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

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Atlanta, Georgia

Diana Toma is an artist and the mother of a pre-schooler and a second-grader who attends a public school in Atlanta, Georgia – a school which encourages parents to volunteer at least 10 hours a year. Before they moved to Atlanta, her daughter had attended an alternative school in Brooklyn, New York, where there was no curriculum, homework, or grades and where the focus was on play. Diana, who hails from Romania, writes here about her experiences talking with her new daughter’s teacher about homework and education.

When Parents and Teachers Work Together, Our Lives are Easier
by Diana Toma

When I went to meet my daughter’s teacher at the new school, I have to admit I was going with some preconceived ideas. Everybody at the Brooklyn alternative school had told me that public schools are to be avoided like some sort of “educational hell on earth.” I was scared to have those opinion confirmed. Plus I was afraid that the teacher would judge me because my daughter was “behind” in many of the skills that the public school students in Georgia had.

When I sat down with her and had a conversation, I was pleasantly surprised that she was willing and ready to listen to what I had to say. I told her where my daughter is coming from. The teacher told me that she hadn’t ever had any contact with alternative schools, and she asked me questions about it and listened carefully to what I had to say. I quickly got that she was really interested in who my daughter is and what methods would work or not with her. After all, that is all I could ever wish from any teacher!

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Moms and Dads on a Mission – Sharon, Connecticut

Fred Baumgarten, the father of two daughters in public school in Sharon, Connecticut, began talking to other parents in his daughter’s fifth grade class about homework after he read The Homework Myth, by Alfie Kohn, a college classmate. Fred, who has a M.S. in Education from Bank Street and is currently a director of Foundation, Government and Corporate Relations at Sarah Lawrence College, has a blog, Homework Headaches, where he recently posted the letter he wrote to the Fifth Grade parents at his daughter’s school. In addition to reading his letter, you should visit his blog, where you can follow his organizing attempts.

Dear Fifth Grade Families & Friends:
by Fred Baumgarten
Sharon, Connecticut

I’ve spoken with a number of you individually in the last few months about problems with fifth grade homework that have had an impact on our family and on our daughter’s attitudes toward school. Many of you have shared similar stories.

Recently the Principal sent out a letter addressing some of these concerns and reiterating the school’s homework policies and attitudes, but this letter proposes no substantive changes and fails to get at the heart of the problem.

There are really three homework problems, in my view:

(1) Quantity: Even if it’s true that our students are spending an average of an hour a day on homework assignments, it would still be too much; it means that some days it takes a lot longer; it doesn’t take into account afterschool activities; and it takes away from time legitimately spent in family activities, relaxing, reflecting, reading for fun, going outdoors, etc. Most of all there is the relentlessness of homework – every night, and on weekends too, which also relates to the second point, below.

(2) Content: With very few exceptions, fifth grade homework assignments have been repetitive, unengaging, and one-dimensional – literally the same thing, night after night.
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“I Have Banned My Child from Doing Homework,” says English Mum

Rosie Scribble, a freelance writer in the U.K. who specializes in mental health issues and blogs about life with her 6 year old, wrote a wonderful piece about why she doesn’t make her daughter do homework. Many of the commenters also wrote that they didn’t make their children do homework, either. Now, if they could all inspire their friends and their friends’ friends, etc., homework for young children would no longer exist (after all, most elementary school children require some kind of parental involvement to get their homework done).

I Have Banned My Child from Doing Homework
by Rosie Scribble

Sometimes I get a bit hot under the collar, stamp my foot and decide that whatever I have been told to do – I’m not doing it.

Then I wonder why my six-year-old daughter does the same.

However today, once again, I have decided there are a few things that our little family will not be doing, for one day at least.

Here’s the list:

    I.J. [my daughter] will not be doing any homework
    I.J. will not be watching Newsround
    I.J. will not be looking at her school reading book
    I will not be discussing keywords and spellings with I.J.
    I will not be testing her on her addition and multiplication
    I will not be helping her to practise her alphabet
    We will not be doing anything related in any way to education
    We shall only be doing fun things

Because a mother knows when her child is under stress, when she has had enough and is over-tired and over-sensitive, when being asked to watch the news will only add to her current anxieties, when number work at school is getting her down to the point where she can’t sleep at night, when the pressure to practise her reading every night is getting her down, when it is all becoming too much.

A mother knows when her child needs a night off, a break from it all, and when a dose of fun takes priority over homework.

So here’s what we will do instead:

    We’ll close the curtains, turn off the lights and turn the front room into a cinema
    We’ll watch a brand new DVD, possibly Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs as recommended by A Modern Mother
    We’ll eat party food followed by chocolate cake
    We’ll cuddle up on the sofa
    We’ll shut out the rest of the world
    We’ll forget about school
    We’ll forget about everything else
    We’ll have some fun
    And I’ll hope for a calmer more relaxed child tomorrow.

(Read the post and the accompanying comments here.)

Remember to Say Thank You

I always encourage parents to write thank you notes when they appreciate something that a teacher or administrator has done. (There are a few examples in The Case Against Homework.) Shelli and Tom Milley, the couple from Calgary, Canada who recently negotiated an opt-out-of-homework contract with their children’s school, wrote a beautiful letter to the principal and teachers at Prince of Wales School in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, because they liked their piece in the December 2009 issue of the Ontario Principals’ Council Journal.

Letter to Jan Olson, Ms. Collett, Ms. Dickie and Ms. Miller
Prince of Wales School, Barrie, Ontario, Canada
from Shelli and Tom Milley
January 19, 2009

I recently read your article, Putting a Halt on Homework in the Ontario Principals Counsel Exemplary Leadership in Public Education Magazine. I am writing to applaud you and all the teaching staff at the Prince of Wales School in Barrie, Ontario. Your hard work in examining the research on the value of homework and questioning whether or not it should be required at all must by itself be congratulated but then to go on and spend many more hours focusing on creating and implementing teaching strategies that meet the needs of all students without the use of homework is exemplary. As you are no doubt aware, there is much literature on the subject of homework, but, little or none on how schools can operate with out it. To this end, you have led the way in creating a system that works. As you stated in your article, “We need to stop trying to reform education and, instead, reinvent it”.

Your efforts and methods are influencing hundreds of parents, teachers, educators and administrators not only across Canada and the United States but all over the world. They undoubtedly influenced our family throughout our journey on the matter of homework. The statistics that your school has kept in student achievement without the use of homework speaks volumes. Clearly, you have “got it right”.

As a parent who spent almost three years reading the research, trying to educate our children’s school and others and trying to find a solution for our own families nightly homework pains, I appreciate your time and hard work. I am thankful that my three year journey recently resulted in my children, with our parental consent, being granted the right to “opt out” of homework. We, as parents, now have the right to determine those things that what we believe are in our children’s best interest outside of school hours. Our children and family are no longer stressed from the nightly intrusion of homework – especially graded homework – and we are now able to provide our kids with time to read, time to work on their weak areas, practice math facts, musical instruments, engage in extracurricular and religious activities and what ever else life throws our way. However, opting out of homework is clearly not the optimal solution. In my view, doing what you have done is the only way. Like you stated in your article it places all children on a “level playing field”.

Please do not underestimate the positive influence that you have had and continue to have on parents, teachers, administrators and districts and most of all on the students.

More from Suburban Chicago

In October, I posted a piece by Mary Sullivan, a freelancer writer and mother to two fifth graders and a seventh grader in suburban Chicago. She has her own webpage, Too Much Homework, where she recently wrote about opting out of homework after she read the stories that I had written about a family in Calgary, Canada, who opted out of homework.

Mary wrote to Harris Cooper–sometimes called “homework guru” and the person I hold responsible for 10-minutes of homework per grade per night even though his own research doesn’t show any correlation in the early grades to homework. Cooper told her:

I have no objection to this policy. I tell parents that if they have done their homework (e.g., provided a proper studying environment, seen to it that their child was doing homework diligently so any problems were with the amount or quality of assignments and not with study habits) and assignments are still a problem in their household they should approach the teacher about reductions.

You can read the rest of what he had to say, other comments about opting out of homework, and post your own comments here.

Even More from Fed-Up Mom

This is the sixth post by FedUp Mom, the mother of a fifth grader. FedUp Mom’s daughter used to attend a public school in suburban Philadelphia, but this year FedUp Mom moved her to a private Quaker school, hoping for a more relaxed environment. You can read her other posts here, here, here, here and here.

(If you want to write about your experiences for Stop Homework, please drop me a line.)

Gifted, schmifted
by FedUp Mom

Looking back at my daughter’s experience in the public school, I think her problems began when she got high scores on the standardized tests and was labelled “gifted”. I have become increasingly skeptical of the following oft-repeated slogans:

1.) “Gifted kids are bored because the work is too easy.” Not necessarily. Sometimes gifted kids are bored because the work is just too boring.

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Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Recess is Important

Denise Hills, a geologist, and her husband, a college geology professor, live in Tuscaloosa, AL with their two children, a first grader and a three-year-old. Last year, when her son was in kindergarten at the local public school, he didn’t get recess. Mid-year, Denise wrote a letter to the principal and local school board, expressing her concerns, but she never heard back.

