Frustration in Plumsted, New Jersey

You’d think that the thoughtful and lengthy letter Diane Hewlett-Lowrie sent to her son’s second-grade teacher would have warranted an equally thoughtful reply, or, at the very least, opened up an interesting conversation.

Instead, Diane received nothing but a curt email reply. The teacher thanked her for expressing her concerns and told Diane that, according to the principal, homework couldn’t be modified without an Individual Education Plan [usually developed for Special Education students]. The teacher further stated that she had already made concessions for “[Diane’s son’s] time management difficulties” (allowing him to combine his 8 spelling words into less than 8 sentences), and that she would make no further changes.

Diane emailed back requesting a face-to-face meeting with the teacher and the principal. The teacher has agreed to set this up.

11 thoughts on “Frustration in Plumsted, New Jersey

  1. Wow! Amazing. I think it was FedUpMom who asked “what planet do they live on?” Diane, maybe you could just bypass the teacher and go straight to the principal. After all, at the very least, if they aren’t going to eliminate homework, you did request that they at least stick to the 20 minute rule.

    Homework opponents are starting to move away from the minutes rule anyway, aren’t they? Because a school could assign two hours for a seven year old, call it twenty minutes and tell you your son doesn’t “time manage” well.

    Diane, you can always refuse to have your son do all the homework. Of course the teacher would become very hostile to the child. Perhaps you can find a homeschool co-op in which all the parents work and pool resources to homeschool a group of children.

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  2. I’d be willing to bet that teacher has no children of her own, or at least no school-age children. Once teachers experience evenings and weekends of endless, pointless homework, it all becomes clear.

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  3. I agree with Joseph. Sadly, I don’t even think the teacher read most of Diane’s letter. Here Diane did her homework (as it were) and crafted an eloquent persuasive essay. The teacher ignored every point made and stuck to her own script. I give you homework, just do it, be quiet and if your son can’t, just get some help, do what it takes and do it. Don’t question me. It’s your problem, not mine. So he’s not getting enough sleep or play? That’s not my problem, My job is to assign homework, your job is to make sure he does it, end of story.

    Last year, a friend wrote a respectful letter to the teacher about a weekly freshman high school assignment that was eating up hours and hours of the child’s time and had no educational value. The teacher wrote back that the girl, a straight A student, was a perfectionist and should see a counselor to learn to time manage her homework load. No mention was made as to whether the assignment was even worth doing in the first place.

    Well, at least we all got a good laugh out of Diane’s teacher. But it’s no laughing matter when you are pleading just to have some quality time with your child and someone you don’t know, someone who is paid to teach your child for the time he spends in school, now dictates your entire home life. And by next year, it’ll consume your weekends too. But only if you let it. Diane, you still have some control over your family.

    Oh, by the way, even the IEP reference is used incorrectly. Your son does not need special accommodations just to do less homework! That is absurd. And if he did (ADD, LD, etc.), you wouldn’t need an IEP for extra time and reduced homework. A 504 should do the trick fine.

    It is an uninformed educator who suggests that you must have formal accommodations in order to veer from the tightly controlled script. It is indeed laughable.

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  4. Actually, while either an IEP or 504 will help this child, the chances of getting one are rather small. It will have to be demonstrated that the child really must have accommodations (in the case of more time) or modifications (in the case of less work) in order to succeed, and that’s very difficult to demonstrate. Unwillingness to cooperate on the part of the parents is NOT a handicapping condition.

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  5. To add to above, let me tell you, even if you have a diagnosis, don’t think it’s so easy to get accommodations. We have a diagnosis but my child is gifted and well above grade level. In public school elementary, she was a solid A student who couldn’t get all her work done in time. It can take ADD kids three times as long to complete the load. And easier is not the solution. Easier means they’ll get more bored, therefore more “off task.” The second favorite public school buzz phrase, behind “time management.”

    She had a diagnosis. This was not laziness or unmotivation, she has ADD. So she’d work her heart out, produce masterpieces because her brain is designed to handle complex engaging material, not daily tedium, and for each day late, she’d get an entire grade taken off.

