Yay! Homework for Parents!

Another interesting idea from this NY Times article about a teacher in New Jersey who requires parents of his high school students to read an comment on literary selections assigned to their students. From the article

"The point, he said, is to keep parents involved in their children’s ’ education well into high school. Studies have shown that parental involvement improves the quality of the education a student receives, but teenagers seldom invite that involvement. So, Mr. Frye said, he decided to help out.

“Parents complain about never getting to see their kids’ work,” he said. “Now they have to.”

Parents have mixed reactions:

"Some parents say they like the assignments because they can spark intellectual conversation with teenagers who are normally less than communicative. “Searching for meaning in literary works is like stretching brain-cell-taffy in this household of literal interpretations and men of few words,” one mother wrote on the blog.

Others refrain from complaining to Mr. Frye but figure out the most mature way to say, “The dog ate my homework,” or persuade their spouse to comment on the parent blog instead."

Why he does it?

"As part of the school district’s efforts to reduce the achievement gap between black and white students in this Essex County suburb — a topic Mr. Frye studied for his graduate thesis — every freshman, regardless of earlier performance in school, takes a world literature course, considered a high honors class, like his.

He said that all the students’ parents had computer access and that only two had told him that they were not fluent in English; one posts on the blog anyway, one sends her responses to him privately, by e-mail. Another parent phones responses in to him."


Charlie Mas said…
Lynne Varner writes about the parent's role and responsibility for education in today's Times.

Here's a link

I think it's good to consider the limits on the ability of schools, acting alone without the cooperation of adults in the students' homes, to increase academic achievement. Without active involvement on the home front, how can the schools be held accountable for the inevitable failure?

Of course, on the same note, with the active involvement at home, how can the schools take credit for the inevitable success?

How much of an obstacle is this to accountability for teachers, administrators, schools, and districts? Can we only hold them responsible for the teaching -presenting the curriculum correctly - and not for the learning - the student's ability and willingness to acquire the knowledge and skills?
Charlie, you should pose that question on its own thread - it's worth asking.
Charlie, you should pose that question on its own thread - it's worth asking.
Anonymous said…
What about the overwhelming amount of homework given to kids these days? I am as frustrated as I can possibly be having an elementary student who spends an hour to an hour and a half doing homework each night. My middle schooler gets an average of two hours a night and more when he has big projects due. It has caused our son to resent school, and it has caused conflict at home because we have to nag him to do it, and punish him when he doesn't do it. Adding to the frustration is that a lof of the homework is not reinforcing what they learned at school. They are new concepts, which we wind up teaching. Since our son is not very receptive to mother hovering over him "teaching" him, this also causes a lot of frustration and conflict.

I think we have gone off the deep end with homework. Kids don't have time to be kids anymore.

I am all for a reasonable amount of meaningful homework that reinforces what was learned in class. It keeps me involved, and on top of what he is learning and the progress he is making. But, I think schools are now relying on parents to do 25% of the work for them.

We do a lot with and for our kids. Expose them to all kinds of things, help them with homework, volunteer in their schools. We support them in so many ways. I am resentful at the homework piece as I do not like conflict at home, and homework is our number one instigator.
Anonymous said…
Likewise, although my kids aren't old enough to be in school yet, I have to say I'm appalled to hear about the amount of homework given to kids in elementary school.

From what I've seen on school websites, there is an expectation that elementary school kids will have substantial homework from the very first.

When I was in elementary school, homework was limited to times tables, spelling words and occasionally, in the upper grades, report research.

I really don't think I want my kids doing more than this. We see so little of them that I'd hate to have every evening filled with homework of questionable utility. Six hours of school should really be enough for a six year old.

Am I misperceiving this, or has there really been a culture shift on this? Do parents generally think this homework is beneficial or a burden? Can parents say no to homework without being perceived as a problem? Is it pre-packaged curricula that have spread the idea that homework is required?
Anonymous said…
Don't get me started on homework. Two hours a day would be like heaven compared to what it's been like around here for one of my kids. Teachers vary, of course -- my kid's pulling A's in two courses that I've seen almost no homework for -- but the other courses are filling every available minute, pretty much.

How do others do it? I see kids in her classes doing sports, after-school activities, babysitting, just hanging out -- clearly this isn't happening to everyone. The concepts aren't the problem. It's the volume.
Charlie Mas said…
There is an Elementary Homework Policy (C12.00). It's three pages long, but it says, in brief, that homework for elementary students should be no more than 10 minutes a day or 40 minutes a week for grades K-2, 20 minutes a day or 80 minutes a week for grades 3-4, and 40 minutes a day or 160 minutes per week for grade 5-6.

The Policy does say that homework should

"Homework in the elementary grades will emphasize practice in basic skills previously taught by the teacher, make-up work following absences from school, remedial activities, and enrichment that extends classroom learning and student interests.

Homework will be planned by the teacher so that pupils may work successfully at home, with a minimum of direct parental assistance, unless prior agreement with the parent or guardian has been reached."

What you can do if you think this Policy has been violated is another story - a much shorter story. Not only does it not extend across three pages, it doesn't extend across three words.

