Guest Blogger: Senior Dad Goes to Homework.

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 children’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.

9 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Senior Dad Goes to Homework.

  1. I loved this post! The perspective that Stan brings to the table is more than most of us can boast.

    I was interested to note that the very same arguments were used to counter the opt-out possibility as when I brought it up at my parent school support committee after a series of e-mails with Stan a few months ago. I think that teachers know that opt-out is logistically difficult and fundamentally unfair.

    I am glad that Stan remains so positive about the situation rather than becoming disenfranchised.

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  2. I think the unfairness feeling may stem from the fear on a parent’s part that their child may judge them poorly as compared to the parent who grants their child an opt out. This is a legitimate concern and perhaps it can be avoided by parents starting to use opt out as a management technique to manage the family stress and needs level. With occasional use of opt out you can establish with your child that you are looking out for them and allow the flow in the classroom to continue. Everyone needs to get used to the new dynamic. All parents who have waited to influence the homework pattern need to advance slowly. It is fair for everyone to see how it effects the classroom.

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  3. Agreed. Since the assignments that my little kids bring home are generally of the type to be completed that evening, I have started to use my own opt-out protocol. As you indicated so nicely in the post, parents shouldn’t have to get permission, or a dispensation, from the teacher every time they think that their child need not complete an assignment. My way around that is to use a method that the teachers themselves suggest: I write a note in the agenda. I just do it far more frequently than they may have expected.

    For instance, if there is a choice between riding their bikes on a nice evening and doing a sheet of math I write a note and say that the work was not done because she was riding her bike instead (remember, this is Canada, we haven’t been able to ride since October!), or that she chose to walk the dog instead of doing her homework, a task more important to the child’s (and the dog’s) health than more quiet work. Or, sometimes, I just write that we were reading “The Lord of the Rings” to the kids instead…

    In so doing, I am trying to get the point across to the teachers that there are more productive and interesting ways for the children to spend their time than homework. This method also has the benefit of it being a “private” discussion. If my kid’s homework isn’t done, the note explains it, there need not be an open discussion in the classroom, other kids may not even know.

    So far, none of the teachers have called me on it. My son now gets less than wonderful “grades” on the “completes homework” box on his report card. I don’t see this as a problem though, because if I didn’t “encourage” him to do it in the first place, he wouldn’t do it at all. That box is my grade not his.

    I want to thank you, Stan, for the great idea of the opt-out. Being a university lecturer I tend to get stuck on the failure to complete an assignment notion, afterall, my students are going to fail if they do that. For school kids though, I think the opt-out is a non-confrontational way of making the point. It also has the very important property of not denying the homework for those parents who really want it.

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  4. I wish I could use individual opt-outs as described above. Actually, I did something similar when my daughter was in first grade. This year however, her teacher smiles, nods, and returns the homework to be completed over the weekend, unless my daughter chooses to stay in from recess to do it, and endure the social consequences.

    When I asked the principal about homework, she said she was sure the teachers would ‘listen respectfully.’ I guess next year I’ll have to be more forceful.

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  5. Teachers seem to vary enormously on this issue. I know some who act that way, keeping kids in at recess… Others seem to respect parentlal views more. It is really hard to guage.

    I have found that more teachers are in fact “listening respectfully”, but unfortunately this isn’t translating into changes in the homework attitudes or behaviours.

    We just have to keep pushing!

    A

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  6. The good news Rachel is that you know where they both stand. I would approach the PTA and bring up the homework issue and suggest the PTA sending out a homework survey. Progress can only be made while everyone talks about their concerns. Not every teacher will welcome a parent “coming into their area” but that is not a modern view. The home environment is solely the parents area and education and exchange of ideas will bring that view home (no pun intended). A successful salesperson is told no 10 times before someone says yes

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  7. What’s a “prospective”? I love this movement toward no homework. The Indian and Korean families I am friends with applaud and encourage your efforts – you are only making it easier for our children to distinguish themselves in comparison to yours. See you at the SATs…

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  8. I teach 1st/2nd grade in a private school. Our homework policy is quite lenient compared to many schools. For instance we ask 1st/2nd graders to do 10-15 minutes of homework twice/week. We also ask students to read 15 minutes/night, but have no method to see if that was actually done. We never grade homework or punish children for not doing homework.

    All this looks good, especially in comparisome to other schools, but I question even giving the amount of homework we do. Frankly we would probably skip homework altogether if it weren’t for the pressure parents give us. Most want more homework and would be shocked to know that we teachers barely glance at the returned work and don’t give it much weight in assessing a child’s academic progress.

    Sometimes it is the parents who want the educational system to make the rules and raise the kids!

    Gaylyn

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  9. I came to China to work for an American Oil Company six years ago, I cannot go home because my government will not give my wife, who is Chinese, a visa, however, it has been a blessing in disguise.

    I have two children now, my oldest is six, he goes to kindergarten here, and LOVES homework, he already understands the concept of challenging himself and and building character through learning and discipline.

    He loves learning, and excels in reading, math, and language his math skills are incredible he can solve addition and subtraction problems with unknown varibles such as; 17+ _ – 5 = 22
    and loves to do logic problems, these skills and work habits will last him a lifetime, and will be invaluable!

    Do you think I would want to take him home and put him in L.A. Unified ?

    STOP the madness people, Americans are more and more looked upon as the least educated people in the world ! with the 3 R’s, the Americans I meet here through my work cannot write well, do not know english grammar, or math, but are very good at “clubbin” not a popular activity here, so who cares.

    We are building our future TODAY!

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