Homework load beginning to interfere with family time
November 23, 2011
Our family life is suffering, and suffering greatly. I hardly even know my eldest daughter anymore. Gone are the times in the evening when we all have dinner, do the dishes, and clean up the kitchen together while we laugh, joke, or tease each other about our day.
Gone are the times when we crashed together on the couch because we were all tired and tried to watch a movie, or maybe just part of one until we fall asleep.
What is the reason for the loss of family time together?
Is it drugs? No. Is it because we don’t get along? No. Is it because my girls are teenagers now and they are becoming rebellious? No, again.
It’s because of homework.
In 2004 a national survey of American children was conducted by the University of Michigan. The amount of time the children were required to spend on homework had increased 51 percent since 1981. Even small children now are averaging 78 minutes of homework a night. I can tell you, in Douglas County, we’ve got these statistics beat.
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This issue with homework is being debated nationally. In Brooklyn, N.Y., parents actually battled the school system, and established a sensible homework policy. They established a nightly time limit, a policy of no homework over vacations, no more than two major tests a week, no exams right after vacation, and fewer weekend assignments to name a few of their achievements.
In Palo Alto, Calif., teachers and administrators have been working together to establish homework policies. One of their ideas is allowing teachers to see their student’s schedules and workloads from other classes and sports activities. Palo Alto underwent a districtwide review with a goal to develop a sensible homework policy.
Dalton High School, a famously rigorous private school in the upper east side of New York, recently sent a letter to parents indicating that homework was going to be controlled. Horace Mann High School, another competitive private school, is reducing homework loads.
In Galloway Township, N.J., Pleasanton Unified School District, Brookfield School District, I think you get the idea. Homework control policies are on the rise.
OK then, homework is increasing, and parents are not happy about it. So the question that needs to be answered is; is it worth it? Are hours and hours per night of homework beneficial? Does this, as I was told, get your child ready for college?
A book by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish “The Case Against Homework,” indicates, as my experience has shown, that our children are burdened with far more homework than we had ourselves. Interestingly in their book, the authors indicate that most parents as well as many teachers would be surprised to learn that there is absolutely no proof that homework helps students learn more or achieve greater academic success.
In fact, when children are asked to do too much nightly work the opposite has been shown to be true. Dr. Dan Kindlon, a Harvard professor and author of several educational books, was quoted as saying “the issue of too much homework comes up whenever I talk to parent groups and the truth is there is no good research justification for it. The analysis out there just does not make a connection between homework and success.”
In a Time magazine article concerning this topic, they quoted research from Duke University. The conclusion was that increasing homework did not improve academic performance for children in grade school. In addition, in an analysis of children in middle and high school, increasing homework loads among high school students is associated with lower scores rather than greater achievement.
Dr. Cathy Vatterott, the Associate Professor of Education at the University of Missouri in Saint Louis is the author of “Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs.” According to Dr. Vatterott, schools that have cut back on homework found that it did not harm student performance on standardized tests, and in many instances improved their performance.
The question that I have posed in my own mind is why. Why this insane increase in homework loads? Why are our children continuing to do more and more and more homework? I attended a college preparatory Parochial school in Northern New Jersey. I rarely had homework. The two-hour bus ride per day, plus the daily grind from the Sisters of Perpetual Torture was punishment enough, I assume.
In my home after we pickup our daughter from swim team practice, she comes home, eats as quickly as possible, and then disappears doing homework until 10:30 or 11 p.m., or until such time as we tell her she has to go to bed. Usually when this occurs she is somewhat upset with us because there is “still more homework to do.” Weekends also are spent catching up and doing more homework.
My daughter will be leaving for college in three short years. I will miss her tremendously when that day comes. What I did not realize is that Douglas High School teachers homework loads would prematurely take her away from her family. It’s as if she’s gone already.
In short what I would like to say to Douglas High and middle school teachers is the following:
1. When you are deciding on an assignment to give to the students in your class please ask yourself how important is this assignment? Is it simply busy work?
2. Can you organize the information that you expect your students to learn in such a way that will help prevent them from do nothing but homework until 11 p.m.?
3. What is the real reason you are assigning the homework? Ask yourself if you are just trying to prove that your class is tough.
4. In the back of your mind remember that the homework loads you are assigning our children may seem normal to you, but statistically, and historically they are not normal. Overall homework load has increased significantly since you and I were children. Yet, my generation still provided society with doctors, architects, scientists, and protestors.
5. Lastly, if education research shows that hours of homework is not helping students learn, then how valuable is your assignment? Will it help that child achieve a lifetime of success?
Douglas County teachers, give my family its time together back. My children will be leaving for college in a very short time. I’ll miss them then, don’t make me miss them now.
Edward Gray is a Douglas County dentist who has three degrees, including a doctorate of dental medicine, a medical degree and a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy.