Today’s guest blogger is Nini Engel, a school psychologist for almost twenty years in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. Nini, a mother of three daughters, ages 18, 15, and 11, was appalled to find that her middle daughter’s new high school assigned upwards of 4 hours of homework per night.
An Unsucessful Attempt
Nini Engel, Ed.M
Last fall, my middle daughter started ninth grade at a private, preparatory high school. Within weeks, I was concerned that she was spending four to five hours, Monday through Thursday nights on homework. Sundays were also full of homework. When I contacted the principal last September, she responded quickly and wrote that the school’s policy of 30 minutes per class per night, added up to about four hours per night.
The school did have the ninth grade students log their time for two weeks. At parent teacher conferences in November, we were presented with the data. A pie chart showed that the average child spent three hours per night on homework. The “average” child also spent eight hours per night sleeping. When I countered that my child hadn’t had an eight-hour block of sleep on a weeknight for the past two months, they admitted that weekend sleep totals had been included in the data.
Alright then- that made sense. My daughter slept twelve to fourteen hours on the weekend in exhaustion. I also know that sleep deficits can not be made up in that manner, and that the cumulative effects on mood and learning can be devastating. I also knew that the “three-hour average” included kids like my eldest, who rarely did homework at all.
I’m a school psychologist; I asked myself what the research results on homework were. I read The Case Against Homework and several
articles by Alfie Kohn. I began to catch up on the research and reviews related to homework and to interview the teachers with whom I work. No teacher could recall having had college training devoted to either the development or assessment of meaningful homework. The how-tos and rationale are rarely discussed, and yet parents and students are meant to accept huge amounts of homework as somehow medicinal. It’s a sad truth about many schools, that educational research rarely translates into educational practice. My school district has a reasonable homework policy. However, over the years, I’ve been the broken record (skipping CD?) at my school, about the dangerous practice of grade retention. It’s so ineffective that the National Association of School Psychologists has a position statement against it and yet, every year, I hear well-meaning teachers and administrators talk about retaining children and giving them “the gift of time.”
Well, the gift of time is exactly what many of our students need, but on a daily basis. Time to exercise, chat, relax, read for pleasure, be a part of family life, explore hobbies and extra-curricular activities. They need time to learn to select their own activities, even time to IM and Facebook. Every minute of my life is not productive or educational. Down time allows for consolidation of learning and improves creativity and mood. Do we trust our children so little that we allow them no choices? There’s a word for the state of affairs where one human being’s activities are completely determined by another- “slavery.” I don’t think that’s a word we want associated with our children’s education.
Despite the efforts at our daughter’s school, which included: organization of a parent committee, sharing articles with the school, requesting follow-up meetings, and writing letters to the board, my daughter’s school refused to reexamine their homework policy. Our daughter is attending public high school this fall for tenth grade. Her friends at the public school tend to have about two hours per night of homework. This is still a solid block of time, but to our daughter it will feel like freedom, sweet freedom.