks high school teachers why they don’t hold students responsible for summer reading, they say it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
The teachers don’t want to devote their first classes to scolding students for failing to read over the summer. And some teachers aren’t involved in creating the reading list, so the book may not be a priority for their class. If the book is integral, teachers realize that a lot of their students will only open it once class begins.
The professor said he quickly rids college freshmen of the assumption deadlines are flexible with a few “dramatic failures” for even being an hour late emailing a required paper.
Should schools reconsider their laxity on deadlines?
Are such policies -- designed to increase passage rates -- sending a wrong message to both the students who make deadlines and those who put them off ?