High School Student Takes on “Vacation” Homework

A high school student at one of the most elite public high schools in the country, “Stuyvesant High School in New York City, “persuaded the principal to put limits on homework over school breaks. According to an article in The New York Times, “Like the earnest boy in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’ Sean pointed out what seemed obvious — that long vacation projects ruin the chance to recharge, catch up on sleep and spend time with family and friends.” While the school did not eliminate vacation homework altogether, “The principal, agreeing that vacations are ‘down time’ and should not be used to ‘heap on homework,’ responded by suggesting to teachers that brushing up on Shakespeare would be a fine spring-break assignment; writing an entire play would not.”

13 thoughts on “High School Student Takes on “Vacation” Homework

  1. I am a Stuyvesant student, and heard when Mr. Teitel made the announcement telling teachers to try not to give so much homework over break. However, teachers have found away to get around this. They instead give gigantic extra credit assignments. Though they are optional, the competitive nature of the students forces virtually the entire class to do them, which the teacher knows when assigning the project. Everyone is worried that the rest of the class will do the assignment, and that their grade will suffer in comparison with everyone else’s, so the entire class is pressured into doing it. In this way, we really have no way of escaping massive break homework, whether or not Mr. Teitel lays down the law.


  2. Of course, you could get an agreement with the entire class not to do the extra credit assignments….that would be one way of getting around these massive projects.


  3. Or, if everyone has already done the assignments, you could get together with some other students and talk to Mr. Teitel about your “break.” You could also ask your parents to go to the Parent Association meetings and bring up the issue there.


  4. I’m sorry Sara, but that wouldn’t work.
    Teitel worded the policy to give the teachers as much wiggle room as possible, and I know that there are plenty of teachers that assigned quite required hw’s (including nearly all of mine). Teitel does not decide on our grades, the teachers do, and whatever he does, they have the final say, and he can’t fire them because the UFT has worked in all kinds of requirements to fire teachers into the contracts. Stuyvesant is a grade-driven atmosphere, which I know that you frown upon, but Stuy students do well because they are grade driven. The PA has no power–example: Open School Week was just cancelled, without any notification, and the PA couldn’t do anything about it. The SU (Student Union) has no power. We simply resign ourselves to the fact that Sturvesant is a school with a lot of work, but that work pays off in the end: It prepares you well for AP exams–because the curriculum simply cannot be covered as in depth as everyone wants just in class. It gets us into good colleges, and once people are there, the workload at college seems like nothing, so it is good preparation.


  5. Change happens slowly, but it can happen even when it’s hard to imagine that it will.

    There’s a teacher from Palo Alto, California, who teaches AP Economics and History without ever assigning homework, and his students do incredibly well on the AP exams. You can read about him in my blog entry of October 10, 2006.


  6. One of the interesting things about this whole story is how much of it was missed by the New York Times in their article, which made it sound as if Sean marched into the principal’s office one day and talked him into changing the vacation homework policy. The reality is that Sean started attending meetings of the School Leadership Team and, after discussions with some of the parents and teachers, wrote up a fairly comprehensive proposal addressing homework and testing policies in the school. The policy change adopted by the principal was just a small part of his proposal.

    In this case the issue was homework, but the larger question is how do students and parents who want to have a voice in school policies get heard? Are the School Leadership Teams, which are supposed to exist in every NYC school, possible forums where students and parents might have an impact? The Times article ignored this aspect of the story.

    In any case, Stuy Kid had it right. Despite the new policy, Sean had a lot of homework over vacation including a huge extra credit assignment which apparently all but one kid in the class completed.


  7. I came to this website in search of information regarding homework.
    I had heard that there were laws on the books that state “a school will not determine what a student does as home”. (I’m still searching).

    My thoughts on homework are this. Home work should be in the areas a student is weak. From kindergarden to high school. Why should a kid who is excellent in Math, and gets it from start to finsh be doing math homework.
    One of the things I think gets overlooked the most is “time to absorb and become proficient ” in any subject. Let them “recharge,have family time and work in those areas that need work during there vacations. Since the school’s are only teaching to “a test” and leaving no time for absortion.
    And as to the comments about what the teachers are doing during this vacation, Its there “Job”,I know no other profession that gets so much time off. They are not children.


  8. UPDATE:

    I have a Freshman daughter at Stuy, and she’s getting 5 hours of homework nightly. Never a minute less. Add commute, eating, and showering, and there’s literally about 60 minutes during the week to relax. Weekends and holidays are little better.

    The new Holiday Homework Policy is strangely worded.

    “Teachers should assign no more written homework than is necessary for the review and retention of prior learning”

    This implies that, when there’s no holiday, teachers should (or can) assign homework beyond review and retention of prior learning. In other words, students are expected to learn concepts during homework. What are we paying teachers for?


  9. Oh, boy, do I need to talk to you. My daughter attends TJ in Alexandria, Virginia and it’s even worse as a junior. The homework overload is completely out of control. I tried to meet with the principal and haven’t gotten very far yet.


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