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March 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Question of the day: Are you down with, or done with, homework?

The headline’s question prefaces an article in a Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education academic journal about the inadequacies of homework. Principals are getting rid of homework, asking students to relax and read at home. If students and parents insist on tasks connecting home and schoolwork, they can review the day’s academics together.

A survey making the rounds of parents and students in the Issaquah School District aims to gauge how families view homework. Is the work sent home with students relevant to what they are learning in class or just “busy work.”Does homework over holiday breaks defeat the purpose of a school break?

I view the backlash against homework as coming full circle from the efforts fueled by reports like A Nation at Risk, which raised the alarm in 1983 about a “rising tide of  mediocrity” in American schools, calling for more academic rigor and schoolwork. The two arguments are not mutually exclusive. Academic rigor is essential. But that doesn’t mean homework serves as an expression of higher standards.

 Alfie Kohn, author of The Myth of Homework and a strong believer in  eliminating all homework, writes that, “The fact that there isn’t anything close  to unanimity among experts belies the widespread assumption that homework  helps.” At best, he says, homework shows only an association, not a causal  relationship, with academic achievement.

The 2006 book, “The Case Against Homework: How Homework is hurting our Children and What We Can Do About It,” offers a few questions teachers should use as a standard: Does assigning 50 math problems accomplish any more than assigning five? Is memorizing word lists the best way to increase vocabulary—especially when it takes away from reading time? There are more questions but I think that gets at the crux of how teachers could approach homework.

And then there’s author of award-winning, “Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students.” Dr. Pope was also a featured expert in the acclaimed documentary, Race To Nowhere.

Are you satisfied with the amount and quality of homework given to your child? Any conversations or debate about homework in your school district?

Update: local parents speak out about homework:   Leslie Warrick, who is working on the Issaquah homework survey says: “We surveyed our Middle School students, the results point to math and rarely science as relevant homework.  Most students have a minimum of 1-2 hours per day of homework, few have less than that, and the other have over 2 hours.  Yes, homework is assigned over weekends and breaks (with large tests just after break).  Any afterschool activity = significant rise in stress and lack of sleep and tension in the home.  I have the results and will share the specifics at out (Pacific Cascade Middle School) Homework Forum that is open to all parents, students, and teachers.  We will share our feedback with our district.”

It does not change the educational landscape very much if only one or two high-performing districts engage on homework. To that point, Warrick says: “I can only hope that other districts are open enough to engage in meaningful dialogue with the community they serve. I understand the concept of preparing our students for the “real world”; we don’t just leave our work at the workplace anymore…perhaps instead of the onslaught of assignments on a daily basis, there could be more projects that could teach time management with due dates that have some leeway.  This would in turn allow for some flexible use of time during the week.”

Amen.  Another parent, who did not want to be named, talked about the need for balance.

I’m not against homework at all.  I think if done right, it can most defiantly reinforce what you are learning in class.  I am a proponent of quality over quantity for sure.  I have a child in a few “advanced” classes and sometimes I think there is a perception that throwing more work at a gifted student is good for them, keeps them engaged.  Not always.  They get just as irritated with “busy work” as anyone else.  For example, in a science work packet I can be ok with the crossword puzzle on the given subject–you have to look those answers up, so there is material to be learned.  Where as I disagree with a word search at the middle school level, that is busy work.  Also, I am dumbfounded when my child is struggling with a subject and I ask her to look it up in her text book only to hear “our text book has nothing to do with this subject, it’s not in there” or, ok you’re struggling look over your notes from class and try to remember what your teacher said about this and the response is “I can’t, we’re not even talking about this subject in class!”  What?!?  Then why is it homework?

And this:

I’m not opposed to homework on weekends, as long as it falls within a reasonable level, such as that given on a nightly basis.  What I am opposed to is a big assignment given on a Friday and due on Monday.  For example a 12 slide power point that took 5+ hours on a weekend to complete. 

The clincher for some parents:

 Homework over breaks and big tests given within days of returning from a school scheduled vacation (winter break, mid-winter break, spring break etc…) where there will be no choice but to study for said test, I am very opposed to!  It is a break, let them have it!!  Do you as a teacher want to grade my child’s papers over your break?  No, probably not, and you probably won’t.  We’ve occasionally ran into teachers at the airport heading out of town for break, I have never seen them with a briefcase full of papers to grade, yet my kid is lugging around your classes text book so they can work over break for you.  Seem equatable? There is nothing more disappointing than paying thousands of dollars for a much needed family vacation, than to watch your kid pack a text book and note cards into their carry-on!  That’s going to be fun to have that hanging over your head all break, not to mention putting me as the parent in the position to have to ask about that studying or homework (nag maybe?).  Really, the whole family suffers.  Even if you are not heading out of town, these kids need down time.  It’s a time to sleep in, re-connect with family and friends, goof around, be silly, READ!  Now, if you are choosing to take time off outside of a school scheduled break, that is your problem and you should expect consequences. 

Has homework become the scapegoat for overscheduled kids?

 I’ve heard the argument from educators that we as parents are putting our kids in too many extracurricular activities.  That is absolutely true in many cases.  Here’s the rub though:  we all know how this game is played, what it takes to get your kid into a good (if not top) university.  Yep, I said it UNIVERSITY, you have to think about these things early…don’t pretend you don’t.  Every university admissions officer has said they don’t care to see you started volunteering and playing baseball your junior year of high school, that was obviously done for your college application.  What they want to see is commitment, and leadership…well that starts early.  Not to mention our kids (for the most part, if you’re doing it right) enjoy the activities they do outside of school.  Gasp, that’s right I said they like them!  Girl Scouts, and volleyball, and soccer, and book club, and volunteering, and dance, and art, and basketball are FUN!  Sometimes we forget about fun, and that’s sad.  We’re supposed to be raising well rounded, productive, kind members of society…sometimes I think all we’re raising are “grinders”.  How will our kids ever know what they love, what their passion is, unless they get out there and try all kinds of different things?  

 Let’s not turn their extracurricular activities into a stresser for them.  They need, and enjoy those outside of school activities.  I’ve seen my kid look at tournament schedules for the month, and see 2-day tournaments and weekend away games to new places on the horizon, and I can see the wheels turning “how is that going to happen with my work load, what if there is a big assignment given over that weekend?”.  I remember when my kid was chosen for a club/select level team her new coach said “you never know, maybe you might even get to miss a day of school to travel and play somewhere fun!”.  My kiddo turned to me shook her head, and said no way am I missing any school!

And finally:

As a parent I don’t need to see hours of homework a night to believe and prove my student is working hard in school.  I can tell that already.  I don’t need to see tons of homework for me to believe you’re doing a good job as a teacher, I can already tell that for myself.  A little flexibility would be wonderful, so maybe you can do something on the spur of the moment, when something extra special pops up.  Our kids are gone off on their own way too soon, families need to be able to make memories together.  Those are the ties that bind, not an extra 45 minutes of homework.

What are your thoughts about homework?

Comments | Topics: children, Education


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