Homework is eating American schoolkids and their families

Here's a report from the front lines of the neoliberal educational world*, where homework has consumed the lives of children and their families without regard to whether it is improving their educational outcomes. The average California kid in a recent study was doing 3.1 hours' worth of homework per night, at the expense of sleep, time for family and friends, and activities ranging from grandma's birthday to "everything I used to do."

Ms. Pope suggests asking teachers and schools to provide homework packets that a student can spread out over a week, rather than springing large assignments due tomorrow that can derail family plans. Schools and teachers can also help by building in time for students to get started on homework and ask any questions they might have.

Looking at the larger picture, she said, things are changing. “These students are already averaging an hour more than what’s thought to be useful,” she said, and teachers, schools and parents are beginning to think harder about what kinds of homework, and how much of it, enhance learning and motivation without becoming all-consuming.

It might be easier than you think to start the conversation at your student’s school. “Load doesn’t equal rigor,” Ms. Pope said. “There are other developmental things students need to be doing after school, and other things they need to be learning.”

*The school is a business that produces educated children as products. The teachers are employees. The administrators are managers. The government is the board of directors. The tax-payers are the shareholders. School-businesses must be "accountable," which means producing quarterly reports in which numbers -- test scores, attendance -- go up, regardless of whether that reflects any underlying educational merit.

Homework’s Emotional Toll on Students and Families [KJ Dell'Antonia/NYT]

(via Sean Bonner)

(Image: Homework never ends, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from worldbeyondalens's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. I have a third-grader and a kindergartner in NC. My kindergartner usually has half an hour to an hour of homework a night. My third grader usually has 1-2 hours of homework, but some days he has homework from the time he gets home until bedtime.

    In many cases, the work he's doing is not adding or reinforcing anything. He spells like a champ. Writing the same spelling word 30 times in 5 different ways does not help him become better at it. He's good at math, but that doesn't stop the worksheets with endless math problems. Sometimes those worksheets do a great job reinforcing a concept, but sometimes they're just repetitive torture.

    And now we have a new thing where third graders can't progress to fourth grade if they don't pass an end-of-year reading test. I have mixed feelings about the overall concept, but in execution it just means more work for my son. And also, he could have passed the test on the first day of third grade, according to his beginning of year reading assessment. But does that save him from all these reading comprehension worksheets, or the weekly quizzes? Nope.

    There are some people here saying that kids need homework so that they'll be ready for college. I think it's foolish to say a third-grader needs multiple hours of homework a night in order to prepare him for something he might do in nine years.

  2. The problem with assigning massive amounts of homework in a U.S. public school is that it requires the parents to be very active (albeit unpaid) members of the teaching staff. Works fine in a household with two well-educated parents, one of whom makes enough salary that the other one is home after school every day to support the child's work -- with advice, re-framing, additional explication, healthy snacks, maybe even a private tutor for some subjects -- but not so well in households where the parents work multiple jobs, and/or are not well-educated themselves, and/or are not fluent in English.

  3. On the bright side, this will prepare then for the grim economic future where they will have to work three jobs to stay out of poverty.

  4. The problem with assigning that much homework is that it assumes a great deal of extracurricular homogeneity among students. Even if we assume that a classroom environment is controlled enough to provide the same baseline experience for all students (and I contend we cannot), there is nothing in a teacher's abilities to control for the home environment. By treating their own coarsework in isolation and assuming that students are empty vessels just sitting around doing nothing important when they aren't in the classroom, students are disabused of very human experiences, chiefly compassion and understanding.

    Tl;dr Students have lives out of the classroom, and trivializing that has never done educators any good.

  5. your spirit will be crushed when you're 27, so we might as well crush you when you're 7.

    i hear this attitude from more administrators than you'd believe. there is a time in a person's life when they need to learn to deal with stress that piles up night after night after night. but not in second grade. we'll lose those kids.

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