123rf homework 9051242We’re off and running now, so far into the school year already that, in a month or so, most school districts will close the books on the second marking period. And all along the way, parents and kids alike have been dealing with homework, often unhappily, and so I asked for a few opinions. Here’s a sampling of what I was told:

Explained one 8th grader’s mom, “Every day it’s WWIII in my house, with me insisting and then begging and him delaying, sometimes lying, and occasionally giving up altogether.”

A 4th grader’s dad put it this way, “It’s a battle every day in our house. We’re all stressed by it, and she’s only in elementary school. What’s gonna happen when she’s older, and they really pile on the work?”

Then there was this: “Actually, homework isn’t a problem for us anymore. No more scenes, no more yelling. I simply gave up. If he doesn’t do it, he doesn’t do it. His choice. He hates it and so do I.

Little has changed over the years.

Indeed, back in 1900, as editor of the Ladies Home Journal, Edward Bok published an article called, “A National Crime at the Feet of Parents.” In it, not only did he posit that homework destroys childhood, he asked, “When are parents going to open their eyes to this fearful evil? Are they as blind as bats that they do not see what is being wrought by this crowning folly of night study?” For him, it interfered with play and physical and mental health, too, while also denying parents any say in after school activities.

Needless to say, sparks have been flying ever since. In fact, in the 1930s, the American Child Health Association went so far as to call homework (along with child labor) a killer of kids with TB and heart disease.

Now fast-forward to October, 2012 when French President Francois Hollande vowed to end homework as part of his education reform agenda. And though roundly ridiculed on both sides of the Atlantic, his proposal made headlines and further fueled the debate.
Here’s a sampling of negative homework articles written recently on this side of the pond:

• “Kids Have Three Times Too Much Homework, Study Finds: What’s the Cost?” (CNN/Kelly Wallace)
• “Homework: It Fails Our Students and Undermines American Education,” (Mark Barnes/Smartblogs.com)
• “Should Schools Be Done with Homework?” (Edward Graham/neaToday)
• “Too Much Homework May Hurt Teens’ Test Scores,” (Robert Preidt/U.S. News & World Report)

As for kids’ take on the matter, a Time for Kids poll found that 58% said they have “too much” and 34% apparently have “just enough,” but only 8% complained about “too little.”

As for those in the “too much” sample, they have an ally in none other than renowned writer and speaker Alfie Kohn. This expert on human behavior, education, and parenting has penned countless articles and 14 books, yes, 14. Among his best known, The Homework Myth, is described as “a compelling exposé of homework—how it fails our children, why it is so widely accepted, and what we can do about it.”

He goes on to add, “Death and taxes come later; what seems inevitable for children is the idea that, after spending the day at school, they must then complete more academic assignments at home. The predictable results: stress and conflict, frustration and exhaustion. Parents respond by reassuring themselves that at least the benefits outweigh the costs. But what if they don’t?”

What an indictment! You can all but hear like-minded parents nodding in agreement. One survey found that a whopping 40% of them believe that “some or a great deal of homework is busy work.”

Meanwhile, back in 2006, education guru Harris Cooper set the standard with “The 10-Minute Rule,” which advises:

• 10 to 20 minutes per night for first graders
• 20 minutes for second graders
• An additional 10 minutes per grade level, up to 120 minutes for seniors.

Consistent with those guidelines, the National Education Association found that, “Homework overload is the exception rather than the norm.” With a similar take on the subject, a research analysis by the Brookings Institution and Rand Corporation concluded that most kids spend less than an hour a day on homework, regardless of their grade level—and that’s been holding true for the last 50 years. The only exception: more recently, there’s been a homework uptick at the elementary level that’s had only “a neutral effect on achievement.”

Now, that hasn’t quelled the opposition, but everyone does agree that quality trumps quantity. Adds former teacher Tom Loveless: “I don’t think teachers should ever send brand new material that puts the parent in the position of a teacher. That’s a disaster. My own personal philosophy was: Homework is best if it’s material that requires more practice, but they’ve already received initial instruction.”

He’s got that right, with most educators understanding that successful assignments require no parental intervention and…

• Provide skills practice;
• Reinforce learning and help commit information to memory;
• Act as a check on understanding;
• Furnish feedback on an ongoing basis;
• And serve as a test review.

So gear up. Backpacks will keep coming home filled with textbooks and assignments for the foreseeable future. There simply aren’t enough hours in the school day to get the job done otherwise. Plus, many teachers believe in homework’s merits and the sense of responsibility and independence it engenders in our children. So, be sure to provide these necessities:

• After-school down-time including some physical activity and a nutritious snack, such as peanut butter-smeared apple slices.
• A constantly replenished store of school supplies.
• A dictionary, thesaurus, daily newspaper, pencil sharpener, and 3-hole punch.
• A quiet, well-lit study spot.
• An early start on schoolwork, as soon after school as possible.
• Alerting friends to study time to avoid interruptions.
• Starting your child off with his/her hardest subject, winding down to the easiest as energy flags.
• Establishing a reasonable bedtime, with reading part of the nightly ritual.

And then:

1. Check your child’s homework book daily, so you know what needs doing.
2. Start your child off at the kitchen or dining room table, settling her/him down quickly and then monitoring attention, signs of frustration, etc.
3. Encourage short breaks in between assignments–never in the middle of one. Possibilities include a healthy snack, some sort of physical activity, a phone call, and the like.
4. Make sure all assignments are carefully completed and placed in a homework folder for easy access the next day.
5. And when absent, make sure your child calls a friend to collect the missed work to drop off for you or leave in the main office for pick-up.

All the while, understand that teachers have lots of homework, too—on average 8-1/2 hours or more creating and grading all those assignments. Add to that the hours spent planning lessons, creating and scoring tests/exams, reading reams of essays… You get the idea, and some would say it’s only fair.

You, too?