Please Help Each Other

It’s the start of another school year and, as always, I’m getting a flood of emails asking for help. However, I’m no longer running Stop Homework.

But this website still gets plenty of traffic.

So if you write about whatever’s on your mind in the Comments, I’m sure many of the faithful readers of Stop Homework will happily provide their advice, ideas, and suggestions.

So Long

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
– Mahatma Gandhi

After four years and 530 posts, I’ve decided its time to retire the Stop Homework blog and turn the homework advocacy over to you, my readers. You should be able to find whatever sample materials you need in The Case Against Homework and/or the posts, especially those in Moms (and Dads) on a Mission, Students Speak Out, Teachers Speak Out, and Success Stories.

I can’t thank you enough for your support. I’ve enjoyed your emails, comments, stories, and guest blogs and I’ve learned so much from you. I want to particularly thank the small family foundation that provided such generous support and allowed me the freedom both to run this blog and advise untold numbers of parents, teachers, and school administrators on ways to advocate for policy changes.

Stop Homework will remain up on the web as a resource and, more importantly, as a place for you to communicate with each other. Starting tomorrow, there will be a new entry, Open Discussion, where you can do just that.

I hope you have a homework-free summer!

p.s. In case you’re wondering what I’m going to do. I’ve decided to return to one of my other passions, criminal justice.

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 2)

Be sure to read yesterday’s post before reading today’s, which is Part 2.

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years:
One Parent’s Perspective
Part 2
by northTOmom

Before I attempt to answer the question, “why two years later am I complaining about my children’s homework?” I should note that many parents I’ve spoken to have indeed noticed a decrease in their children’s homework. But my experience—and that of other French immersion parents I’ve consulted—has been that teachers continue to assign homework inconsistent with the new policy.

Grade 4 – French Immersion
On curriculum night in September 2008, the Grade 4 teacher warned parents to expect a difficult year. She explained that the nature of “mid-immersion”—its compression compared to immersion programs starting in Kindergarten—made it necessary to work the children particularly hard. (There was scant mention of the new homework policy, no hint that the program might have to be adjusted in order to comply with it.)

She was not kidding. On a nightly basis, students were expected to review

Continue reading “The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 2)”

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 1)

Today’s guest blogger, northTOmom is a freelance writer and blogger from Toronto, and the mother of ten-year-old twin girls. In today’s piece, part 1 of 2, she discusses the “family friendly” homework policy instituted in Toronto 2 years ago.

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years:
One Parent’s Perspective
Part 1
by northTOmom

On a recent Saturday morning, my 10-year-old daughter emerged from the basement on the verge of tears: “The temple’s collapsed,” she announced. Though it sounded dire, she was speaking not of an actual building, but of the model of an ancient Greek temple she and a classmate had constructed out of cardboard the previous week. They had piled on the white paint, and the structure had simply buckled under the weight. Later that day I glanced out the window to see my two daughters turning cartwheels on the back lawn while my husband diligently sawed wooden cylinders into pillars for the new temple. It was a brilliant spring day, and soon my husband would finish his task and call my reluctant daughter in out of the sunshine to start rebuilding the temple. What is wrong with this picture?

Continue reading “The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 1)”

Abolish Summer Homework

In yesterday’s post, I wrote that guidelines issued by the New York State Board of Education provide that when a school requires summer homework, it must comply with a set of rules. But from what I can tell, schools don’t comply with those rules and continue their summer homework assignments as they have in the past.

If your children have received summer homework assignments, or are about to, why not nip the problem in the bud?

Here’s what you can do:

Continue reading “Abolish Summer Homework”

New York State Guidelines on Summer Homework Put Serious Restrictions On Summer Homework

(Even if you’re not a New Yorker, please read today’s post. I suspect that many other states have similar guidelines.)

Yesterday, I suggested finding out your school, district, or state guidelines on summer homework. A few months ago, I followed the very steps I suggested yesterday for my own state (New York) and I discovered that in May, 2009, the New York State Board of Education sent a memorandum to all District Superintendents, all Principals, and all Chairs of the English Language Arts Departments throughout the state. Titled, “Guidance on Locally Required Summer Reading Assignments,” the memo set forth guidance and suggestions for developing acceptable required summer reading assignments.

Here’s what the guidelines state:

Where a district/school chooses to require a summer reading assignment, it must comply with the following:

    * If books are to be used as part of a mandatory assignment, a school district must ensure that they are reasonably available to all students at no cost. Although a school district may indicate that books may be purchased, students cannot be required to purchase any books.

    * Class grades should reflect work done under a teacher’s direction and supervision. There must be sufficient opportunity for students to obtain teacher guidance and instruction before completing a graded assignment.

There are several other requirements including that if students are unable to reach teachers by phone, by email, or in person, then students should be permitted to complete the assignment upon returning to school.

You can read the guidelines here.

What interests me about my discovery is that if schools were to follow the guidelines, it is unlikely that they would assign summer homework. It would just be too difficult, too costly, and teachers would have to be on hand to provide “guidance and instruction.” But as long as no one knows about the guidelines, and no one asks that the school enforce them, schools will continue to assign summer homework. In fact, even though the guidelines were issued over a year ago, every New York State student I heard from got homework last summer.

Tomorrow: How to get schools to follow the guidelines.

Know your School, District, and State Guidelines on Summer Homework

Yesterday, I wrote about just a few of the reasons I am opposed to summer homework. Of course that doesn’t mean I am opposed to reading for pleasure, learning for pleasure, or pursuing one’s passions. I’m just opposed to the school sending home the same kind of work it sends home during the school year – work that is mostly an afterthought, is busywork, and doesn’t engage a student.

Before you resign yourself to summer homework, though, make sure that your school is complying with all policies and guidelines.

Take a few minutes and check your school’s policy. You might be surprised to find that it forbids summer homework. If it does, just give your school principal a friendly call and remind her/him of the policy. But if your school policy doesn’t prohibit summer homework, don’t stop there. Be sure to check the district and state guidelines as well.

This is how you check the state guidelines:

Google your state name and Board of Education. When you get to your state’s website, put “summer homework” into the search box. If you don’t come up with anything, call the contact number and ask whether there are statewide guidelines on summer homework. If the person who answers the phone tells you that s/he doesn’t know, don’t give up. Ask who might be able to help you and ask to be transferred. If need be, go all the way to the Commissioner. All told, you won’t spend more than 5-10 minutes.

TOMORROW: What I discovered when I followed the above advice.

I Hate Summer Homework

In Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, 12-year-old Douglas Spalding treasures

a whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. …[H]e saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers…. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, in Grandma’s kitchen.

After 4 years of running Stop Homework and talking to thousands of parents and children across the country, I know that summers no longer promise those complete and absolute carefree joys. Instead, most students across the United States will have homework hanging over their heads the entire summer.

It won’t surprise anyone here to know that I am adamantly opposed to summer homework. While I am a big fan of reading, those assigned summer homework books don’t usually appeal to most students, and they end up discouraging reading rather than promoting it.

Here are just a few of the other reasons I hate summer homework:

    * students should have a chance to choose what they read
    * if students were allowed to read books of their own choosing, they would read more
    * students report that those summer assignments are collected but never looked at or discussed
    * if students actually learned the material during the school year in a meaningful way, then there wouldn’t be “summer backslide,” one of the ostensible reasons for summer homework

Check back tomorrow and the rest of the week for some ideas on ways to advocate for an end to summer homework. And in the meantime, post your opinion on summer homework in the Comments.

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.