You know the process is broken and the intent skewed when parents complain about homework more than their children do.
"Hours," groused the mother of three elementary school children when I asked her how much time she spent supervising this late afternoon ritual. "It’s exhausting after a full day of work and school."
She says she doesn’t understand the "new" math — "Why do they make a simple thing like addition so complicated?" —and considers some assignments nothing more than "busy work." Unless it’s during after-school care, her children rarely get to play outside on weekdays.
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Complaints about too much homework or useless assignments are legendary. I hear them from practically every parent with an elementary school-age child. Maybe that’s why a handful of schools have made the news with changes in their homework policy. Hear, hear. Common sense is always worth lauding.
In Coral Gables, students at the public K-8 Henry S. West Laboratory School will no longer be graded on homework or penalized for not doing it — an administrative decision that’s a nod to the reality of 21st century life: Families are overstressed with too much to do and not enough time to do it in.
"We are a community where in most cases we have both parents who are working and it’s a lot on the families," Principal Barbara Soto Pujades told the Miami Herald. "The kids have after-school activities, we have a very rigorous curriculum, and then to extend that at home when a lot of times the kids are getting home after 4:30, 5 o’clock — it’s a lot."
West Lab, as the school is known, has sparse company. Trailblazing makes for a lonely path — but that might be changing. In Texas, a second-grade teacher’s letter to parents about her no-homework policy went viral after she encouraged parents to use that free time to bond over dinner, reading and playing outside. And a smattering of elementary schools around the country have also scrapped homework or limited the load, much to the delight of beleaguered families.
Of course, it will take a lot more than a teacher here and a school there to make a movement. Even as parents protest, some worry that sending kids home with empty bookbags may ultimately hamper their academic progress. Check out readers’ comments on the news stories detailing schools’ break from the homework frenzy. Too many commenters blame "selfish" or "lazy" parents for not wanting to do their duty. If only it were that straightforward.
Our children live in a pressure-cooker environment, where high-stakes testing rules the classroom and politicians act as if they know more about education than the school soldiers on the front line. For too long, too many people have equated heavy loads of homework with academic achievement. Yet, research has shown that homework for elementary school students does not necessarily improve academic skills and it’s only useful in the upper grades when assignments actually serve a purpose. Experts usually subscribe to the 10-minute rule, where a first-grader has 10 minutes of homework every night with the load increasing every year until he’s assigned two hours as a high school senior.
For the sake of my grandchildren, I hope more schools follow this precept. But I also hope a homework policy change doesn’t translate into more screen time for students. We’d only be trading one soul-sucking activity for another.