Stop Homework a resource created by Sara Bennett, co-author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.

Archive for Moms (and Dads) on a Mission

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 2)

Be sure to read yesterday’s post before reading today’s, which is Part 2.

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years:
One Parent’s Perspective
Part 2
by northTOmom

Before I attempt to answer the question, “why two years later am I complaining about my children’s homework?” I should note that many parents I’ve spoken to have indeed noticed a decrease in their children’s homework. But my experience—and that of other French immersion parents I’ve consulted—has been that teachers continue to assign homework inconsistent with the new policy.

Grade 4 – French Immersion
On curriculum night in September 2008, the Grade 4 teacher warned parents to expect a difficult year. She explained that the nature of “mid-immersion”—its compression compared to immersion programs starting in Kindergarten—made it necessary to work the children particularly hard. (There was scant mention of the new homework policy, no hint that the program might have to be adjusted in order to comply with it.)

She was not kidding. On a nightly basis, students were expected to review

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The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 1)

Today’s guest blogger, northTOmom is a freelance writer and blogger from Toronto, and the mother of ten-year-old twin girls. In today’s piece, part 1 of 2, she discusses the “family friendly” homework policy instituted in Toronto 2 years ago.

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years:
One Parent’s Perspective
Part 1
by northTOmom

On a recent Saturday morning, my 10-year-old daughter emerged from the basement on the verge of tears: “The temple’s collapsed,” she announced. Though it sounded dire, she was speaking not of an actual building, but of the model of an ancient Greek temple she and a classmate had constructed out of cardboard the previous week. They had piled on the white paint, and the structure had simply buckled under the weight. Later that day I glanced out the window to see my two daughters turning cartwheels on the back lawn while my husband diligently sawed wooden cylinders into pillars for the new temple. It was a brilliant spring day, and soon my husband would finish his task and call my reluctant daughter in out of the sunshine to start rebuilding the temple. What is wrong with this picture?

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Homework Hell

A few weeks ago, the Boston Globe ran a piece, Homework Hell. Here’s the letter, heavily edited, that the Globe published on Sunday in response:

Beth Teitell’s article “Homework Hell” (May 2) provided an important, albeit anecdotal, view of how homework can negatively affect family life, but the topic of homework and the ways many schools routinely apply the requirement deserves fuller treatment. Teachers, administrators, parents, and reporters would do well to consider what’s driving blind acceptance of homework at all levels and whether current practices are beneficial or based on nothing but an enduring myth. – Peggy Field / Norwell

Peggy Field sent me the full letter she had written to the Globe:

To the Editor:

Beth Teitell’s article “Homework Hell” in the May 2 Boston Globe magazine provided an important, albeit anecdotal, view of how homework can negatively affect family life, but the topic of homework and the ways many schools apply the requirement as a matter of routine deserves a much fuller and more serious treatment.

Teitell’s piece seemed promising at first, illustrating the real rifts that can occur between parent and child when parents are put in the position of homework enforcer. However, the piece veered into a discussion of vague “parental anxiety” before concluding with an exhortation from Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman to parents to “keep your anxiety to yourself” when helping out.

Omitted is the possibility that parents can maintain a positive attitude toward school, teachers and learning, and continue to urge their children to work hard and do their best, while asking questions of their child’s teacher and school officials about homework policy.

Many important questions about the stated goals, educational validity and simple fairness of compelling students (and their families) to devote periods of at-home time to additional school work — particularly in elementary and middle school grades — are simply not being asked by those who should be asking such questions. Existing thorough and respectful examinations of the subject, not only by Alfie Kohn but also by Sara Bennett, Etta Kralovec, John Buell and Cathy Vaterott, are blithley ignored in lieu of complacently maintaining the status quo.

Few would argue that taking time outside of school to thoughtfully puzzle out a vexing calculus problem or computer program, or to read a novel or historical text at length, is a negative. But teachers, administrators, parents and education reporters would do well to take a step back and consider what is actually driving blind acceptance of homework simply as a matter of routine at all levels, and whether current practices are beneficial or even harmless, or if they are based on nothing but an enduring myth.

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – More from Halifax, Nova Scotia

Today’s guest blogger, the mother of a second grader, lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She holds a masters degree in psychology and works full time doing psychometric testing of adults. She has written three previous entries here, here and here.

