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 Interviews

Interview with Alan Shusterman, founder of School for Tomorrow

(This is the latest in a series of interviews I’ve conducted with educators and activists around the country who are on my radar as people who are doing their best to change policy and practice in their communities.)

Alan Shusterman, who lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with his wife and three children, is the founder of School for Tomorrow (SFT), an independent nonprofit secondary school (grades 6-12) located in Rockville, Maryland which opened this Fall with 18 students, 3 full-time teachers and 6 part-time teachers. Its website describes the school as a “one-of-a-kind, cutting edge, student-centered education model designed in and fit for the 21st century.”

I was intrigued by that description, and by the fact that the school stated up front that research shows little value to homework, so I interviewed him to find out more about SFT and his inspiration for starting it.

Interview with Alan Shusterman
by Sara Bennett

Can you tell me a little bit about your background and why you decided to start a school?
I was a public school kid, always a good student but never particularly engaged in school. I was able to get As despite myself. Growing up I loved hanging out with kids younger than me, I set up school for my younger sister and taught her how to read, and I always had the teaching bug.

But because I was a good student, I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania, and becoming a teacher was never on the horizon. Back then, before Teach for America, it wasn’t culturally acceptable for someone graduating from an Ivy League school to go into teaching. So, instead, I went to Harvard Law School. As history would have it, Barack Obama was in my class at Harvard; as luck would have it, I didn’t befriend him.

Every little aspect of my life story has informed my philosophy of education, including having gone to Penn and Harvard and seeing firsthand what the best and brightest secondary school graduates are like and do. Of course this is an over-generalization, but, in general, the students who succeed in high school arrive to college narrow-minded, conformist, and supporters of the status quo. That President Obama, for one, has turned out to be a rather conventional politician, especially with respect to education, has not surprised me, given his educational pedigree.

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Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of New York City Private School That Dropped AP Classes

(Happy Thanksgiving)

Last June, I ran a series of interviews I had conducted with activists and educators who were on my radar as people trying to do something to change policy and practice in their communities. Today, I’m running an interview I conducted with one of the most interesting school heads I’ve ever encountered, Dominic Randolph, who is in his third year as Head of Riverdale Country School, an independent K-12 school in New York City. Before that, he was the assistant headmaster at a four-year co-educational boarding school. Randolph’s wife is also an educator; their daughter is a junior in college. Randolph’s blog, is always fascinating and full of interesting references and ideas.

Interview with Dominic Randolph
by Sara Bennett

“Schools tend to be high stress but not intellectually challenging. We need to understand this generation of students and allow learning to be meaningful.

–Dominic Randolph, head of Riverdale Country School, New York,

What are you thinking about these days?
I’m interested in how we keep schools focused on developing people who are creative and great critical thinkers. You can’t be a good thinker if you have to constantly shift from one thing to the next. If a school were to be built around effective thinking, that school and its schedule might look very different from the traditional models we have.

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Interview With Kerry Dickinson, a California Parent Who Successfully Changed Homework Policy in Her District

Today’s interview is with Kerry Dickinson, who has written many times for this blog including here, here, here, and here. Kerry, who has a M.A. in Reading, was a part-time teacher in Michigan before she had children. She now lives in Danville, California, with her husband and 9th and 7th grade sons and is currently in the process of becoming a licensed California teacher. In 2007-2008, she helped convince her local school district to rewrite its homework policy. She just started her own blog.

Interview with Kerry Dickinson
by Sara Bennett

“I encourage parents to be respectfully vocal”

–Kerry Dickinson, parent, Danville, California

What prompted you to try to change homework policy in your community?
Last year, when my older son started eighth grade, he had a really bad experience with an algebra class and he started saying he hated middle school. He had always had a great outlook on life and had always loved school, so I felt sad that he was suddenly saying he hated it. I started looking back on his schooling, and I realized that each year he liked it less and less. At the same time, I had a sixth grader who had been struggling since second grade with tests, school and homework. I focused on homework because I was sick of helping them with their projects and feeling like the homework wasn’t turning them on to school but, in fact, was having the opposite effect.

What did you do?
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Interview with Needham, MA, High School Principal, Who Has Taken Numerous Steps to Reduce Stress

Today’s interviewee is Paul Richards, who is in his fifth year as principal of Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts. During his tenure, he has studied and surveyed student stress and tried a variety of measures aimed at reducing it. The father of a kindergartner and first grader, Richards is leaving Needham high at the end of the 2008-2009 school year to become the high school principal at the American School in London. (Take a look at the school’s web site where you can read the Needham Stress Reduction Committee’s materials. They have compiled a very comprehensive resource list.)

Interview with Paul Richards, Principal of Needham High
by Sara Bennett

” Schools need to look at their own practices.They need to educate teachers, parents and students on the culture of stress.”

–Paul Richards, principal, Needham High, Needham, Massachusetts

Is stress really a problem for high school students?
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Interview with New York City Fourth-Grade Teacher who Doesn’t Want to Assign Homework but Doesn’t Want to Break the Rules Either

Today’s interview is with Anthony, who has been teaching for five years at a New York City public school where he is a fourth-grade teacher. He holds a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters in Childhood Education from New York University. This year, he was accepted into Teachers Network Leadership Institute, a “professional community of teachers and educators working together to improve student achievement.” The Institute advocates for changes in policy and gives teachers an active voice in policy-making decisions. His research project for the Institute is homework in elementary school.

