Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Homework is Really Parentwork

Let's see what Ma Clouthier has learned over the last year or so. This is from last year:

The Internet has fed my love for arcane knowledge. Did you know, for example, that Calico Jack (aka John Rackham) is a well known pirate not for his escapades but his sexploits with Anne Bonney and Mary Read on board his ship. It's sordid. I know this because my son had a report in his 2nd grade class and was assigned this pirate. I had to sanitize Calico's record to make it 2nd-grade worthy.
This year, there haven't been gay pirates, yet, but I have completed my flag making project (I hope I get an A!). I put about 50% effort into the currency project for the third grade "created society" project--I don't expect an A on that. I cut out a zillion little letters so I could help my daughter with her spelling list Unabomber style. That only took two hours last week. If I don't get an A on that--parent teacher conference here I come! I should get an "A" for efffort at least.

Homework. The bane of elementary children and their parents all over America. And it doesn't make one hill of beans difference in the scheme of life. Don't tell a teacher, though. It's education dogma that homework turns dull-witted children into geniuses and smart kids into Einstein. But here's what the research says:
Cooper, despite his findings, continues to back the "10-minute rule"—10 minutes of homework in kindergarten and first grade, with 10 more minutes for each additional grade level. For support, he zeroes in on six studies conducted between 1987 and 2003. These included third- through fifth-graders, and they compared kids who did homework with kids who didn't. (In a rare moment of good science in this field, the kids were assigned randomly to one group or the other in four of the studies.) The homework kids performed better, but only on a "unit test"—a test of the material they'd been sent home to study. Which means that Cooper's best evidence doesn't refute one of Kohn's central claims—that the measurable benefits of homework diminish the longer students are tracked for. Take a snapshot of a math quiz on fractions after kids drill fractions at night and homework looks good. Take a longer view and the shine comes off.
Homework makes a difference all right:
  1. It makes kids hate school. After a long day of sitting and not enough recess, they get to come home and work for an hour or two.
  2. It frustrates parents who work and stay home, for that matter. Remember the old days when children came home, went and played and were home for dinner? Buwahahaha! Now children go to aftercare, or come home and go to activities, come home and do homework, eat dinner, and flop into bed. No fun for junior!
Dr. Helen posts a picture of her daughter's backpack from fourth grade. I'm wondering if she didn't post about it last year for fear of teacher retribution. Perhaps I should be more circumspect.

Actually, I think all the homework is a sort of retribution for "no child left behind". The teachers blame the parents. The parents blame the teachers. We'll show them! I bet they can't stand five minutes with that hyperactive brat of theirs trying to finish two pages of math. And that kid ain't a genius either. So there!

Then again, it might just be age-old education dogma: good schools assign homework.

When I shopped around the arguments against homework, I discovered that how you feel about it depends a lot on what you think kids will do if they don't have any. Eli's homework seems like an imposition when I measure it against running around the playground or playing card games or building with blocks or talking to his little brother.

In response to this, Cooper delicately suggested that my idea of a childhood afternoon well-spent is idealized and elitist. Maybe so. But the argument that homework is a net benefit for most kids has a big weakness. When homework boosts achievement, it mostly boosts the achievement of affluent students. They're the ones whose parents are most likely to make them do the assignments, and who have the education to explain and help. "If we sat around and deliberately tried to come up with a way to further enlarge the achievement gap, we might just invent homework," New York educator Deborah Meier told Kohn.

I e-mailed the principal of Eli's public elementary school, Scott Cartland, to ask about homework, and he emphasized the value of encouraging reading and making room for long-term projects. But he also fell back on logic that he admits is not, well, logical. "It has been drilled into our collective psyche that rigorous schools assign rigorous homework," Cartland wrote. "I recognize that this is a ridiculous thought process, particularly since your research suggests otherwise, but it's hard to break the thinking on this one. How could we be a high-achieving school and not assign homework?" How indeed. I hope the education establishment begins to wrestle with this question. If not, maybe it's time to move to Japan.

I hope the ed establishment examines it, too.

