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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit worklifebalancingact.com.