Later this month, he is sitting down with the administration at his school to look to develop a meaningful policy. So far, they have all agreed that the research does not support a policy that focuses on ‘time in each subject’ per night. “We want to lessen the load and create more teacher independence in decision-making regarding homework.”

Interview with Anthony
by Sara Bennett

“As a teacher, there’s a tension between what I want to do and what I’m supposed to do. I have to take small steps before I can take big ones. I have to go through the channels, go about it the right way.”

–Anthony, New York City fourth grade teacher

Why did you decide to research homework?
I teach in a very diverse school with a wide range of ethnicities and family economic statuses. Most of my students qualify for free lunch. Homework in elementary grades was a no-brainer of a topic for me. I hear so much about homework: stories from my parents of kids up too late, guidelines for how much to give each night from “above”, my “higher achieving” students asking me “why” they have to do homework, the lack of quality of the assignments, the time to check it taking away from my time in preparing better lessons, and mostly to me, how I’m not seeing its positive effects.

What are your school’s guidelines on homework?
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Interview with Mike Falick, a Texas School Board Member Who Has Made Homework One of His Priorities

Today’s interviewee, Mike Falick, a lawyer, is a current member and past-president of the Spring Branch Independent School Board of Trustees in Texas. Falick, who grew up in this 32,000-student district in Houston, moved back when he had his own children (now in 9th and 6th grades) so they could go to the same schools he went to. Falick’s wife also grew up in the District. His blog was the 2008 weblog awards winner for best education blog.

Interview with Mike Falick
by Sara Bennett

“I drive my 6th grade son and his friends to and from Boy Scouts. One of his friends said, “Homework’s killing me. I’m working 3 hours a night. When are you going to get rid of it?”

–Mike Falick, School Board Member, Spring Branch, Texas

Why did you get involved in the School Board?
I wanted to have a meaningful impact on school policy. I had been on a number of parent committees over the years, and I had been president of the PTA council, but I knew the only way I’d have systemic impact was if I became a School Board member. I ran and lost in 2002 and ran again and won in 2004. I ran unopposed and was reelected in 2007. There are 7 people on the Board.

What kind of positions do you take?
I’m a school reformer, but I’m not a grenade thrower. I try to bring everyone
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Interview with Jodie Leidecker, Kentucky Parent Who Successfully Pushed her Local Elementary School to Institute Daily Recess

Today’s interview is with Jodie Leidecker, a native Kentuckian and a graduate of Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. Leidecker lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband and their two children, a 9th grader and her currently home-schooled 10-year-old. She pushed her local elementary school to institute daily recess and is now working on a state-wide initiative to do the same. She is also trying to get her local schools to reduce homework loads.

Interview with Jodie Leidecker
by Sara Bennett

“I made a vow that I wouldn’t stop until every kid in the state gets recess”
-Jodie Leidecker, parent, Berea, Kentucky

How is it that elementary schoolchildren don’t get recess?
In 1990, Kentucky passed the Kentucky Education Reform Act, which put a lot more pressure on teachers to meet test scores. As a way of getting in a little more academics, a lot of schools eliminated recess. My own daughter didn’t get recess regularly in elementary school at all–maybe a discretionary recess here and there, but there was no guarantee. Kentucky isn’t the only state where kids don’t get recess. This is a problem nation-wide.

How did you decide to challenge this?
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Interview with Christine Hendricks, Principal of Wyoming Elementary School with a No-Homework Practice

Over the last few months, I’ve conducted interviews with educators and activists around the country who’ve been on my radar as people who are doing their best to change policy and practice in their communities. I’m going to run the interviews this week.

To kick off this series, I’m thrilled to introduce Christine Hendricks, the principal of a K-4 school in Glenrock, Wyoming, which implemented a no-homework practice in the Fall of 2007. Hendricks, who started out teaching 24 years ago and has been a principal for the past 12, is the single mother of a college-age daughter, a 7th-grade son, and a fifth-grade daughter. This coming Fall, she is moving to a new school in Fort Collins, Colorado, where the staff is “eager to learn more about her no-homework practices.”

Interview with Christine Hendricks
by Sara Bennett

“So many of our students are coming to school in survival mode, and I think, as a school, we need to help let kids be kids.”

–Christine Hendricks, principal, Grant Elementary, Glenrock, Wyoming

What motivated you to eliminate homework at your school?
We had been struggling with the concept of homework for awhile. There was a lot of conflict between teachers and students and students and parents over homework, we had parents asking for homework clubs, and I’d experienced the problem first-hand with my son, who’d been fighting me for years on doing his homework.

In the Fall of 2007, Kim Bevill of Brain Basics in Colorado came and did a workshop and she talked about how the research shows that homework doesn’t work. We went to a break and about 10 of my teachers came and said to me that we need to get rid of homework. And we just decided to try it.

Did you have the support of all of the teachers?
There are 25 teachers in my school, and most of them bought into it from
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