The first article I've read that perfectly captures today's overloaded kid was in Newsweek. I had been planning on posting about it after reading it in my hard copy (remember those things called magazines?). The focus of this article was that younger children were being overburdened and not just by the schools but by parents who then drive the schools:
In wealthier communities, where parents can afford an extra year of day care or preschool, they are holding their kids out of kindergarten a year—a practice known in sports circles as red-shirting—so their kids can get a jump on the competition. Clemmons parent Mary DeLucia did it. When her son, Austin, was 5, he was mature, capable, social and ready for school. But the word around the local Starbucks was that kindergarten was a killer. "Other parents said, 'Send him. He'll do just fine'," says DeLucia. "But we didn't want him to do fine, we wanted him to do great!" Austin, now in fourth grade, towers over his classmates, but he's hardly the only older kid in his grade. At Clemmons last year, 40 percent of the kindergartners started when they were 6 instead of 5. Other parents say they understand where the DeLucias are coming from but complain that red-shirting can make it hard for other kids to compete. "We're getting to the point," says Bill White, a Clemmons dad whose kids started on time, where "we're going to have boys who are shaving in elementary school."
In my daughters class last year every child but her in the advanced reading group was seven in second grade instead of six. My daughter's best friend is one full year ahead of her age-wise. Now, her parents held her back because of dyslexia and many of the parents of boys held them back because the academic expectations were higher and they wanted to give their boys a year to mature.

But that just proves the point, too. The schools expect so much even in first grade that no normal ants-in-his-pants six year old boy can possibly succeed. But the kid is not the problem. The school's expectations are the problem.

Now, add to this a child on the autsim spectrum... I don't even want to tell you how my son nearly cries when I tell him we have to do some homework. By "some" we're doing at least an hour.

Too much homework, indeed.

Update: Over at Protein Wisdom, I posted the same topic and a commenter recommended this link--a 20/20 Special by John Stossel about fixing the schools. It is excellent and I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

I can't even tell you how much I agree with this post and the article. Example: this afternoon, play for 30 minutes then off to ballet. Drive home to do homework. One child for 45 minutes the other for nearly two hours. Finished with homework, Mama has to cook, clean up and now we are finally going on a walk before bedtime since the fresh air will do us all some good. We are all so tired!

Sharon said...

I got an A on my Gila Monster display board in 3rd grade last year! :)

Dr. Melissa said...

My (daughter's) homework got sent home with a S+ (satisfactory) because I forgot a direction. I'm so p.o.'d!

Anonymous said...

SOOO true! Ridiculous amounts of ridiculous assignments. Saw the 20/20 show last week. VERY eye opening. I say make schools compete or shut them down. Would make for more productive days and less work for parents to do 'catch-up'.

So far my kids and I are getting A's on all of 'our' homework :O)


Anonymous said...

i am so glad my kids are all out of those horrid places.

Anonymous said...

This year, there haven't been gay pirates, yet...

That's just because he & you weren't assigned the original Dread Pirate Roberts...

Anonymous said...

As a kid genius who was fast-tracked into advanced/accelerated classes through most of his school career, I ended up with four hours of homework every night.

In my college days, when I actually had time to make friends (usually other nerds who had similar school careers -- D&D was a lifesaver), we compared notes. Every one of us had fantasies about what's now called "Pulling a Columbine".

Dr. Melissa said...

Pirate Roberts:
The pirate with a sweet face and mean opinion. One scary dude.

D&D causing nerd rage? I was just mad that the guys wouldn't let me play D&D. The confines of expected girl behavior didn't help either.

Anonymous said...

No, D&D didn't cause nerd rage. This was in the Seventies, and all of them (including me) discovered D&D after we'd gotten out of high school. All that nerd rage was from our high school, pre-D&D predicaments.

Back then, D&D was the exclusive province of geeky white males. Nowadays there are a lot of female gamers, but the first of them years ago had quite a hassle, similar to the first females to brave the MUDs and MUCKs.

Anonymous said...

I find the 20/20 article extremely
interesting and very scary.
Something I find very difficult to understand is how our public schools are so lacking and yet on our University level our education is sought out. How is it that uneducated children in our below average public schools can go to our colleges and Universities?