Moms (and Dads) on a Mission: Plumsted, New Jersey

I’ve been hearing from a lot of parents (mostly moms), who sent letters to their children’s teachers and/or principals in the hopes of starting a dialogue about homework. I hope the letters, which I will be posting off and on, will inspire you to also start a dialogue in your community.

The first letter is by Diane Hewlett-Lowrie, who has worked for 20 years in a variety of environmental education positions in Scotland and the U.S. and she currently lives in New Jersey. You can read Diane’s earlier guest blog entries here and here.

Diane’s son’s second-grade teacher explained the weekly homework in a newsletter to the parents:

“Students will act as news reporters and choose a subject to write about. They may gather information from a variety of sources such as TV, the Internet, magazines, or personal experiences. Students will compose a short report in their own words to read aloud to the class during Weekly News Presentations on Thursdays. The forms will be given out on Monday and will be due in class on Wednesday (2 days to complete) doe proofing. The reports should include a picture (drawn and colored by the student, a photo or clipping) on the back with a caption.”

In addition to the above assignment, the second graders have daily math, spelling, reading, and reading logs.

Diane wrote the following letter to the new principal of the school.

Letter to the Principal
From Diane Lowrie

Welcome to our School District!

I am the mother of one of your new 2nd-graders and look forward to a productive and fulfilling year.

First, the good stuff! I work for “Parks” as a regional educator/interpreter. This means I am a resource for the state park naturalists and historians and help them with planning, exhibits, festivals, program development and also provide training opportunities for them. I also have the flexibility to work, on a limited basis, with schools on environmental programs. Last year, I brought Woodsy Owl and 400 tree seedlings to the Primary School, taught an after-school program about worms and composting, and helped out the summer camp with programs on birds and birding. With the anticipated passing of the national “No Child Left Inside Act” (which encourages more environmental education in schools), I just wanted to let you know that I can serve as a resource, or a conduit for other resources regarding environmental education should you need it. (I was also a second grade teacher in Jersey City!)

Now, onto more difficult issues. I am an educated person who regards education in the highest esteem. I have a Masters Degree in Environmental Education, and am interested in childhood development, how the brain learns, etc. I encourage my son to take learning & school seriously. (All this not to boast, but to put in perspective my next comment). I am not in favor of my child doing school work at home. i.e.I am against homework (except reading) for children in lower grades. This isn’t just a whim; I have read loads of research and believe that homework for young children is ineffective and detrimental to their development. I have attached an article I wrote last year on the subject.

I am in receipt of the current homework assignment for my son. My husband and I reviewed it and are both in agreement that we do not want to tackle the assignments as described – not at all! We believe it’s too much for us all. We think the assignments will take about an hour and a half for him to complete and there is no way he’ll be able to do it himself. I think the Homework Policy … advocates for no more than 10 minutes per grade, therefore 20 minutes would be the maximum time for 2nd Grade. (We don’t even agree with that amount!). We are all out at work and school all day and when we come home at around 5PM exhausted, we want to enjoy each other’s company, eat together, go to karate, relax, learn to play guitar, let our son play with friends, and read for pleasure (We really don’t watch too much TV). We don’t want to come home and be all stressed out over homework!

Apparently homework in [my son’s] class counts towards final grades – and there is a contract to sign (which we will not be signing). Therefore, I would like to address this issue with you before we get too much underway in the school year.

I know you must be immensely busy, but would really appreciate being able to resolve this issue. I have copies of many, many different research articles, opinion articles, articles from education magazines, web sites, and books which all illuminate the detrimental effects of homework – with no positive effects on achievement to make it worthwhile. I would be happy to share with you if you’d like.

I look forward to speaking with you. Thanks you for your time and consideration

7 thoughts on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission: Plumsted, New Jersey

  1. Diane — good for you! The news-reporter business is one of those “creative” assignments which is guaranteed to make your child hate creativity. As if it wasn’t bad enough to make him hate reading and math …

    I hadn’t heard of “No Child Left Inside”. Sounds like a good idea. We have several beautiful parks where we live and it saddens me to see how underused they are.

    While we’re on variations of “No Child Left Behind”, I’ve also heard these:

    No Child Left A Dime
    No Child’s Behind Left
    No Test Left Behind
    No Child Left Untested

    and the simple

    No Child Left

    I look forward to your update!

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  2. I’m curious to know the outcome. I just simply don’t get what teachers (and I’m a teacher myself) are thinking with all that stuff. I have read the first part of the book and will continue to read the second half after I finish all the notes on the first half so that I can accurately construct my objections. Thanks a bundle!

    Here is a link where I’ve started working on my thoughts on the book, if anyone is interested. This subject has received quite a bit of conversation over on the blog as well.

    http://www.momisteaching.com/the-case-against-homework-by-sara-bennett-and-nancy-kalish/

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  3. I was looking for a website/research that supported the idea of not giving homework in kindergarten. I have enjoyed reading your website. I am a kindergarten teacher and I do not believe in giving homework assignments. I do believe in letting the parents know what we are studying and how they may use activities and play to help their child learn. Family time is soooo much more important. I will be looking for your book. Please let me know of any other research (besides Cooper’s book) that shows that homework at the k level is ineffective and possibly detrimental. Thank you so much.

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  4. Sara writes:

    I also highly recommend Susan Ohanian’s, What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    This is a remarkable book. I strongly second this recommendation. It’s hard hitting and lyrically written but hilarious as it gives examples of homework follies.

    My daughter at age 11 found this book on my shelf and read it cover to cover. I was afraid we’d have our own mutiny but we talked about the book and I finally had to let my girl know how I feel.

    She still does homework, she has to. I try to temper my dismay and anger over it. I make it clear I’m so not anti-education, heaven forfend, to the contrary.

    But when she’s rubbing her eyes, I order her off to bed, all the while knowing with that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that she’ll have to face the music the next day. It is all so very sad…

    LBJ

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  5. Just a quick update on the progress-to-date on this issue. Both the teacher and the principal encouraged us to “give it a try”, so we did. We are keeping a log of the time it takes to get through all the homework. Soon, I will approach the teacher and the principal again and let them see how the 40 minutes/night does not come close to complying with the BOE policy of 20 minutes/night for 2nd grade. A second round of additional homework (yes, on top of what is described in Sara’s intro) of writing book reports every Thursday night was going to be required, but it has been “delayed”.

    While I truly believe that children have as much right to their free time after “work” as we do, and I will continue to advocate for NO homework for young children, I think the best I can hope for this year is to keep the work within the Board’s 20 minute guidelines.

    Wish us luck!

    Diane Lowrie

    Like

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