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 In the News

How to Engage Students in School

I recently read about the Sequoyah Shool in Pasadena, California, where engaging students is the school’s primary concern.

Engaging students through curiosity
By Josh Brody
director, Sequoyah School, Pasadena, CA
from Pasadena Star News

I recently sat in on a parent-teacher conference led by a 6-year-old student. She was presenting her tree notebook.

She eagerly turned the page to a map of her school, pointed to a spot on the page and said, “Here is the patio, and there is the pepper tree, and that’s my favorite. The ash tree is over here by day care and it has lost all of its leaves. The tree by the library has leaves that look like fans, it’s a gingko tree, but the one at the park has bigger fan leaves.”

She turned to another page titled “Ash Tree.” The page contained a pressed leaf, a photograph, a bark rubbing, and the definition of the word “deciduous” was written in the corner. That page was one of seven similar pages about trees that were highlighted on her campus map.

While education reform over the last decade has focused on accountability and test scores, we may be overlooking one of the most critical aspects of learning: student engagement.

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For $99 a Month, Students Get Math, English, and Science Tutoring from a Network of Teacher in India

According to an article on Newser, tutoring has been outsourced to India. For $99 a month, students can get unlimited help with English, math, or science from TutorVista, a network of Indian teachers. Demand for the service is so high that the company is hiring 1,500 more teachers in the coming weeks.

Middle School in Missouri Tries No Homework Policy

According to an article in South East Missourian, a middle school in Bloomfield, Missouri, is trying out a no homework policy. After the principal noticed that poor grades were a result of either low homework scores or failure to turn in homework assignments, she decided to see whether a change in policy, allowing for less lecture time, more hands-on teaching, and no homework, would improve student success.

According to the School District Superintendent, if students receive instruction and then do 8-10 problems and still don’t get it, doing 10 more problems won’t help. “At the point we need to re-teach,” he said, “more help at the classroom level will really benefit those students who don’t finish their work at home.”

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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Why “Race to the Top” will Fail

My favorite education blogger, Susan Ohanian, posted a link to this wonderful piece by Marion Brady in the Washington Post.

The One Reason Duncan’s “Race to the Top Will Fail
By Marion Brady
November 4, 2009

When “Race to the Top” fails, as it will, the main reason won’t be any of those currently being advanced by the corporate interests and politicians now running the education show.

It won’t fail because of lack of academic rigor, poor teaching, weak administrators, too-short school year, union resistance, differing state standards, insufficient performance incentives, sorry teacher training, or lingering traces of the early-20th Century Progressive movement.

It will fail primarily for a reason not even being mentioned by leaders of today’s reform effort: A curriculum adopted in 1893 that grows more dysfunctional with each passing year. Imagine a car being driven down a winding rural road with all the passengers, including the driver, peering intently out the back window.

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Hooray (again) for Canada – Simcoe County District in Ontario Implements Decent New Homework Policy

In April, I wrote about a school in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, which, after eliminating most homework, found that students were more engaged and less tired and teachers were more focused. Now, the County District in which that school is located, Simcoe, just instituted a new district-wide homework policy.

Some of the things that I particularly like about the policy:

  • the homework must be differentiated
  • teachers must keep to a minimum the number of assignments that are due the following day so as not to interfere with extra curricular activities and “activities that support personal and family wellness”
  • homework shouldn’t be due immediately after holidays, significant faith days, or lengthier school breaks (December or March Break)
  • group projects must be worked on at school during the school day

Read the policy here.

And a big congratulations to the principal, Jan Olson of Barrie, Ontario’s Prince of Wales elementary school, who started homework reform in his District.

Success – One Thousand Parents and Teachers Pack School Board Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, and Board Backs Down

In September, I wrote about parents in Pam Beach County, Florida, who were up in arms about the School Board’s new policy allowing for 60 minutes of homework in 3rd grade and 90 minutes in 4th and 5th. Homework was just one of their concerns. The others included frequent testing, a calendar of skills that teachers were to cover at a required pace, and monitoring by district staffers who would visit teachers’ classrooms to make sure they are following the program.

The parents banded together, set up their own website, Parents for Educational Reform, and more than 1,000 parents and teachers packed the School Board meeting last week to protest and voice their concerns.

The upshot: school control has been returned to the individual schools, which will get to decide whether they want to implement any of those policies.

The lesson to be taken: there’s strength in numbers and we should all organize in our own communities.

England Should Raise the Starting Age of School to 6, says Cambridge Primary Review

The Cambridge Primary Review, just released its first comprehensive inquiry into English primary education in 40 years. A team of 14 authors relied on, among other things, more than 4000 published sources, both national and international, as well as 28 specially-commissioned research surveys, to write the report.

The conclusion I’m most interested in is the one suggesting raising the starting age of school to age 6. The authors found that introducing children at the age of five into the constraint and discipline of a classroom – a throwback to Victorian days – provided little benefit and could even be harmful. “They are not going to learn to read, write and add up if you have alienated children by the age of four and five,” said Gillian Pugh, chairwoman of the Cambridge Primary Review’s advisory committee.

“That’s the stage at which we are tuning children into learning … If they are already failing by the time they are 4 1/2 or five, then it’s going to be quite difficult to get them back into the system again,” she added.

Sadly, the English government disagreed with the Review and called its conclusions “disappointing” and out of date.

Read the report and the surrounding commentary here.

Parents Should View Homework with Skepticism

I was really happy to see this piece by David Shenk, “Does Homework Work?” in the Atlantic Monthly:

School’s back, and so is Big Homework. Here’s what my 7th grade daughter has to do tonight:

1 Math review sheet,
1 Science essay,
French vocab for possible quiz,
History reading and questionaire, and
English reading and note-taking

About two hours, give or take. This is considered a pretty light load, so as to ramp up gently. Over the next few weeks, it will get up to three hours or more.

Most of us give very little thought to this long-lived combination. School and homework seem as interconnected as cars and gasoline. Kids need homework to get smarter — right? It’s supposed to be how they pick up a good work ethic.

Read the rest here.

One Giant Step Backwards, One Baby Step Forward

Palm Beach County, Florida, instituted a new homework policy over the summer, allowing for 60 minutes of homework in third grade and 90 minutes in 4th and 5th. According to an article in the Florida Sun Sentinel, parents are up in arms. (If you’re one of those parents, please let me know.)

At the same time, also in Florida, the Collier County School District in Naples instituted a new policy of abolishing the grading of homework. Its new policy came about after the District, in response to parental concerns, looked at research into best practices. According to Naples News, the Chief Instructional Officer wrote in a memo to middle school principals, “Research advocates that homework receive teacher feedback versus a grade; the concept here is that we should have the opportunity to practice before we receive a grade. Think of it as learning to drive — you must have the opportunity to practice on many occasions — with feedback — before you go to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to be tested.”

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