The Policy does include one joke:

"staff and parents or guardians will develop a total school homework plan within District policy guidelines." I don't recall a principal ever inviting me - or any other member of a student family - to join in the effort to develop a total school homework plan. You could ask your principal how parents and guardians participated in the development of the "total school homework plan". For a slightly smaller laugh you could ask to read a copy of the plan.
Anonymous said…
I'm not sure what would happen if you decided to opt out of doing homework in elementary school? There is a box on the elementary school report card with a grade for homework. I'm curious to know as i too am tired of massive amounts of homework. Any teachers out there who care to comment.

At middle and High School, it's a different story. You can't opt out of homework because homework is graded and that grade averages into your overall grade for the class. Not doing a homework assignment gets you a big fat 0, and a few 0's averaged into your grade can make an A+ student fail.
Charlie Mas said…
I spend, on average, thirty minutes a night with each of my kids re-teaching them their math lesson of the day. Tears and yelling are not as common as they once were. The math curriculum is indecipherable to them, until I explain it in more traditional terms. They are frustrated and perplexed by questions like "Which is bigger, two or three? Explain." Followed immediately by an expectation that they could, on their own as a small part of one evening's homework, discover the quadratic equation and use it to factor polynomials.
Anonymous said…
I'm about to pull my hair out of my head! One at a time!
Homework is driving my children and I crazy. We were contemplating not signing up for basketball, because we don't see how we could fit it all in. We even get tons of homework on the weekend, leaving us little family time together, and little down time for our kids. Homework is a hassle. It causes so many power struggles in our home, and I'm tired of it.

I think a half hour a day of homework, max, except for special projects should do it. And, for goodness sakes none on the weekends. Please let families have this time together without the stress.
Anonymous said…
Charlie, thank goodness you are there to help you kids with their math homework. We do too. Our kids are very lucky. Mine, like yours, can not figure it out without help from us, most of the time. Heck, there are times I can't figure it out and have to get the teacher to explain it to me. Math in SPS is a complete joke. I am happier to see a bit more traditional math in elementary this year, but my middle schooler is still using the convoluted Connected Math.
I'd say go to your PTSA, ask for the issue of homework to be put on the agenda, make sure other parents know it is and invite the principal. This would be a good way for the principal to see how many parents are unhappy.

Talk to the teacher. Charlie's right; there is a homework policy. Sometimes teachers in middle school don't realize that they are assigning a big project at the same time as another teacher.
Brita said…
Hello all,

Over the summer I have been researching and drafting a new homework policy that is more in line with research and best practice than our current policy.

At our last student learning committee we discussed my draft and handed it off to staff to put into policy language. I'd welcome your input. Email me at my district address (babutlerwall@seattleschools.org) and I can send you the drafty draft.

I want to make sure that the staff understands that while meaningful, purposeful homework can help a student learn, just assigning homework for homework's sake creates problems for student and family.

Charlie Mas said…
There is a HUGE irony to all of the work I do re-teaching math to my kids. Because I can teach them real math at home, they do well on assessments. Because they do well on assessments, they are counted as two who are succeeding with reform math. Their success, which is DESPITE the reform math curriculum, appears, statistically, as BECAUSE of the reform math curriculum.

I cannot help but wonder how common that may be.
Anonymous said…
Thank you, Brita, for continuing to do important work for the children of this district. You will truly be missed on the board.
Dan Dempsey said…
Ah Yes the Math Mess....

You could check for the non-videoed school board meeting or on the web where the Elementary math adoption information once was.

You will find nothing that shows the fraudulent actions employed to justify this mess thaty cost the NSF 100+ million dollars to develop and have the UW force upon you. Where is any resistance from the school board?

Think of all the kids that have no tutors at home and it will be obvious why the Math Achievement Gap for Black and Hispanic students grows in Seattle and Bellevue.

The international Math gap between USA and top nations can not be narrowed until a lot more people have the courage to say enough of this trash.

So far there are a grand total of zero board members voicing that opinion and probably zero with that courage on the horizon.

Yes math homework will be a continuing disaster if you want your child to learn anything.

Another unilateral decision from the CAO made with zero relevant data.

Ask the k-8 teachers for a list of the required necessary skills needed for your childs grade level in math. Board policy requires it. The list does not exist.

Math Circus Seattle continues.

Anonymous said…
Brita, is it actually the current policy that's the problem, or the lack of enforcement of the current policy?

When my kids were starting out at Whittier, we were told that homework was for mastery and for home/school communication, and that parents could decide when their child had done enough and sign off on the homework, completed or not. That may have been in the primary grades only, dunno, or it may have changed when Greg Imel left. The homework there wasn't terribly onerous in any case, so I don't remember invoking the parental sign-off very often.

Helen Schinske
Brita said…
Enforcement of all our policies is an ongoing challenge and I truly believe our new Superintendent will make a difference (it will take time).

My own two children have had terrific homework assignments that really caused their brains to stretch, and they have also had unbelievably dull, unproductive, time-wasting homework.

The real key is teacher education. I know from 30 years in the classroom myself (including 12 years of educating teachers) that learning to assign and manage homework effectively is an important skill. The board can, however, through policy, indicate the direction we want the administration to go. It will be up to the superintendent to follow up with training and monitoring.

It breaks my heart when students have so little time for themselves or their family because of meaningless homework assignments.

Interestingly, there is recent research (a meta-analysis) that homework in the elementary years makes NO difference in academic achievement. At the middle school level, there is a point of diminishing returns (about 90 min./day), and for HS, the more the better (if it is appropriate).


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