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Schools

When gauging value of homework, parents have assignment, too

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published January 5, 2007


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Okay, vacation’s over. Now back to work, kids.

Two weeks without homework is plenty.

Or maybe not.

There has been much written in the past year, by scholarly types no less, that homework may not be worth the paper it’s written on. There’s no proof, they say, that homework has any positive effect on student performance.

In fact, some argue, the primary thing that homework does is train kids to — you’re going to love this — do more homework. It has other special effects, too: It kills family time, causes anxiety and, as the demands increase, leads to sleep deprivation. Among other things.

Try to find a teacher who’s even contemplating not giving homework, though. The closest you might come is a teacher who tries to modify assignments for each individual student (no small task that), and maybe a lucky kid who “gets it” might escape for a night.

Teachers have explanations.

Like, kids need to reinforce the skills they learned during the day. And, parents need to see what their children are doing in school.

Here’s a good one, often repeated: The curriculum is so packed, we teachers can’t spend enough time in class practicing.

Teachers say they don’t like to assign topics they haven’t covered in class, but it happens. They also profess disdain for make-work, preferring to give meaningful work that cements knowledge into a child’s head. That doesn’t always happen.Many ask their students to read, with all the emphasis the state places on reading skills.

Some parents actually clamor for more. Teachers resist, standing firm by saying they only send home what’s needed.

But is it? Why should a child have to spend all day in school and then, because a teacher couldn’t finish the job, have to finish up at home without the teacher’s guidance? If parents want to press their children to perform, good and great. But teachers should not get to tell parents how to parent, or kids what to do at home — especially when so little points to the actual value of homework.

It’s no surprise that many kids argue against after-hours assignments. But listen to some of their rationale.

“The homework is kind of pointless,” says Sickles High sophomore Ryan Murphy. “They give us weird projects, like making a display or writing a poem. It doesn’t really help us learn.”

“Sometimes we have homework in every single class, and sometimes it’s too much,” adds Andre Nozari, another Sickles sophomore.

A group recently suggested some alternatives that might help. Here’s a partial list:

• Offer monitored study hall as an elective, so students can get work done with a teacher available to help.

• Schedule daily homework and tests by subject area, to avoid overloads. Monday could be math day, Tuesday is history day, and so forth.

• Grade students on projects and tests rather than homework. If a student hasn’t learned the lessons — and yes, that means studying outside class, too — it will be evident.

• Don’t allow teachers to assign graded homework on topics that haven’t been taught. Not fair.

The school district’s homework policy talks about things like how many minutes you should expect your child to spend each night. It says homework should enrich the education experience and bring school, community and home closer together.

It doesn’t talk about whether homework has any worth at all.

So when your child’s teacher wants to talk about assignments, at least ask that your children’s valuable time at home not be wasted. In other words, parents, do your homework.

Have opinions about this column, or ideas for future ones?

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5304.

[Last modified January 4, 2007, 17:37:16]


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