From: Ablang on
The Conversation: Homework: Burden or benefit?
By Jill Duman
Special to The Bee
Published: Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 1E
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010 - 1:38 pm

Do teachers give students too much homework? To comment on this issue,
please see our forum.

Most afternoons – and more than a few evenings – homework in my house
is accompanied by sounds verboten in most libraries: the scrabbling of
papers and folders, books slamming against tables, grumbles, growls
and miserable bleats reserved for calves heading off to slaughter.

Those moments, when the school day oozes out of backpacks and onto the
kitchen table, homework becomes more than it is. Suddenly, a
collection of cryptic notes and assignments becomes a referendum on my
kids' intelligence, a challenge of my own (distant) education, a
litmus test of my ability to ensure that all assignments are wrapped
up at a reasonable time, without someone in the family dissolving into
tears.

What is the purpose of homework? Most of us remember elementary school
and junior high homework as exercises to reinforce math, spelling and
foreign language skills. Projects, reports and creative writing that
couldn't be finished within the confines of class time were also
assigned for home completion. Daily homework was not part of the
curriculum until junior high or high school.

Today, homework starts in kindergarten and continues to build. I have
a fifth-grader studying the periodic table of the elements and a ninth-
grader reading "The Odyssey." I am not convinced my kids are smarter
than I was at 10 and 14 – but they are definitely more frustrated and
more confused about what they should be gleaning from the hours that
extend their school day.

In Davis, questions about the mission of homework prompted the Davis
Joint Unified School Board to survey parents, teachers and students –
with the goal of revamping the district's homework policy before the
start of the next school year.

The district's current policy, in keeping with National PTA
guidelines, calls for maximum homework time of 10 minutes per grade
level completed beginning in kindergarten, with a cap of two to three
hours per night for students in grades 10 through 12. But school board
members and the chair of the board's homework committee say they may
decide to leave the amount and scope of homework assignments up to
individual classroom teachers, who could decide to pull the plug on
home assignments altogether.

"Defining the purpose of homework has to be the philosophical place
that we start," Davis Teachers Association President Ingrid Salim told
the Davis school board at a recent meeting.

"There used to be a premise that academic rigor equals the quantity of
things done. In today's world," Salim added, "that is not true any
more, but the paradigm remains."

Heidy Kellison, a parent who chairs the homework committee, says
volunteers are still tabulating responses to the survey, but the sheer
volume of comments from respondents – including about 1,800 parents
and 225 teachers – indicates that homework is troubling the community.
"I think homework is the tail wagging the dog in many families," she
says.

The Davis district's re-examination of homework comes amid nationwide
questions about the very premise of sending work home after school.
Two 2006 books, Alfie Kohn's "The Homework Myth" and "The Case Against
Homework" by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, contend there is scant
research connecting homework in elementary school to academic success.
Research has also shown that excessive homework – more than 90 to 120
minutes – is associated with lower test scores in junior high and high
school. Homework has lately been debated in the national news and on
the "Today" show and Oprah Radio.

Clearly, there is plenty to hate about homework – the minutes and
hours spent on academics that could be spent on music, theater, sports
or play; the depth of assignments that are supposed to be planned and
executed by students but often require parental time, energy and
money. Yet we continue to believe homework equates to academic rigor –
the same way old-time schoolmasters adhered to rote spelling and
corporal punishment.

But the worst part of daily homework is how it polarizes the
educational community: teachers who privately admit they feel driven
by parents and community standards to assign homework, students who
feel their academic success measured by what they've produced rather
than what they've learned, and parents who find themselves adversaries
rather than advocates in their children's schooling. These are
perspectives the Davis community will weigh when considering what work
should go home and what should remain in the classroom.

One model the Davis homework committee is reviewing comes from
Toronto, where homework is clearly defined in terms of mission and
scope. Toronto teachers are instructed to assign homework "appropriate
to the student's age development level and learning style." Students
are responsible for "asking for clarification or assistance" from the
teacher, should their assignment be unclear.

Toronto parents are responsible for "stopping their child from
continuing to complete homework at bedtime, even if the child is not
done." And doesn't that make sense? Because at the end of the day, a
child's homework isn't a referendum on parenting, teaching or
learning. It's one assignment in a single class – maybe an assignment
that shouldn't have been given in the first place.

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