For many months, I’ve been corresponding with Stan Goldberg, also known as Senior Dad. Stan, who lives in the Bay Area, has his own podcast and has many interviews with educators and other experts that are well worth listening to. Here, he talks about his own perspective on homework and also how he has approached the homework problem in his daughter’s K-5 public school. I love his “opt-out” proposal.
Senior Dad Goes to Homework
by Stan Goldberg
I didn’t start looking at what schools were doing about homework until my child entered kindergarten. Being a Senior Dad gives me an unusual perspective. I get to remember when I was in school (1940s-1960s), when my first two children went to school (1970s-1990s) and compare to today. There are differences. We are teaching subjects and assigning homework earlier, and we are extending children’s programmed activity time through afterschool activities. This can have the effect of shortening the time our children can play in a carefree manner. We have moved up the expectation of reading proficiency, perhaps motivated by an anxiety to score higher on standardized testing.
Another profound change is composition of the American family. In my childhood it was uncommon for both parents to work out of the house; today it is the norm. In my childhood, single parent households were rare but today they are not unusual. With these changes in the makeup of the family, a variety of parenting styles evolved to include afterschool programs and childcare. Throughout it all, homework loads kept increasing.
Different parenting styles. I view my child’s learning opportunities during the weekday in three sections, presented here in chronological order. The first is when she attends school. The second is an afterschool enrichment program (play, arts, sports). The third, family time, includes eating dinner together on most nights, play, bath, story time with a parent and then bedtime. Homework just doesn’t fit in. Based on all of the research that I have read, it is not needed and doesn’t have any value. As a parent, I have the right to raise my child this way. However, on the other end of the spectrum there are parents that feel that the more homework a child is given, the better person that child will become. Good study habits, time management skills, a host of other perceived values, along with parental discipline, may characterize this parenting style. Parents have a right to raise their children this way as well, and we must not trample someone else’s right while we move to secure our own.
San Francisco Public School District. In San Francisco, each public school has a site council. This council has members from the community, teachers, students, and parents who have to constitute a majority of members. My child attends a K-5 school. In the early part of this school year, I brought up the subject of homework at the council meetings, posing the question, “If the research tells us there is no value to homework in K-5, why are we giving it?” The council started discussing the question. There were many different points of view, depending what use each person perceived homework had and how the removal of homework would impact their personal or professional life. It is fair to say that this first discussion was tense. It was decided that information was needed on homework from our parents and I was appointed to draft a questionnaire for parents with the Principal. Distribution of the questionnaire to the council brought another flurry of introspection. The teachers met several times to discuss homework, how it was being used, what was asked of the students and how it related to classroom work. There was a mini focus group on homework during an open discussion period for the site planning convening. The teachers prepared a questionnaire in which they submitted their views on homework.
Opt-out. In the spring the site council met again with homework as the only agenda item. The group discussed the teacher responses to the teacher questionnaire and different issues of parent rights and parenting styles. The site council rewrote the parent questionnaire and debated each issue a question might raise. The opt-out option question developed an extensive debate. The parents were told by the teachers present that an informal opt-out policy already existed at the school where a parent could request that any homework assignment be skipped. The teachers there said they have never denied such a request. While that information was progress and the information would be passed on to all parents, the basic parent right was not recognized. Parents have a right to control their family environment. That right should not have to be granted by a teacher. It is a way that teachers try to control the family environment and that power belongs solely in the parents’ control. After much discussion a vote was taken and the opt-out question was voted out of the questionnaire. Our next step will be to review the questionnaire and send it out and then meet again.
Progress. I am excited by the progress. We have spent a good part of the school year evaluating what we are doing with homework. We have developed a tension free discussion of all of the issues and everyone’s concerns. Change is always difficult. We discussed how an opt-out policy might effect our at risk students, how children whose parents chose not to opt-out might feel towards those children who did opt-out. We discussed how different parents view homework and we discussed its impact on family time and the value of play. I feel that this work has strengthened our childrenâ€™s education because it gave our teaching staff a chance to revisit how they were teaching and using homework. We are not finished. We are learning everyone’s needs. Later we will find a way to meet everyone’s needs.