From My Mailbox: Fourth-Grade Parents in One School in Southern California Begin to Organize

I recently heard from Lisa Grady, a parent of a fourth-grader from a community of 35,000 in southern California, who helped to form a group of fourth-grade parents in her pre-K – 5 elementary school. The group calls itself “For the Love of Learning” and has a mission statement: “To partner with our teachers to inspire lifelong learners while offering our children the time and freedom to experience a balanced childhood not only through academics but also family time, socialization, physical activity and play.” Lisa told me that they wanted “to stop the complaining about homework and create positive change at our elementary school.” After obtaining the support of over 1/3 of the fourth-grade parents, they wrote a collaborative letter to the fourth-grade team. In addition, 12 individual families wrote their own personal letters to provide a bird’s eye view of their homes lives, and they put together a packet with a synopsis of the current research, including references to The Case Against Homework, The Homework Myth, a podcast from srdad.com and articles from a number of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal and The San Francisco Chronicle.

In the upcoming months, Lisa will keep the readers of this blog posted on the group’s progress. And, in the meantime, if you have any suggestions for her group, or are doing something similar in your community, please post a comment.

Here’s the letter her group wrote:

Dear Fourth Grade Team:

We know you care about our children, both personally and academically. We also understand that you are hardworking, dedicated professionals who must often seek to balance state mandates with the individual needs of thirty plus students and their parents — not an easy task. We come to you now, not as adversaries but as collaborators in solving a situation that has become challenging for many families. It is our children’s diminishing passion for learning that is most troublesome to us.

A group of parents recently gathered around the topic of homework. While the meeting began with voices of mounting frustration, pleas for support and sighs of relief at not being alone, what emerged was a cohesive, well-thought out plan to work with you on solving this problem.

What we discovered was that homework is putting a tremendous strain on children and their families. Accompanying letters will give you a bird’s eye view into what is going on in our homes. You will also see the struggles are not related to any particular type of student but affect our children at all levels. Finally, the problem is not restricted to just a few vocal students and their parents but rather over one third of the fourth grade.

The degree of struggle runs the gamut as well. From students who are spending one and one half hours per night and managing to those who are requiring three to four hours and have a very difficult time attending to homework emotionally and physically. There are families whose children work independently for the most part and those families who feel they are essentially home schooling after-school. Regardless of what end of the spectrum they fall, most families agree that given the lack of studies supporting the value of homework in elementary school, the opportunity costs of this amount of homework are too great.

Ironically, those very things that have been proven predictors of children’s future success as well as a positive influence on behavior and emotional intelligence are casualties of homework , i.e. unstructured play time, the family dinner, reading and sleep. Further, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to show that a child’s love of learning is fueled by time to explore, imagine and pursue their own passions. We must work together to keep our children’s innate desire to learn about their inner and outer worlds very much alive.

We understand that homework is only part of the issue. Our society today seems to push our children through childhood at dizzying speed, with parents often in the driver’s seat. Our concerns are also not limited to the fourth grade homework load and in fact, this has been building for several years. We are not singling you out in anyway.

We ask that you review the attached presentation. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you after Spring break to discuss this further.

Sincerely,

Concerned Parents

6 thoughts on “From My Mailbox: Fourth-Grade Parents in One School in Southern California Begin to Organize

  1. Kudos to the brave, loving and concerned parents of this 4th grade class! Perhaps this letter should also be sent to our government, who has contributed to the stress of school, rather than the enjoyment of learning, by heaping on standardized tests that leave “every” child behind

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  2. Beautiful! The positive twist on this letter is a huge plus.

    I am in the VERY beginning stages of a similar process and am finding the hardest part is writing the initial letter. Wonder if the author(s) would mind if it was used as a template?

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  3. Karen, please feel free to use our letter as your template. Our purpose for posting on the site is to share information, offer support to others in similar situations as well as to obtain feedback and suggestions. It is our sincere desire to help as many families as we can. Since you are at the beginning stages, you may find it helpful to ‘stay tuned’ as we go through the process.

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  4. Nancy, thank you for your kudos. They came at a perfect time! I agree that homework is only one of many concerns that risks our children’s love of learning. And we haven’t set any limits on how far up the chain we may need to go, so that letter might see some miles yet!

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  5. Karen, I’m glad you want to use Lisa’s letter as a template. There are also lots of sample letters, conversations, and surveys in The Case Against Homework. The sample letters cover all kinds of situations, from writing a letter or email to the teacher explaining that your child won’t be doing a particular assignment, to asking the teacher not to punish your child, to asking your school to re-examine its homework policy, to writing an opinion piece in your local newspaper.

    Please keep us posted on your progress and, if you’d like to have a “guest blog” entry, please email me and let me know.

    Also, be sure to check out the forums. There, several parents have written about their experiences and there’s lots of good advice.

    Good luck.

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  6. I came across this website accidentally. As I read the comments I was surprised by all of the positive feedback! My shock and and anguish soon turned to pride and relief. I am a mother of two boys (6th and 10th graders). My husband and I support our boys 100% in all areas. We have NEVER allowed our kids to view homework as a burden, but rather as an opportunity to reinforce what they’re learning in school. Homework is a time for bonding in my home. A structured and supportive home would never view homework as a distraction to normal life. It is a shame that familes prioritize sports and other social activities over education. I am proud of my sons for getting their homework done first, THEN rushing off to sports or outside to “to explore, imagine and pursue their own passions.”

    Teachers are trying their best to educate our kids and some parents go out of their way to create obstacles. Don’t turn against them! Work with them.

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