Homework Hangover: Are Kids Doing Too Much?
New Jersey District Lightens the Load
When the Piscataway, New Jersey, school board voted last July to limit teachers' discretion to give and grade homework, there was barely a murmur heard from parents. Now that news of the policy has spread nationwide, however, the murmur has become a roar.
"It struck a nerve throughout the country," exclaims School Superintendent Ron Bolandi, who has fielded dozens of media phone calls since NBC's Today Show reported on the changes in the homework policy. "We've had a phenomenal outpouring of support."
The Piscataway school board's decision limits homework to 30 minutes per night in grades 1 through 3; 60 minutes per night in grades 4 through 5; 90 minutes per night in middle school; and two hours per night in high school. Teachers can't grade homework, but can note on report cards that assignments were not completed.
"In education we love quantity," says Bolandi. "If you get three hours of homework, you must have done something in school today. We're saying homework is a reinforcer, but not the be all and end all."
How Much Is Too Much?
It seems parents everywhere are debating the merits of homework, or at least questioning the means by which it gets done, often with tears and turmoil on the home front. Some mothers and fathers battle teachers; others, like Maureen P. of Newton, Massachusetts, attend workshops to learn how to be a more effective academic coach.
"I see my role as participating in their education," says this mother of three. "I make sure my daughter's homework is correct, that she understands (the assignment). My gut feeling is their homework gives me a gauge, an indication of how they're doing in school."
Homework Through the Years
But other parents resent the role of at-home educator, and say homework overload adds needless stress to families' jam-packed lives. Without question, schools are assigning more work to younger students. A national survey by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan found:
Does It Help or Hinder?
Some educators argue that pressure from parents and policy-makers to increase standards has led to the increased workload. Others point to a growing body of research suggesting that homework does not translate into better learning or improved test scores.
"Parenting is more than helping with homework," argues Etta Kralovec, educator and co-author with John Buell of The End of Homework (Beacon Press). "I want no homework in the home. I have a doctorate in education, but that doesn't mean I can teach my child algebra. We can't leave education improvements to the black hole of homework."
Kralovec makes the following arguments against homework's encroachment on family time:
Getting It Done: A Teacher's Tips
While the debate continues, the assignments still appear every afternoon in the backpack: spelling words to memorize, long division problems to solve, and an essay on Spanish explorers to compose. Do you help or hover? Correct obvious errors or "let it be"? High-school English teacher Mary Leonhardt, author of 99 Ways to Get Your Kids To Do Their Homework And Not Hate It, offers these strategies:
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