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.

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The Importance of Allowing Your Children to be Ordinary

I really like this piece, Pushing for Perfection–A Poor Choice in Parenting, sent to me by northTOmom, who often writes interesting comments here.

Pushing for Perfection–A Poor Choice in Parenting
The importance of allowing your children to be ordinary
by Joanne Kates
(from postcity.com)

I was talking the other day to a woman who described herself as “Type A, a bit of a control freak” and said that she knows this infuses her parenting style.

I admitted to her that I play for that team too, and that it hasn’t been so hot for my parenting. She seemed shocked.

She then asked me: “Would you do it differently if you had it to do over again?”

I said yes. Which I think made her want to throw up, but she gained control over herself and asked me for details.

I told her that my biggest parenting mistake was schools. In order not to get sued, I shan’t mention specific names, but I will confess to pushing both my kids to go to high-performance academically rigorous schools. Which neither of them liked. What a surprise.

My kids are both super bright (we all think that) so I thought they’d benefit from high academic standards.

At least that’s what I told myself. And other people.
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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.

Send a postcard to Michelle Obama – End High Stakes Testing

Time Out From Testing and other organizations and individuals from across the country are launching a May 29th postcard campaign asking First Lady Michelle Obama to encourage the President to put an end to the use of High Stakes Testing. On the campaign trail, Michelle Obama stated:

No Child Left Behind is strangling the life out of most schools…. If my future were determined by my performance on a standardized test I wouldn’t be here. I guarantee that.

Time Out From Testing is asking that everyone send a postcard on May 29th. You can write something like this:

Dear Michelle Obama:

We want the same education for our public school children that you provide for Malia and Sasha. Our child is not a test score.

Encourage the President to end the use of high stakes standardized tests!

Sincerely,
Name:
Address:
Signature

Mail to: First Lady Michelle Obama
White House,
Washington DC

Finally, let Time Out From Testing know that you sent a postcard so that it can have an accurate count of the postcards sent.

Is Skipping College a Viable Option?

Last week’s New York Times had a piece, Plan B – Skip College, suggesting that going to college is not the be all and end all for many students, noting that no more than half of those who began a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree within six years. Moreover, some economists and educators are arguing that there should be credible alternatives for students unlikely to be successful pursuing a higher degree, or who may not be ready to do so.

Read the piece here.

High Schoolers and Cheating

A small study of 100 high school juniors from a mid-Western high school, published in the Mid-Western Educational Researcher, shows, yet again, that cheating is rampant. According to Kenneth Kiewra, professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, and one of the study’s authors, “Students generally understand what constitutes cheating, but they do it anyway. They cheat on tests, homework assignments and when writing reports. In some cases, though, students simply don’t grasp that some dishonest acts are cheating.”

Among the findings:

* 89 percent said glancing at someone else’s answers during a test was cheating (87 percent said they’d done that at least once)

* 94 percent said providing answers to someone during a test was cheating (74 percent admitted doing so)

* 47 percent said that providing test questions to a fellow student who had yet to take a test was academically dishonest (nearly 70 percent admitted doing so)

* 23 percent said doing individual homework with a partner was dishonest (91 percent admitted doing so)

* 39 percent said writing a report based on the movie instead of reading the book wasn’t cheating (53 percent admitted doing so)

Read more here.

Draft Homework Policy from Davis, California

In Davis, California, a committee that had been working on a draft policy submitted its report to the Board of Education for review last week. Take a look at the report. It has many family friendly recommendations and, where the people in the committee disagreed with each other, they wrote their own dissents. Here are just a few of the provisions I especially like:

    * Weekend and holiday homework shall not be assigned. New assignments given on the last school day of a school week may not be due on the first day of the next school week. The intent of this clause shall not be circumvented by assigning homework for a later due date when additional assignments are planned prior to the due date, and the accumulation of assignments exceeds the maximum amount of homework allowed by the policy, or requires some completion on the weekend. For example, homework should not be assigned on Friday which is due the following Tuesday when a teacher plans to assign additional new homework on Monday and when one homework day (in this case Monday) would not be sufficient to complete the homework assigned the previous Friday.

    * Teachers are encouraged to develop an agreement with students about when it is appropriate for the student to cease working on the day’s homework (for example, it is taking too much time or the student is unable to complete the assignment independently).

    * Consequences for lack of homework completion shall not include exclusion from recess.

    * The family shall:
    5. intervene and stop a child who has spent an excessive amount of time on the day’s homework;
    6. not allow students to sacrifice sleep to complete homework;
    7. communicate with the teacher(s) if the student is not consistently able to do the homework by him/herself or if challenges or questions arise. Families of older students should encourage the child to communicate with the teacher in order to foster independence and personal responsibility

Before the end of the school year, one of the parents on the committee will write here about how she got involved in organizing for a better policy and her experiences in doing so.

