After putting in much more than her eight hours at the office, Julie Price returns home for a long night of supervising her daughter’s homework — a process that often lasts for hours. “It’s exhausting,” she says.
She’s not the only parent with this routine. Reader response came flooding in from all over the country after my recent column on whether homework is preparing the next generation for the workplace of the future. The message: Excessive student homework has become an overwhelming burden on working parents.
Price, a single mom in Coconut Creek, says she and other parents are confronting the perfect storm of work-life challenges — increased work demands and longer hours resulting from pared back office staffs, competitive pressure on students to achieve more and school budget cuts that have forced more learning to be done at home.
“We’ve overstretched and overtaxed the family unit,” Price says.
In my prior column, Debbie Regent, a mother of two in Weston, said homework stress is ruining her home life. After a day of work, she arrives home to several hours of homework supervision. “There is a value to reinforcing what you learned that day through homework. There is not value in torturing a kid with five pages of math problems when they have other classes with homework assignments as well.”
Parents wrote to tell me their home lives have turned into a burdensome flow of homework, tests and projects. Nagging about homework and kids’ stress over it looms over the evenings and weekends, infringing on family time. In some households, it has even led to marital discourse, short tempers and a child’s need for anxiety medication.
Other parents wrote to say they had to quit jobs, change work schedules, even sacrifice career advancement to deal with the homework insanity. A mother of triplets says she left her job as a receptionist when she and her husband decided even dividing and conquering wasn’t enough to get all the homework done at night and allow their girls to participate in sports.
Ray and Favila Budyszewick say they have rearranged their entire work schedule just to be able to supervise their children’s homework. The two, both consultants in Miami, work from home and used to pick their four kids up from elementary school between 5 and 6 p.m. But homework supervision would stretch into the evening hours and getting the kids to focus at night led to arguments.
Two weeks ago, they started a new routine. They set up an entire homework area with supplies, they pick their kids up at 3 p.m., aim to finish homework supervision by 6 p.m., put the kids to bed around 8 p.m. and resume work. “This is new so we don’t know yet if it’s going to work,” Favila says. She and her husband have tried numerous approaches, they say. For example, they had their kids do their homework in aftercare, but found it wasn’t complete, or when it was complete, they had no idea how to do the lesson — “someone had told them the answers.”
“What we learned is that there is no replacement for parent supervision,” Favila says. “We now take it as part of our job as parents since we expect our children to get good grades.”
Dan McLaughlin, a former teacher and author of The Parent’s Homework Dictionary, says he sees just the opposite of what most working parents contend: “Parents are putting too much responsibility of raising kids on schools. Ask any educator and they will say parent involvement is the difference maker.” McLaughlin’s book provides worksheets and guidelines to help parents who might be struggling to help their child with a lesson.
McLaughlin says teachers who are trying to teach 25 kids with different learning styles aren’t going to reach everyone. Some kids need the reinforcement of homework, even though for other students it is just busy work, he concedes. He believes parents are important teachers in a child’s life, and that working on assignments together at home and creating habits early results in a better outcome for students. “Kids drop out physically in high school, mentally in middle school, but parents drop out before if they are not helping their child with homework.”
Almost all parents who wrote said they weren’t opposed to homework. They just resented the volume of homework and the idea that their kids struggled to learn material at home that they hadn’t been taught at school.
Of course, there are differences between children in how well they handle their assignments; this affects the process for parents. Price, whose 11-year-old daughter has a learning disability, says her involvement with homework has been necessary since kindergarten. Rebecca Larger, communications director at Leon Medical Centers in Miami, says her kids who attend a language magnet school receive homework in English and Spanish. She has spent countless hours as late as 11 p.m. on assignments with her two children, ages 11 and 5. “You almost have to because you want them to perform well. Bad grades diminish their self-confidence and that’s not what you want for your children.”
Meanwhile, some parents tackle help with essays or book reports right from their office, using Internet applications such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Such programs allow more than one person to edit documents simultaneously over the Web. One dad found emailing helps, too. Publicist John David says reviewing math homework is his contribution at home. On a recent business trip, his son emailed him his math homework. “I reviewed my son’s long division problems on my iPhone from the back of a taxi.”
There are people who think homework is necessary, even volumes of it. Norberto Menendez believes in more schooling, shorter summer break and more accountability for teachers and parents. “Without changes in education and more expectations, our kids are not going to compete favorably with other countries in anything but pop media knowledge, gaming ability and texting speed.”
Most school districts provide homework guidelines with daily average times by grade. For example, in Broward County, the recommendation for middle school is 10 minutes multiplied by the grade level (6th grade, 60 minutes). Frank Zagari, principal of Indian Ridge Middle School in Davie, says he asks teachers when assigning homework to be sensitive and mindful to the other obligations of students and families. Still, he says, it is difficult to monitor how much is assigned. Most complaints come from parents of sixth graders who are not yet adjusted to the six classes and the workload.
Gemma Carillo, a spokesperson and teacher for Miami-Dade Public Schools, says sometimes, parents may need to approach the teacher in a non-confrontational way, as a collaborator in the education process. If that doesn’t work, talk to the school principal. “Don’t forget: If a teacher gives homework, she has to grade it. We want a life, too.”
Workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a national provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Email her at email@example.com or visit worklifebalancingact.com.