As a 40-something adult, if I got home from a long day at work and was told I now had to do two hours of homework before going immediately to bed, I’d tell you to GET OUT with a frown on my face. And yet that’s exactly what we ask our school-age kids to do every school night, particularly teens whose extra-curricular schedules would fill any Google calendar to bursting. How is this a good thing?
I’ve seen it with my own two children. Once kids hit 4th grade, some kind of panic seems to take over teachers or schools. It’s like they think that they must do MORE to prepare our children for the future and that the way to do this is by assigning pages of workbook minutiae, math problems, or pages in novels to read. It gets worse in middle school when most schools have decided to double down on this technique with teachers in 4, 5, and 6 different class periods simultaneously assigning homework on the daily. Is this really resulting in better-prepared kids? Are our kids getting smarter from all this extra “preparation?” Or are we raising a generation of burnouts before they even turn 18?
My own son attended one of those “high-performing charters” in town that is all the rage, where the philosophy is “More is Better” and regularly assigns 3-4 hours of homework each night in courses such as Latin, Algebra, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Economics. The high school curriculum was pushed down for middle-schoolers to grapple. This seems to be from the same school of thought that says children should be reading when they enter Kindergarten. Sheesh!
Professional educators tell us over and over again that research does not show that extensive homework supports increased student achievement. Similarly, research also does not insist that young children must learn to read in pre-K or Kindergarten. Instead, it seems that our do-or-die culture of getting ahead pushes adults who should know better to burden our children and teens with more work after a long day of classes, sports, rehearsals, and even jobs. This is not creating a generation of smarter, more disciplined children. Levels of anxiety and depression in teens have skyrocketed in recent years. Is it any wonder that these children are anxious or hopeless after working hard all day and coming home to more schoolwork at night?
If anything is going to change this dynamic it will have to be we, the parents, the consumers of education on behalf of our children. We can push schools to rethink homework policies that give grades for assigned homework and place it on the same weight as classwork. We can refuse to enroll our children in charter schools that weigh down our kids with punitive homework that is developmentally inappropriate. We can talk with teachers and administrators about the reality of our children’s schedules and help them to understand that after a 10-hour day at school, our children need to unwind or help with household chores and that their weekends are better spent with sports or concerts or outings than with flashcards and computer tutorials.
I am a teacher myself, a 27-year veteran in May, and I never understood the reality of how the homework I assigned to my students might affect their lives until I had children of my own. If I could get back the agonizing hours of conflict over the homework I’ve had over the years with my own children, we could enjoy an extra couple of years together!
So what’s the alternative to homework? Some schools I have worked at have played around with monthly homework calendars where students do optional activities with or without family members that can apply the learning they do in school. These activities include things like cooking with a parent to emphasize how fractions or measurement work, reading to a younger sibling (instead of filling out those horrid reading logs), writing a thank you note for a gift, or drawing a map of a buried treasure in the backyard to work on directions and spatial awareness. The ideas are endless, the creativity involved is exhilarating, and the benefits for our kids are priceless. Understanding that what they do in school is actually connected to their outside lives is an invaluable lesson!
So, if you’re as exasperated with the homework slog as I am, maybe propose an alternative to your child’s teacher, principal, instructional coach, or PTA. Get other parents who feel the same way as you do and come together to push for more reasonable homework expectations in our kids’ busy lives. If teachers and administrators understand that parents neither want nor expect all that extra homework, they can focus their energy on the teaching and learning that goes on inside the school and leave the after-school hours to parents. Then maybe we can reclaim some work-life balance for our children!
About the author: Dina is a veteran San Antonio educator currently working and living in SAISD. She is mom to an 8th grader and a 12th grader and is really glad that the math homework is now too hard for her to help with. She’s a big believer in open communication between parents and teachers and regularly conferences or emails with her children’s teachers, much to their chagrin.