Musings on the News
by Psych Mom

Our local television station recently did a three part feature story on home and school education issues. The promos that were broadcast in the days ahead of the actual piece gave the message that this story was about informing parents on how they can be more involved in their children’s education and that their children would have better outcomes with parent involvement. The first evening featured the topic of homework, the second night was about communication between home and school, and the third night was, what parents can do to help the struggling student. Unfortunately I was only able to watch the second evening. A couple of parents were featured, and a couple of teachers, each with their perspective on the importance of communication. One mother indicated that she stays on top of her child’s homework as a means of knowing what he’s doing at school. The teachers, one male and one female, promoted the value of communication between home and school, so that parents would be able to assist the teacher better in teaching their children.

I sent in a message to the TV station to voice my concerns about the 1950’s style of the life that seems to be portrayed in the piece I saw. There was none of the chaos of getting home at 5:30 with hungry kids…it was Mom lovingly hovering over youngster working at the kitchen table, book and papers spread wide. Everyone is smiling. You could almost hear Ward Cleaver coming through the front door. The good parent is one who wants to know what the child is doing in school and you can only learn that through making sure your child does their homework. The other aspect of the story that was clear was the idea that the teacher and school are the leaders and decision makers. The good parent follows their lead.

Maybe the point of this series was to provide some energy for parents to get through the last piece of the school year. That would imply that school is drudgery and everyone is tired by now, so lets all just pull together and see this hell through. It wasn’t about learning, it was about how to help your child survive school. And in the same vein as the message that adults give kids about “we did it, so you have to do it”, the kindly lady on TV was providing the message , ”Listen up parents, we all know school is dreadful but we have to help our kids because if you want to be a good parent that’s what you should do.” Oh, and “Listen to the teacher….he/she knows best”

Such, Such Were the Joys

Two weeks ago, I turned over this space to Fedup Mom. In her first post she suggested that people read “Such, Such Were the Joys” by George Orwell and then answer several questions.

I read and loved the piece but I couldn’t be bothered to answer FedUp Mom’s questions and neither could anyone else. So for the next several Thursdays, FedUp Mom will answer the questions herself.

Such, Such Thursdays
by Fedup Mom

QUESTION #1:

(from Such, Such Were the Joys)

Over a period of two or three years the scholarship boys were crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas… At St. Cyprian’s the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else.

[Vocabulary: “confidence trick” is the British equivalent of the American “con”.]

How does Orwell’s experience relate to today’s standardized-testing-infested public schools? Compare and contrast, if possible.

***************************************************************
FedUp Mom’s ANSWER:

The parallel here is so close it’s painful. There is nothing new in schools staking their reputation on their student’s performance. There is nothing new in students being force-fed just what they will need for an exam, and no more.

In Orwell’s day, schoolboys had to study Latin and Greek to do well on the exams that would take them to the best “public” schools. Once they were done with school, of course, only a tiny minority of students would have any use for the Latin and Greek they worked so hard to learn.

In our own time, we have cut out the middleman. We teach test-taking skills directly, with no intervening content. Our kids work hard to learn to write a 5-paragraph essay or Brief Constructed Response that they will have no use for when they’re done with school.

What gets tested is what gets taught. If our goal is to get all kids testing at grade level, the child who starts the year testing above grade level can comfortably be ignored. Even better, why not lock in the test scores, by starting the year with most of the kids performing above grade level? This can be achieved by pushing the goals of each year down to the previous year. Kindergarten is the new first grade, and high school is the new college.

Of course, kindergarten kids may not be developmentally ready for first grade, and high school students have nowhere near as much free time as college students, but if the standardized test scores look good, why should the schools care?

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – More from Sharon, Connecticut

About a month ago, I posted a piece by Fred Baumgarten, the father of two daughters in public school in Sharon, Connecticut, who had been talking to the other parents in his daughter’s fifth-grade class about homework. I recently checked to see what kind of progress he’s making.

He writes all about it on his blog, homework headaches.

Should Homework be Reduced – 13 support; 3 opposed; 1 undecided; 4 no response
by Fred Baumgarten

As of today, out of 21 fifth grade families in our school, 12 have indicated their support of my efforts to reduce and improve homework; 3 are opposed (2 of them strongly; one just responded to another recent e-mail thus: “We do not support your movement. I thought lack of our response would have given you some indication”); 1 is provisionally supportive but still researching it; and 5 have not responded to e-mails and phone messages.

In my latest e-mail I invited those parents who are supportive or who had not responded to join me at a meeting with the principal. None have responded positively to the invitation.

Nevertheless, I have gone ahead and scheduled a meeting with the principal. Given that more than half of the families are in support, and greater than 75% of those who responded are in support, I feel I have a pretty strong case for proceeding.