This year, things are better.

Recess is Important
by Denise Hills
Tuscaloosa, AL

I wrote a letter last year to my son’s principal and the school board about the lack of recess at my son’s school. I quoted research (information that I received through this blog, mostly), and gave an impassioned plea to let my son run around for even just a few minutes a day! I heard nothing back from the school board, and only had a cursory call from the principal. The end of the year was rapidly approaching, and I knew that nothing was going to change for that year.

This year, I was determined to pursue things more rigorously, for my son’s sake. He’s a VERY active boy, and ends up in trouble because he can’t sit still. Recess helps with that. So, at the start of the year, in a new school, I looked at his schedule. Sigh. No recess.

So, I dug out the letter I wrote last year and revised it, and got ready to send it to his principal. However, I ran into my son’s teacher before I sent the letter, and am I glad I did! She told me that they do have recess, they just can’t call it recess. They are required to have a certain number of instructional minutes per day, and recess doesn’t count towards that. There’s no time in the schedule for recess, so they call it something else (I’m not letting on as to what they call it, because I don’t want them to lose it!).

Yay! My son is getting recess! But I wanted to know if this is going to go away next year, so I still wanted to bring it up with the principal. Luckily, we have a fabulous, approachable principal at this school. When I voiced my concerns about recess with her, she immediately said that it is her commitment that EVERY child in her school, from grades 1-5, gets recess EVERY day. She is the one who has told the teachers how to implement it and still maintain the required “instructional” minutes. What a change from the previous principal, who essentially told me she couldn’t do anything!

I’ve spoken with the principal a bit about what we can do to help change things across the district, not just at our school, because while I’m thrilled that my son has recess, I want every child to have recess. We have a new school board now, so I’m hoping that will be a good starting point for my project to get recess instituted at all our local schools, and maybe even eventually at all schools in the state! Wish me luck!

The Milleys Capture Canada (and the U.S. and U.K. as well)

The day I wrote about the Milleys, parents from Calgary, Canada, who negotiated a contract with their children’s school allowing their children to opt-out of homework, the national press asked me to put it in touch with the Milleys. Since then, the Canadian newspapers, radio, and TV have reported the story, all of the coverage positive and supportive.

I happened to be in Toronto last week and was thrilled to open the Toronto Globe and Mail to discover an editorial, Peace on the Home Front, supporting the Milleys and suggesting that “school boards could easily curtail homework until Grade 9 without fear of educational harm. Younger students could thus be encouraged to read at home, play sports or music and spend more stress-free time with their family.”

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

(I’ll be gone until Monday)

Last year, I posted a piece by Torri Chappell, a teacher and mother from San Anselmo, California, who wrote about some of the success she had had in advocating for school reform.

Two weeks ago, the high school in her community hosted a showing of Race to Nowhere, a documentary film that I’ve written about before. (I’m an adviser and appear in the film.). Torri was bothered by the discussion following the screening and sent the following letter to her local newspaper.

To the Editors
from Torri Chappell

What really matters in the life of a child? What really matters in the life of an adult? What does it mean to be ‘successful’? Happy? These are the questions that I wish adults would honestly ask themselves and more importantly ask their children.

Last Thursday Drake High School hosted a screening of the new documentary, Race to Nowhere by Vicki Abeles. This film bravely and honestly depicts the negative effects of our society’s push to make our children ‘successful’. It is powerful, heart wrenching and thought provoking. I applaud Drake High School for providing this screening to the community, to which hundreds of people of all ages attended.

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Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Calgary, Alberta Family Gets to Opt-Out of Homework after a Two-Year Struggle with their Children’s Schools

Almost two years ago, I wrote about Shelli and Tom Milley, the parents of three children in Calgary, Alberta, who were trying to change homework policy and, at the very least, get an opt-out policy for their own children. At that point, the two lawyers had already been discussing the issue with the school for over a year, had gotten the school to appoint a homework committee and had even gotten Shelli as one of the members of the committee. When it was clear the committee wasn’t really going to be very independent, Shelli resigned.

She and her husband, however, continued to seek support for a better homework policy, and were basically a 2-person taskforce of their own, writing letters, enlisting support from community members, teachers, and members of the School Board, and getting advice from Vera Goodman, author of Simply Too Much Homework (and a Calgary resident herself), Jan Olson, the principal of the Barrie, Ontario school I wrote about last week which had eliminated homework, and me.

And now, just yesterday, the Milleys’ tenaciousness paid off. The school finally agreed that their children could opt-out of homework altogether. The Milleys have allowed me to share their opt-out agreement. You can read it here.

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