    So…we had the diagnosis and arranged a formal screening meeting. The psychologist denied less homework and extra time on tests even though it was clear both were tripping her up and told me, “Mom, you need to learn to get used to B’s.”

    It’s not the grade, stupid (don’t worry, I left out the word stupid). It’s a child who is penalized for her disability rather than helped. What is the emotional fallout for a child whose entire school existence is defined by penalties?

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  6. Diane — boy, do I feel your pain. I’m getting flashbacks just reading your story. There is nothing so frustrating as trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t even want to understand your point of view.

    As I remarked elsewhere, the only thing I ever said to our public school principal that she really heard was when I said “we’re going to research the private schools”. When that first transcript request came in she became a different person. It wasn’t enough to keep us around, but it was a step in the right direction. Are there good private schools in your area? I’m guessing your son has the kind of test scores that the public schools are anxious to keep.

    One of the big differences between the public and private schools we’ve been involved with is just that, the responsiveness. In her 2nd week at the Quaker school, my daughter got held in from recess for forgetting part of her homework (!) I went over to the school and pretty much had a cow. Less than a week later, they had changed the policy (for the school) and announced that they wouldn’t hold kids in for incomplete homework anymore — the new policy is that after 3 incompletes, they contact the parents. I’ve also been advocating for as little homework as possible (I’d like none) and they’ve been pretty good with that. For instance, my daughter’s homework last night took her approx. 2 minutes (in 5th grade.) Is the Quaker school perfect? No, but it’s a big improvement, and my daughter is noticeably happier and more confident. She says she never wants to go back to the public schools (oh my aching bank account!)

    If private school is out of the question, have you considered bringing your husband or some kind of expert (counselor?) to back you up at the meeting? I say this because in my experience nobody takes mothers seriously. Check out the “Mom, you need to get used to Bs” remark in the comment above. Patronizing much?

    I agree with others who say the IEP is no panacea. My daughter had an IEP and I’m not convinced anyone read it. It’s one more way for the school to look like it’s trying to solve the problem without making any real changes.

    Anyway, I will be thinking of you and looking forward to your next installment. Best of luck!

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  7. I agree with FedupMom. It’s not that my daughter didn’t get homework in private school. That is where the trouble began. But the big difference was responsiveness.

    When I went in to complain about something, I would see changes immediately. In a parents coffee, I expressed my dismay that my eight year old was not being taken outside for recess; instead the children were playing for a few minutes inside the cramped classroom.

    I was also concerned about the ten-minute lunch break. Within a week, my daughter was romping outside and her lunch box no longer came home in the same condition I’d sent it, full.

    The Washington Post recently ran a piece in Outlook about a mother’s prescription for better schools. It was marvelous. She wrote, you could start with “Good morning, how may I help you?” She noted that when she approaches the front office, the person typing does not look up and treats her like a felon. I had to laugh.

    I did it in reverse, FedupMom. We started private and switched to public. In hindsight, I only wish I’d homeschooled all those years. Short of that, we would have been happy to stay put at the private school but left becuase of teasing and bullying. The school, though, did try to help us, inadequate though it was. But they did try and were sympathetic and empathic.

    At the private school, the office staff was unfailingly polite, jovial and gracious. When we switched to public, I was stung by what that writer refers to as “treating parents like felons.” The office person often didn’t even look up. When she did, she pursed her lips, peered at me from the top of her glasses and scowled.

    I would gently request that the teacher write “Hands on Science” on the blackboard the day the children who’d signed up for this enrichment activity were to stay after school so that they would not forget. But the teacher refused.

    After a succession of snow days, my ten year old forgot, dutifully boarded the bus and waited outside our house in the bitter cold for an hour and a half. I’d called the school to remind her, thought they would and blissfully went shopping. I was frantic, looking for her at school but the office person just kept on typing.

    She seemed so unfriendly and hostile. What had I done, why did she dislike me so much? It wasn’t just me, I began to find out. I expressed by puzzlement over this to a friend. She responded, “they don’t need you.”