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Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – High Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial

I recently started a group on facebook (please join) where I heard from April Peacock, a mother of a third grader from Pennsylvania. She was looking for advice on how to respond to her son’s teacher, who had sent home a high stakes testing practice booklet, with instructions to the parents on how to review with their children.

High Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial
by April Peacock

Yesterday, I received a packet from my third grade son. The front letter says the following:

Dear Parent Helpers,
Attached is this week’s PSSA Practice Packet to review with your child. As always your help and assistance in your child’s education is so important. This is one way you can help show them what they are doing in school is important.

Remember to review the packet with your child. Make sure they read the story and questions carefully before trying to figure out the answers. A little each night works well. The answer key is included for your reference. Research has shown (Ashbaugh, 2009) that when parents practice with their children in high stakes testing, students do much better.

Please fill out and return the paper below to your child’s teacher on 2/1. Do not return the packet.
Third Grade Teachers

Week # 1
Student’s Name
Time spent on this packet with student _______________ mins per day.
Were you able to finish the packet? Y N
Please list anything that your child did not understand, so that we can review it in the classroom.

Here is my dilemma: I’m glad that they make the material available to us, but I don’t feel that “high stakes testing” is beneficial and I resent that I am required to fill out a form stating exacting how long I practiced with my child. I dislike them telling me how to spend my time.

Does anyone have an good responses to this? I would like to send in a short letter with references, etc., but I don’t want to sound upset. Basically, I want my letter to be just as PC as theirs. My Case Against Homework book is packed away because we just moved.

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Chicago

Today’s post is by Laura, an intellectual property and reinsurance attorney in Chicago with three children ranging in age from 5 years to 4.5 months. A long history of LD and ADD makes effective education one of her hot button issues. She wrote a lengthy letter to her daughter’s kindergarten teacher explaining her position on homework.

Homework is Detrimental to Long Term Success
by Laura

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

I am writing regarding the progress report we received for Libby this past week, specifically the home assignments to her. The primary purpose of this letter is to outline our position regarding home assignments for our five year old. We expect this letter should be included in her school records. Principal _____ is copied on this letter; please feel free to provide it to any administrator who has a valid reason to read it.

I understand assigning homework at all grade levels is Chicago Public School policy; however, I strongly believe that homework at the kindergarten level, absent specific deficiencies, is detrimental to long term educational success. A significant number of longitudinal studies show homework, especially in the younger years, increases family strife, increases the child’s stress level and does not provide a lasting gain in test scores. I agree that the lessons learned in the classroom should be reinforced at home, but I believe we do that adequately by showing how what was learned in the classroom is used in real life and in fact homework interferes with our ability to do that.
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A Parent’s Concern with Mandated Reading Programs (Part 2)

Last year, I posted a piece by a parent of a middle schooler in Massachusetts, who had asked, to no avail, that her child be allowed to opt out of the Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader program.

Today, she provides an update.

Our School’s Use of the Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reading Product Has a Detrimental Effect on Our Children’s Desire to Read
by a Middle School Parent

Our middle school uses Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader quiz product to verify that students are reading books at home. Scores on the 10-20 question fact-recall quizzes are then applied directly to students’ English/Language Arts grades.

AR is widely used in schools in the U.S. and around the world, often in conjunction with prize incentives and awards to “top readers.” Some schools, like ours, use it as part of a reading grade for students’ “free reading” at home – which is separate from in-class reading and literature instruction – despite the company’s clear statement in its supporting material that quiz scores are not meant to be reading grades. I am sharing this here because I know we are not the only parents who are concerned about the unintended consequences of this and similar well intentioned but potentially damaging requirements that turn children’s at-home pleasure reading into a chore.

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Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–San Anselmo, California

Torri Chappell, a teacher and mother from San Anselmo, California, has written here before about her experiences advocating for homework reform. When something strikes Torri as being wrong, she doesn’t hesitate to speak up, either in letter or in person.

Recently, when her School District had a meeting to talk about the school facility, Torri was on hand to talk about the importance of not only where children learn, but also what they learn.

What and How our Children Learn is More Important than Where They Learn
by Torri Chappell

We have two facility issues in Ross Valley resulting from abundance…an abundance of children and an abundance of assessments.

The first facility issue is regarding the facilities WHERE our children will learn. We have an abundance of students.

The second facility issue is regarding the district’s facility in making uninformed decisions about WHAT and HOW our children learn.
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