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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Diane Ravitch on Being Wrong

There’s an interesting interview with Diane Ravitch in Slate, where this former assistant secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush talks about how she became an outspoken critic of testing and No Child Left Behind and how she changed her mind. I wrote about her book here. I’ve always been a big fan of Howard Gardner’s, Changing Minds: The Art And Science of Changing Our Own And Other People’s Minds (Leadership for the Common Good), so I figured this is a good time to mention it.

Read the interview in Slate here.

You can also listen to Ravitch’s radio interview with Leonard Lopate 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.

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.

The Needs of 21st-Century Students

I recommend watching this video, where Yong Zhao, a Distinguished Professor of Education at Michigan State University, talks about how students need room to discover and learn, not subscribe to a set of rules and interests dictated to them from the outside.

High-Stakes Testing Isn’t Beneficial says Former Assistant Secretary of Education

Yesterday’s Mom on a Mission isn’t the only person to think that high-stakes testing isn’t beneficial. Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, once a staunch supporter of No Child Left Behind, is now an outspoken critic with a new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. One of her biggest concerns is the way the law requires school districts to use standardized testing.

According to NPR, “The basic strategy is measuring and punishing,” Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. “And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there’s a lot of cheating going on, there’s a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it’s actually lowered standards because many states have ‘dumbed down’ their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are.”

The Flat World and Education

(I’ll be back after Winter Break, on February 22.)

I highly recommend Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. As Howard Gardner states in his blurb, “Anyone who desires a quantum leap in the educational achievements of American students – as opposed to the ‘quick fix’ – must address the issues raised in this carefully argued and well-documented work.”

The book is incredibly detailed and researched and shows precisely why education needs to be overhauled if it is to meet the needs of students and society. I particularly loved the chapter where Darling-Hammond looks at the ways in which Finland, Korea, and Singapore overhauled their schools and how their students have “catapulted from the bottom to the top of international rankings in student achievement and attainment, graduating more than 90 percent of their young people from high school and sending large majorities through college as well, far more than in the much wealthier United States.” (Page 192.)

All three systems have:

    *funded schools adequately and equitably

    *eliminated examination systems that had previous tracked students for middle schools and restricted access to high schools

    * revised national standards and curriculum to focus learning goals on higher-order thinking, inquiry, and innovation, as well as the integration of technology throughout the curriculum

    *developed national teaching policies that built and subsidized strong teacher education programs

    *supported ongoing teacher earning by ensuring mentoring for beginning teachers and providing 15-25 hours a week where teachers plan collaboratively and engage in analyses of student learning

    *pursued consistent, long-term reforms (Pages 192-193.)

Is Arne Duncan reading?

Playing to Learn

Yesterday’s New York Times had a wonderful op-ed by Susan Engel, Playing to Learn, about the pressing need to completely overhaul the education system. Instead of schools focusing so much on standards and facts, the author writes:

So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college.

With that in mind, schools could be an engaging place where students read for 2 hours a day, write about subjects that are meaningful to them, practice the math basics (and then go on to activities that are equally essential for math and science such as devising original experiments and observing the natural world), and have plenty of time to play.

Is anyone listening?

Read the piece here and then copy and send it to the principal of your child’s elementary and middle school.

ADHD – Medical Problem? Parenting Problem? Teaching Problem?

Listen to this interesting discussion on ADHD on BAM! Radio.

The Trouble with Kindergarten

If you’re not aware of what students are required to do in kindergarten these days, be sure to read this article in Rethinking Schools titled “Testing Kindergarten: Young Children Produce Data, Lots of Data.”

A teacher with 6-years’ experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools writes about how little recess and nap time her students get and describes in great detail the amount of testing she is required to administer:

I have seen a decrease in district initiatives that are developmentally appropriate, and an increase in the amount of testing and data collection for 5-year-olds. Just when I thought the district couldn’t ask for any more test scores or drills or practice, a new initiative and data system pops up for my school to complete. My school has not met our Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for the past three years. Due to our failure to meet AYP, we are now a School Identified for Improvement (SIFI), with Level Two status.

The students in my classroom during the 2008-09 school year completed more assessments than during any of my prior years of teaching kindergarten:

    Milwaukee Public Schools’ 5-Year-Old Kindergarten Assessment (completed three times a year)
    On the Mark Reading Verification Assessment (completed three times a year)
    A monthly writing prompt focused on different strands of the Six Traits of Writing
    28 assessments measuring key early reading and spelling skills
    Chapter pre- and post-tests for all nine math chapters completed
    Three additional assessments for each math chapter completed
    A monthly math prompt
    Four Classroom Assessments Based on Standards (CABS) per social studies chapter (20 total)
    Four CABS assessments per science chapter (20 total)
    Four CABS assessments per health chapter (20 total)

I recently learned that my students will also be expected to complete four benchmark assessments beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

Read the article here.

Putting a Halt on Homework – Barrie, Ontario, Canada

In an article in the December 2009 issue of the Ontario Principals’ Council Exemplary Leadership In Public Education, Jan Olson, the principal of the Barrie, Ontario, Canada school which eliminated homework last year, and some teachers from that school, write about their experiences with no homework and why adopting a no homework policy is sound policy.

It’s too bad that so few principals have taken the steps that Olson, and Christine Hendricks (a principal who instituted a no-homework practice at her school in Glenrock, Wyoming) have. Both of those principals discovered benefits to their policies that they didn’t expect. In Olson’s case, students’ grades and test scores increased and he believes it was due to the emphasis placed on teachers working more closely together and working on effective teaching strategies, rather than sending work home with the students. in Hendricks’s case, she found that students came to school better rested and more eager to learn, and that there was a significant decrease in negative interactions between teachers and students.

You can read the article here. (Permission to reprint this article was received by the Ontario Principals’ Council. The original article appeared in The OPCRegister, Vol. 11 No. 4.)

GreatSchools Posts Several Articles on Homework

The website, Great Schools, just published a series of articles on homework, including an interview with me.

When I was doing research for my book, I found that everyone, including the National PTA and the National Education Association referred to the 10-minute rule, but I never did discover its origin. But in reading the pieces on GreatSchools, I discovered that so-called homework guru, Harris Cooper, made it up out of whole cloth:

So how can you know if your child is doing the right amount? Who came up with that 10-minutes-per-grade rule that’s become the accepted norm? (And if that is the magic number, why is my neighbor’s 8-year-old daughter doing two-plus hours a night?)

The oft-bandied rule on homework quantity — 10 minutes a night per grade (starting from between 10 to 20 minutes in first grade) — is ubiquitous. Indeed, go to the National Education Association’s website or the national Parent Teacher Association’s website, and 10 minutes per grade is the recommended amount for first through 12th grade.

But where did it come from? “The source [of that figure] was a teacher who walked up to me after a workshop I did about 25 years ago,” says Cooper. “I’d put up a chart showing middle school kids who reported doing an hour to an hour and a half were doing just as well as high schoolers doing two hours a night. The teacher said, ‘That sounds like the 10-minute rule.’” He adds with a laugh, “I stole the idea.”

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