About a month ago, I posted a piece by Fred Baumgarten, the father of two daughters in public school in Sharon, Connecticut, who had been talking to the other parents in his daughter’s fifth-grade class about homework. I recently checked to see what kind of progress he’s making.
He writes all about it on his blog, homework headaches.
Should Homework be Reduced – 13 support; 3 opposed; 1 undecided; 4 no response
by Fred Baumgarten
As of today, out of 21 fifth grade families in our school, 12 have indicated their support of my efforts to reduce and improve homework; 3 are opposed (2 of them strongly; one just responded to another recent e-mail thus: “We do not support your movement. I thought lack of our response would have given you some indication”); 1 is provisionally supportive but still researching it; and 5 have not responded to e-mails and phone messages.
In my latest e-mail I invited those parents who are supportive or who had not responded to join me at a meeting with the principal. None have responded positively to the invitation.
Nevertheless, I have gone ahead and scheduled a meeting with the principal. Given that more than half of the families are in support, and greater than 75% of those who responded are in support, I feel I have a pretty strong case for proceeding.
It would be interesting to know whether there are class or other distinctions — to be blunt about it — that affect people’s perceptions and positions on the homework issue. I know the two families who most strenuously reject my efforts (will they actively try to oppose them?) are highly conservative and working class (granted the term is debatable). The author of the quip about my “movement” is a local law-enforcement officer.
Are there differences in education level that affect opinions? Does my having an advanced degree make me more likely to be a critic of homework, or even more likely to have problems with it in my family? In any case, a number of responses I have received to both my e-mails and in informal conversations have inevitably, it would seem, revolved around mathematics.
One parent (of a fourth grader) said that she depends on homework to tell her what and how her child is learning in school, especially in math; she felt that often the math was taught badly, and she used the homework to help correct her child’s understanding. Another parent of a fifth grader, one who was generally, but gently, not supportive of my efforts, told me that she thought there might not be enough homework; but at the same time she felt that the type of work happening in math was too abstract and not practical enough — for example, she said that she thought the students should be doing more drilling of times tables. (I happen to agree with that!)
And several parents, even among those who do support my “movement,” feel that the math homework is still indispensible for “practicing” and “reinforcing” the skills and operations the students learn in class. I have heard several people say that students who have gone through the program with this math teacher, one of the veteran teachers in the school, perform better than their peers at the regional high school.
Leaving aside the question of what type of math education takes place at the high school and how it feeds back to the elementary curriculum for better or worse — the answer to which I don’t know — I have to come back to what I do know: my child’s struggles with the math work, and my own math history.
That’s the part that I hope to discuss a bit further, but for now it will have to wait. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, I am beginning to think of a strategy for my meeting. It is going to be challenging, especially being on my own — and only having a half-hour! But I definitely feel it’s time to “cut to the chase” and be prepared with specific requests (which in all fairness I have made before) and responses to the arguments I expect to hear, from “I will not talk about the policy or “philosophy,” only about your child,” to “We all understand why homework is important….” As I said, stay tuned!