    Oh, but don’t they? If we leave (which we did), we take the high scores and my countless hours of volunteering along with us!

    My friend was referring to tuition. But let’s not forget. Public school employees are public servants. They work for us. Not the other way around.

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  8. Dear “there must be something more to life than homework” friends,

    Thanks for all your supportive comments; I really appreciate them. One of my first thoughts on reading them was “I’d like to get all of us together to start our own school.”

    I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to get a five-line email back from the teacher in response to a letter that took days to research and write. The teacher has been teaching in the same school for 24 years. I don’t think that leopard is going to change its spots. The principal is brand new to the school, but all I ever hear him talk about is test scores. I think there’s a long struggle ahead if we are to remain in this school district. (The school is the only elementary school in the district, containing the 2nd – 5th grades, with about 4-6 classes in each grade.)

    My husband and I have a meeting with the teacher and the principal scheduled for Tuesday. I don’t yet know how to approach it, but some of my friends think it is pointless to argue anything other than sticking with the Board’s policy of 20 minutes for 2nd grade. The policy also states that (paraphrasing) “legitimate claims on a student’s time have to be taken into consideration”.

    We are thinking about private schools and are looking. Last Friday, my son spent the day at a Montessori school (no homework) – to try it out. We are also going to look into the Waldorf School in Princeton, but I bet it’s way outside our financial means. We have not yet made any decisions, but we are considering the options. Our son is pretty smart, very inquisitive, a natural scientist and experimenter. It kills me to think that school & homework might ruin his thirst for learning.

    Thanks again for your moral and intellectual support.

    Best wishes,

    Diane

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  9. Hi I use to live in Plumsted but now live in North Hanover. My son attends the NBC middle school and we have been fighting with the school system for years about getting him an iep. THEY feel he doesn’t need one, but his test and quiz scores show he is failing everyone. He gets homework and they do not even grade it on if it’s correct or not. He gets credit for it because he handed it in and it’s done. He is only passing due to his homework. How can they say by THEIR cst testing that my son is ineligable for an iep to help him succeed in school. We have several private doctors tests results that prove he is in need of an iep. They dismiss their findings and say he is absolutly not eligable. We are so frustrated. So what is the homework doing for any child if he/she is failing everything else??

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  10. Will the threat of pulling my child out of school have any weight with the principal now that we’ve passed the “fourth Friday count” and the school has secured its funding for the year? MEAPs (Michigan’s standardized testing) have also already been administered, so my child’s high scores will be recorded at his current school.

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  11. I don’t know if it will carry any weight. FedUpMom reports that it did.

    We left private for public. I know that sounds crazy, we sort of liked the private school except for that bullying teasing issue that left my daughter in tears, so of course, there was no getting around that.

    In public, I mentioned Montessori to the assistant principal and she told me her own parents had yanked her from such a program after 5th because in her words, “she wasn’t learning anything.” A year later I told the guidance counselor I was thinking of homeschooling and she told me that wouldn’t be fair to my child.

    I knew better than to listen to that last piece of advice but it took me two more years to take the homeschool plunge. I still laugh at the admonishment that “it wouldn’t be fair to my child.” Of course, five hours of homework in 6th grade is of course fair. The counselor went on to ask that tired old question, “what about socialization?” What about it, indeed. When your child is not saddled with weekend project overload, you’d be amazed at what you can do with your newfound time, how many friends you can see. Except the public school ones were still inundated and couldn’t come out to play.

    Our homeschool sabbatical was the most magical year of our lives and I would have continued but high school was looming and I promised a reluctant husband I wouldn’t nag him about homeschooling high school. Of course, I now nag him every day.

    Coming back around to your question, it might have some weight, particularly if your son is a high scorer. But…if you have a good alternative and I cannot stress how incredibly rewarding homeschooling is, don’t wait for the principal to beg you to stay. In most states, you can start homeschooling TODAY and file the paperwork as soon as possible. What are you waiting for? The museums, books and woods are calling.

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