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 Resources

International Standards and Assessments

Two weeks ago, I attended my first webinar, hosted by Edutopia, where Linda Darling Hammond talked about international standards and assessments. It’s really too bad she wasn’t Obama’s pick for Secretary of Education; she’s smart, articulate, progressive, and she even knows how to use power point!

If you have about 50 minutes, it’s worth listening to. You can find it here.

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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Another School With an Opt-Out Policy

I am always looking for schools that have homework opt-out policies, but they seem to be few and far between. Last November, I posted a link to a school in Australia with an opt-out policy.

A reader who has been trying to get opt-out policies at her children’s Alberta schools recently sent me a link to an Alberta school with an opt-out policy.

It reads:

St. Andrew’s School staff and school council spent considerable time reviewing homework. The dialogue was in depth and revealed many ideas and points of view both with staff and with parents.

As a school community, we came to the following understanding. Parents are the prime educators for their children, and as such have important responsibilities as to the personal and educational growth of their children. Thus parents must decide what is in the best interest of their children in regards to home work.

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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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“Mr. Homework” Does More Rethinking

I’ve written here before about Washington Post reporter, Jay Mathews, who calls himself “Mr. Homework.” In August, 2008, he did an about-face and called for an end to homework for elementary school students. A few days ago, he wrote a Washington Post column, “Is Homework Necessary,” where he wonders whether his faith in homework for middle and high schoolers is misplaced. He suggests that assignments be shorter and more carefully defined so as to get “the same sense of student understanding and not just to make sure the students and their parents don’t think the teacher is going soft.” Read the piece here.

After reading the piece, I sent Mr. Mathews the following email and posted it as a comment as well. I encourage you to post your own comments.

I read your recent piece in the Washington Post and, of course, I’m delighted you’re always rethinking homework.

I’m glad that the teachers you’re talking to are also thinking more about homework. One of the biggest issues missing from the homework debate, in my opinion, is the quality of the homework. If my memory is correct, you no longer have any children in high school, so maybe you haven’t had a chance to take a look at the kind of homework most kids are getting.

I do still have a child in high school, so I get to see, on a nightly basis, the homework that teachers give and that society still thinks is so important. And I’m pretty sure my daughter’s New York City public high school is typical of any large school.

I don’t think my daughter has yet had one homework assignment last year or this that was worth any time at all. Nevertheless, most of her teachers assign homework every night, and homework counts toward her grade. Most teachers provide no feedback on the homework whatsoever; they mainly spot check to make sure the students have complied with the requirements. None of it requires original thinking, there is very little writing or reading, and there are a lot of projects similar to the posters and “characters in a can” that she did in elementary school.

Whenever I’m on a talk show, there’s always someone who claims that homework is very important, as though students are being assigned interesting, challenging work that involves creative and analytic thinking. Neither in 9th grade, nor so far this year in 10th, has my daughter written an essay that was returned with any feedback. So the one skill that students really need, writing, isn’t being taught at all. It’s no wonder that when I taught writing to first year law students, I had to do so much remediation.

The real problem, in my opinion, is that education in general isn’t very good. Sure there’s a school here and there where students are involved in thrilling discoveries, sit in small seminars, have interesting and engaged teachers, and get a fantastic education. But the majority of kids sit in classes where teachers drone on and on from outdated textbooks and give the same tests they’ve been giving for as long as they’ve been teaching. (Have you read The Global Achievement Gap? The author takes “walking tours” of schools and explains what he sees going on in the classroom.)

As I stated at the outset, I’m glad to see you’re still thinking about homework and not taking it at face value. May I suggest that you take a look at the assignments the kids in your local public high schools are getting and see whether you think they’re worth spending any time on. (Or, if you’d like, I’d be happy to describe the work my daughter receives on a nightly basis.) I stand by my longstanding advice: Let students of all ages read, rather than inundate them with busywork. They’ll all end up more literate and able to think.

All best,

Sara Bennett
co-author, The Case Against Homework
founder, Stop Homework

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Race to Nowhere

Race to Nowhere, a documentary which looks at the fast-paced, high-stress lives of many of today’s students, is premiering on Saturday, October 10, at the Mill Valley Film Festival. I’ve written about the film before because I’m an Advisor to the film, I appear in the film, I fully support the film, and I think it’s the perfect tool for either starting, or supplementing, a conversation in your community about the numerous problems facing today’s youth.

If you live near Mill Valley, California, you should try to see the film either at Saturday’s premier or on October 18. If you don’t live near Mill Valley, you can view the trailer here. And you can listen to the filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, talk about the movie on BAM! Radio.

I also highly recommend you contact Vicki and set up a screening. Tell her I told you about the film.

The Global Achievement Gap

While I’m recommending books…. I recently read The Global Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner, an excellent book about the failures of today’s secondary schools and how schools prepare students to memorize facts rather than problem solve. He identifies seven skills necessary to survive in the 21st century: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and developing curiosity and imagination. He takes “learning walks” through schools, and provides snapshots of school days, both good and bad. I wish every principal would read this book, take a learning walk of her/his own, and then implement many of the wonderful suggestions for ways to engage students in a meaningful way.

New Book: Rethinking Homework

There’s a new homework book, Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs, by Cathy Vatterott, an associate professor of education at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, who calls herself Homework Lady. The first half of the book, which I loved, takes a fresh look at the research on homework and is written in a very accessible way. The second half of the book challenges teachers to rethink their homework policies and suggests ways to make homework more meaningful. Obviously, I would have preferred a book that followed through to the end with its indictment of homework, rather than suggesting ways to improve it, but I understand the author’s desire to appeal to teachers and this book certainly will. And, if teachers follow her advice to differentiate homework, then maybe those parents who don’t wish for homework at all will get that kind of accommodation.

My favorite part of the book is her Bill of Rights for Homework. She suggests that all teachers implement the following 6 “rights”:

1. Children shall not be required to work more than 40 hours a week, when class time is added to homework time.

2. Children shall have the right to homework they can complete without help. If they cannot complete homework without help, children shall be entitled to reteaching or modified assignments.

3. A child’s academic grade shall not be put in jeopardy because of incomplete homework. Children shall be entitled to an in-school or after-school homework support program if they are unwilling or unable to complete work at home.

4. A child’s right to playtime, downtime, and adequate sleep shall not be infringed upon by homework.

5. Parents shall be entitled to excuse their child from homework that the child does not understand or is too tired to finish.

6. Families should be entitled to weekends and holidays free from homework.

Next time you want to give your child’s teacher a gift, how about a collection of books including The Case Against Homework, The Homework Myth, and Rethinking Homework.

Why I Hate Homework

Daniel Pink’s TED Lecture

I’ve recommended the TED lectures in the past, and I can’t help but recommend them again. Recently, I watched a lecture by Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, where he discusses how incentives actually dull thinking and block creativity. You can watch it here.

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