From The Atlantic magazine, one father's account of doing - not for his children but to understand their workload - his daughters' homework for a week. Crazy amount of work.
It turns out that there is no correlation between homework and
achievement. According to a 2005 study by the Penn State professors
Gerald K. LeTendre and David P. Baker, some of the countries that score
higher than the U.S. on testing in the Trends in International
Mathematics and Science Study—Japan and Denmark, for example—give less
homework, while some of those scoring lower, including Thailand and
Greece, assign more.
The irony is that some countries where the school systems are held up as
models for our schools have been going in the opposite direction of the
U.S., giving less homework and implementing narrower curricula built to
encourage deeper understanding rather than broader coverage.
The more immersed I become in Esmee’s
homework, the more reassured I am that the teachers, principals, and
school-board members who are coming up with this curriculum are earnest
about their work. They are making difficult decisions about what to
teach or not teach in the limited class time they have. The overall
education being imparted is secular, humanistic, multicultural, and
The math Esmee is doing at 13, for example, is
beyond what I was doing at that age. Of course, there are gaps—so far as
I can tell, Esmee has spent her entire life studying American history,
with several years on Native Americans, and absolutely nothing on, say,
China, Japan, India, England post-1776, France after Lafayette, Germany,
Like many parents, I wish there was more emphasis on
creative work, on writing assignments that didn’t require Esmee to use
eight “transition words” and seven metaphors. This school has clearly
made choices—these kids are going to get very good at algebra and maybe a
little less good at creative writing. I can’t say I fault them in this,
though I know what I would prefer to spend my days doing.
- at one point, he wants to figure out if he is just wrong about this amount of homework and asks other parents.
That night, in an e-mail chain started by the class parent to seek
chaperones for a field trip, I removed the teacher’s name, changed the
subject line, and then asked the other parents in the class whether
their children found the homework load onerous.
After a few minutes, replies started coming in from parents along the
lines of “Thank God, we thought we were the only ones,” “Our son has
been up until 2 a.m. crying,” and so forth. Half the class’s parents
responded that they thought too much homework was an issue.
Since then, I’ve been wary of Esmee’s workload, and I’ve often
suspected that teachers don’t have any idea about the cumulative amount
of homework the kids are assigned when they are taking five academic
classes. There is little to no coordination among teachers in most
schools when it comes to assignments and test dates.
Back in California, when I raised the issue of too much homework on
that e‑mail chain, about half the parents were pleased that someone had
brought this up, and many had already spoken to the math teacher about
it. Others were eager to approach school officials. But at least one
parent didn’t agree, and forwarded the whole exchange to the teacher in
As the person who instigated the conversation, I was called in to the
vice principal’s office and accused of cyberbullying. I suggested that
parents’ meeting to discuss their children’s education was generally a
positive thing; we merely chose to have our meeting in cyberspace
instead of the school cafeteria.
He disagreed, saying the teacher felt threatened. And he added that
students weren’t allowed to cyberbully, so parents should be held to the
I explained that we never intended for the teacher to read those notes. This was a forum where we were airing our concerns.
I left believing I hadn’t solved the problem.
Yet something did change. Over the next few months, the math teacher
assigned a more manageable workload. My daughter now went to bed before
10 o’clock most nights.
- his account of cross-subject homework:
Another exercise required Esmee to find the distance from
Sacramento—we were living in California—to every other state capital in
America, in miles and kilometers. This last one caused me to question
the value of the homework.
(Editor's note; that would be 50 equations. C'mon.)
What possible purpose could this serve?, I asked her teacher in a meeting.
She explained that this sort of cross-disciplinary learning—state
capitals in a math class—was now popular. She added that by now, Esmee
should know all her state capitals. She went on to say that in class,
when the students had been asked to name the capital of Texas, Esmee
answered Texas City.
But this is a math class, I said. I don’t even know the state capitals.
The teacher was unmoved, saying that she felt the homework load was
reasonable. If Esmee was struggling with the work, then perhaps she
should be moved to a remedial class.
Talk about passive-aggressive. "If your daughter can't keep up, maybe she should move to a remedial class?"
What's interesting is I read an article, about research done about on-line schools, where the schools found that the parents were doing a significant part of the homework for the children. The schools had instituted measures to be able to check how often parents signed into the parents area and the child's area and found some parents were in their child's area way too often.
How is it going in your household with homework?