Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Brooklyn, New York (Part 1)

Today’s guest blogger, Aurora DeMarco, lives in Brooklyn, New York, where her 10th- and 1st-graders attend public school. Aurora recently decided to get together some of the first grade parents to see whether they could change homework policy at her school.

My First Grader is Overloaded with Worksheets
by Aurora DeMarco

I was shocked at the increased homework load of my 6 year old compared to the homework load 10 years earlier of that of my 16 year old. My older daughter did not get homework until second grade and even then it was one sheet a night and a requirement that the child read to their parents for 15 minutes. Meanwhile my younger daughter started being assigned homework in kindergarten and by first grade was overloaded with worksheets. A typical night involved, reading, filling out the reading log, two math sheets, a word study sheet and flashcards for her weekly spelling test.

A friend suggested I read The Case Against Homework. Just by chance, while I was reading the book, I saw Sara Bennett in the hallway at parent/teacher night at my older daughter’s school and I talked to her about my frustrations.

As a result I was inspired to organize the parents at my younger daughter’s school. It turns out that many other children and parents were frustrated. We found out that the stated policy of the school was that homework in the early grades should take 20 minutes (10 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of worksheets) per night. Unfortunately, the practice was not in keeping with their stated homework guidelines. Many of us were spending an hour

or more a night with our children who were showing clear signs of stress. We decided to tread carefully and ask that a survey be distributed to the parent body to determine if there was widespread concern about homework overload. We were told by the principal that “homework was not up for discussion”.

Frustrated, but not thwarted, we also decided to send a letter to the School Leadership Team (SLT) outlining our concerns that our children’s homework policy needed a review. (Return tomorrow to read a copy of the letter.) After discussing our letter, we were able to find agreement on two items: teachers should periodically check in with parents to see how homework is going.

It was also decided that students should not be made to do their uncompleted homework during lunch or recess. In addition to our work with the SLT, we began having private dialogues with our children’s teachers and many of us simply refused to do with our children, the homework we felt was harmful. We were told that the first grade teachers met and discussed adjusting their homework expectations. Since then my daughter’s homework load has lessened and the homework has gotten less tedious. Despite the negative response by the school principal, we were glad that we kept pushing.

2 Comments on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Brooklyn, New York (Part 1)”

  1. PsychMom says:

    I still think 20 minutes of homework in kindergarten or Grade 1 is nuts. It’s just so arbitrary. In no other aspect of our lives do we allow ourselves to be dictated to like this. My family doctor told me very seriously 8 months ago that I need to do 30 minutes of exercise 5 or 6 days a week. Surely you’d think that a doctor’s opinion and “forceful” recommendation would have some impact on my behaviour. You’d have to think again.

    But my child’s teacher says “X, Y and Z should be done by next Tuesday” and I’m in a sweat and spending inordinate amounts of time paying attention to this deadline.

    Something is wrong with this picture.

    March 24th, 2009 at 8:28 am
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  2. Dawn says:

    *APPLAUSE*

    Good job on that. I also started speaking up about homework. My daughter is in Grade 5 and in the beginning fo the year she was sent home with a folder full of worksheets to do throughout the week. Most of them were busy work (read this with your parent and discuss, do this crossword puzzle, etc.) Ours was incomplete a number of times. I finally wrote a note and asked if there could be a decrease in the homework as we simply didn’t have time. I also said if I felt like it was of great educational value I would make time for it, but in my opinion, the homework so far did not have great educational value. The response was a curt ‘no’ along with an explanation that they must start preparing for Junior High

    (I bit my tongue…the teacher is currently pregnant…my immediate response was, “Are you getting up at 3:30 am each night these days in preparation for night time feedings when your baby arrives?!” …..of course she isn’t)

    However, even though the teacher’s response was negative things have slowly changed. We haven’t seen that folder for months. One month they had a novel study that was to be done at home. I figured I could live with that since I encourage my child to read every night (actually, I don’t have to do a lot of encouraging there….) I also made sure I let the teacher know how much we enjoyed the novel study (we both read the novel) and the great discussions we had because of the book.

    Since then we have only had a few projects (still not my favorite…but better than busy-work of worksheets!) and another novel study.

    I think speaking up does make a difference. Continue to do it! Parents and teachers are supposed to work together…not live in a dictorial relationship. :0)

    March 24th, 2009 at 4:09 pm
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