UPDATE
by Heidy Kellison
co-chair of Homework Committee
June 24, 2010

After nearly three years, a 144-page report, and four school board meetings later, the Davis Joint Unified School District has a new homework policy. The final draft received a 5-0 vote on the first official day of summer. The symbolism is fantastic! A great day for kids made even better for their health and all forms of their development.

Davis is a university town of 65,000 people, just 15 miles from California’s State Capitol. The University of California at Davis is one of the nation’s top research universities, so the demographics aren’t surprising: According to the California Department of Education, 93% of parents with school-aged children have attended college, with a full 60% having attended graduate school. Despite chronic state budget deficits, Davis voters continually pass parcel taxes and raise private funds to maintain healthy schools. Volunteerism is high, and serving on the Board of Education probably deserves hazard pay. It’s safe to say, Davis places a high value on education.

On the surface, Davis seems an unlikely place to call for a reduction in homework. After all, if we value education so much, what’s wrong with doing whatever it takes to get the grade? (A lot, as it turns out.)

I was lucky to co-chair a 12-person committee comprised of teachers, administrators, and parents (I’m a parent). We met for 14 months and developed recommendations where research and consensus intersect.

Is the policy everything I’d hoped for? No. Did anyone get everything they wanted? Absolutely not. But do I believe our process was sound and worthy of being duplicated in other school districts? You bet.

I’ve learned a lot, including the need to approach all stakeholders with an open heart and mind. I’ve acquired more patience, much knowledge, and a great deal of respect for people who invest their lives serving children–parents and professional educators alike.

I know there are bad parents, teachers and administrators, just as there are bad insurance agents, doctors, chefs…you name it. It makes no sense whatsoever to paint any profession with a broad brush, any more than it makes sense to perpetuate racial bias. When we stop pitting ourselves against each other, come to the table and release all our preconceived notions, we will finally serve kids well.

Many blessings to all who advocate for children.

Two New York Schools Drop Standardized Testing for Pre-Schooler Admissions

Pre-school applicants to New York City private schools have long had to take a standardized test used for screening purposes. Now, two schools have dropped the requirement, in part because many parents are prepping their young children and in part because the test isn’t a useful admissions’ criteria. Steve Nelson, the head of the Calhoun school, told the New York Times that he was skeptical that a test could accurately measure a 4-year-old’s intelligence. “Even worse is the emphasis that is placed on the test that creates a culture of frenetic overachievement.” Another private school admissions director stated that she had “significant concerns about how the test has been corrupted with the widespread prepping and the availability of testing materials online.” Sound familiar?

American University in Cairo Teaches Students to Think

According to an article in last week’s New York Times, first year students at the American University in Cairo have to go through a year of “disorientation” where, for the first time, many of them are allowed to think, analyze, and be creative. The students — 85 percent of them Egyptians — have been through an education system where instructors lecture, students memorize and tests are exercises in regurgitation. Read about it here.

Epitaph for a Young Teacher

I read this piece, Epitaph for a Young Teacher, in Teacher Magazine.

Epitaph for a Young Teacher
by Anthony Mullen

Virginia

Monticello Grounds

Hamlet teaches much. The play taught me that the dead depend upon the living to tell their story. The dead, after all, first linger in our thoughts and prayers and then disappear inside old photograph albums. A few notable dead have monuments built to remind people that they once lived and loved and laughed. Some inscribe an epitaph on their tombstone, usually a brief piece of prose commemorating a significant legacy or achievement. Thomas Jefferson desired that his grave be marked by an obelisk inscribed with the three accomplishments for which he wished to be remembered, “…and not a word more.”

HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE
DECLARATION
OF
AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
FOR
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

That’s it. The third president of the United States wished to be remembered for his intellect, belief in freedom of religion, and the founding of a great university. No mention of his vice presidency or presidency. The man did not want to be remembered as a politician. No wonder scholars are still probing his great mind.

I walked away from the Jefferson family cemetery wondering if

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First Monday

Today is the first Monday in May. As suggested in The Case Against Homework, and in this blog every month when I remember, I recommend that every parent send a note expressing her/his views on homework to teachers, administrators, or School Board members on the first Monday of every month.

Today is the perfect time to let your children’s teachers/principals know how you feel about summer homework. It will give them time to think about it and time for you to have a discussion with them. You can use some of the information here as fodder for why a vacation is so important. Now is also a good time to find out what your school’s policy is on summer homework. (A few years ago, I co-authored an op-ed for The New York Times on summer homework. After the op-ed was published, I found out that the student who’d been assigned the most homework of all actually came from a school that had a policy against summer homework.)

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