That is most definitely the question on A LOT of teachers' minds.
School isn't just about teaching facts and figures. We are teaching these students how to be productive members of society. We are preparing them for the REAL WORLD. That scary place where you have to pay for stuff and be responsible for yourself.
Many teachers are afraid that accepting late work does not teach students responsibility. In the real world, missing a deadline can literally be the difference between having a job and being unemployed. In college, not a single one of my professors accepted late work. Accepting late work gives them a security net that they might get too used to and could cause major repercussions some day when it is taken away.
But... let's think for a moment about the purpose of homework for a second here. Why do teachers assign homework? Contrary to popular student belief, it's not to torture them. It's to reinforce the things we are learning in class. As a language teacher, I simply CANNOT give them the practice in class that they need to truly succeed. I only see them 45 minutes a day. Homework is so important when it comes to practicing and retaining their skills in my room.
So.. with that being said... accepting late work has its pros too. Most students, if they couldn't get any credit for it, would choose not to do the work. Why bother if it won't have any benefit to them? I tell my students at the beginning of every year to not focus on their grade. I got an A all throughout high school in French and graduated with minimal speaking ability. I have students with C's that can speak better than students with A's (I will be diving in to grading in a future post). What they need to focus on is the skills they are learning in the classroom. They need to think about where they are at the end of the year in regards to where they started.
With the help of my cooperating teacher while student teaching, I instated a policy that I still use to this day. All work is due at the beginning of the hour on the day it is due (unless otherwise noted). (This is where the in-folder comes in handy. I give a last call for anything to be handed in, I clip it together, and it goes in my personal "to grade" folder in my stuff. Anything that shows up in the folder after that is considered late.) I accept late work until the day of the test for that unit, but they only get 50% credit for it. Some teachers I know give them X number of days or weeks, but who has time to keep track of all of that? I sure don't. Having a concrete "this is the last day to hand in late work" makes my job a lot easier.
This is a great balance and leaves the kids with the best of both worlds. It encourages students to still get the practice they need, but it also shows them there are consequences to not handing in something on time. I have had parents complain that 50% is a steep penalty and that it should start small and get bigger for the amount of time it's been missing. I remind them that the students have known from the beginning that this is my policy and that keeping track of how long the work has been missing is just WAY too much work for me. Accepting late work already puts more work on my plate, so it's only fair that they have to "pay" for it in some way (their grade).
What is your late-work policy? Feel free to share in the comments if you have a policy that works really well for you.