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 Success Stories

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.

A North Las Vegas Elementary School Eliminates Traditional Homework

The Eva Simmons Elementary School in North Las Vegas instituted a new policy in January, encouraging parents to make sure their children read every night and practice their math skills using a website resource. “One size fits all homework is just not a best practice for our students,” said the principal, in defending the decision to eliminate the traditional nightly homework assignments. Any homework that is sent home will be geared toward the individual child. Read more here.

A Glimmer of Hope

I was heartened to read the Comment posted by a teacher in response to the piece I ran two weeks ago, The Trouble With Kindergarten.

I want you all to know that there are corners of hope for early child­hood education. I teach kindergarten at a charter school in San Diego CA: the San Diego Cooperative Charter. We believe that chil­dren learn best through a partnership between parents and educa­tors. My students learn through play and exploration, as children were designed to do. My job is to know each of them well enough to be able to structure learning experiences that will best meet their needs. Just as in the main stream kindergartens I’ve experienced, some of them read and write at the end of the school year, and some of them do not, but they all love school, have learned to negotiate and get along with their classmates, and are excited about learning. Our curriculum is the CA state standards, but our day is filled with blocks, guinea pigs, singing, gardening, clay, rain­forests, outer space, dress up, swings, stories, drawing, and ques­tions.

Our school, which serves children in grades K through 8th, was started by parents and educators who saw how children were being short changed by the typical public schools. It was hard work, but oh so fulfilling. If you want a better learning experience for your child, and ALL the children, find out what you can do to create alternatives. You’ll be glad you did.

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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School for Tomorrow?

Although I am an optimist and believe wholeheartedly that schools will change, especially if parents and students speak up, I can still get discouraged at how slowly things change. So I was thrilled when a reader sent me a link to School for Tomorrow, a new private 6-12 school in Rockville, Maryland, that cites The Case Against Homework in the FAQs discussing the school’s homework policy. Discovering something like that, and a school that is really interested in tapping in to kids’ interests, makes all the work feel worthwhile.

Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Calgary, Alberta Family Gets to Opt-Out of Homework after a Two-Year Struggle with their Children’s Schools

Almost two years ago, I wrote about Shelli and Tom Milley, the parents of three children in Calgary, Alberta, who were trying to change homework policy and, at the very least, get an opt-out policy for their own children. At that point, the two lawyers had already been discussing the issue with the school for over a year, had gotten the school to appoint a homework committee and had even gotten Shelli as one of the members of the committee. When it was clear the committee wasn’t really going to be very independent, Shelli resigned.

She and her husband, however, continued to seek support for a better homework policy, and were basically a 2-person taskforce of their own, writing letters, enlisting support from community members, teachers, and members of the School Board, and getting advice from Vera Goodman, author of Simply Too Much Homework (and a Calgary resident herself), Jan Olson, the principal of the Barrie, Ontario school I wrote about last week which had eliminated homework, and me.

And now, just yesterday, the Milleys’ tenaciousness paid off. The school finally agreed that their children could opt-out of homework altogether. The Milleys have allowed me to share their opt-out agreement. You can read it here.

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.

A Math Teacher Speaks Out–Why I Stopped Assigning Homework and Am Petitioning for a Homework-Free Week

Today’s guest blogger, Jeff Valure, a math teacher with 12 years’ experience, the last 10 at a public middle school north of New York City, is the father of two boys, one of whom just started nursery school. He’s upset to find out that his local kindergarten assigns homework four nights a week and is “dreading” next year. Jeff has started a petition for a homework-free week to coincide with TV Turn-Off Week at homeworkfree.org.

A Math Teacher Speaks Out – Why I Stopped Assigning Homework and Am Petitioning for a Homework-Free Week
by Jeff Valure

The past few years I’ve been experimenting with my little guinea pigs – er – students. Three years ago I decided that so much time was spent on homework, checking it, reading answers, going over problems, that I would be able to get much more done in class if I did away with it. After all, I get a precious 46 minutes a day with these kids. Do I want to spend that time on bookkeeping or do I want to interact with them in a more educationally profound way? How often do you get to work with the guidance, aid, and encouragement of an “expert” in the field? Why waste that time?

Of course my students are used to homework, they barely grumble when they get an assignment over the weekend. The idea of not having homework is as scary as it is exciting. There are lots of uncertainties. Will they be able to keep up with the coursework? Will their grades be impacted? How will it affect their performance on standardized tests?

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I’ll Make My Reading Logs Optional Says Virginia Teacher

The post that has generated the most Comments ever is I Hate Reading Logs by FedUp Mom. If you scroll through, you’ll notice that teachers have chimed in, some rethinking their own homework practice, others defending it. I was particularly struck by the openness of a teacher from Virginia, who found the post while looking for a reading log, and ended up rethinking logs altogether.

I also thought the teacher made a very good point about the importance of keeping all discussions between teacher and parent as cordial and as respectful as possible.

I’ll Make My Reading Logs Optional
by a Virginia Teacher

I accidentally came upon this website when searching for reading logs to give to my students this year for homework. This blog has really made me rethink the validity of the entire idea and really homework in general. Reading the comments from so many frustrated parents has been insightful, because I honestly never thought about how homework can invade a child’s home/after-school life. I applaud the parents who advocate for their kids and the tremendous weight homework can put on their shoulders. As a teacher, I want parents to feel like partners in the classroom and having conversations like this one can only help kids get the best educational experiences possible. The last thing I want to do is to stress my students out, so I’ll probably make the reading logs optional.

One thing I noticed by this site is a distinct divide between teachers and parents and while I do think discussion is important, it seems to get hostile. There are huge assumptions being made on both sides. I think teachers and parents BOTH need to have a generosity of the spirit. I am not, and have never been interested in doing harm to any student in my class – that’s not why I teach. In the same way, I don’t think concerned parents are trying to “terrorize” teachers. There has to be middle ground on which teachers and parents can both feel validated.

I think this is important to keep in mind: Teachers have kids for 7 hours a day for only 9 months. Parents have kids for a lifetime. Parents are a child’s first teachers and parents know their kids the best. I believe good, effective teachers honor this. It is very sad to me that so many families have experienced such negative experiences with public schools, especially because kids and their opinion of school and learning are caught in the crossfire.

I will definitely have a different mindset about homework going into this new school year.

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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