This morning, the New York Times carried the story of the decision by several Public Schools in New York City to suspend traditional homework. The disagreements that have ensued have largely been by parents of students with very different viewpoints on this topic. This is definitely worth a read if only to broaden the lens with which one views this topic because, as I read, two things came to mind:
- in some families, providing meaningful after school activities is frequently limited by economics, time and money/resources, and
- parent input into broad ideas is a key to change.
As a parent, I would have loved the idea of no homework for my own child, who by the end of a school day had had just about enough with sitting still and completing paperwork. One assignment, burned in my memory, is of him sitting at our dining room table attempting to fill in the remaining (empty) pages of a spelling workbook, assigned for the night’s homework ostensibly because it was the end of a school year and all pages must be completed. Did anyone “learn” anything from that exercise?
In the Times article, the attempts to move away from mindless drill-and-kill worksheets is something I would applaud. Suggested replacements for traditional homework include reading and finding other exploratory pursuits. These are all great ideas. Most students have library books from school or the public library that can be accessed if a personal library is not within reach.
However, I would suggest that the ability to find and fund those “other” resources for explorations – mentioned were additional software products or for-fee activities and programs – is problematic for parents who don’t have the same monetary resources found in privileged, middle-class homes. Yes, Khan Academy is a free resource, but if your family doesn’t have internet access or a workable computer device, that free resource is not available. I worry that under the current federal administration how long programs like 21st Century School grants will continue. How this impacts a community with a large number of students from lower socio-economic means remains to be seen.
The “quality” of homework is cited in the article. This, too, needs investigation. What are the elements that constitute “quality” homework? I know how I would answer that, but maybe I don’t know how a parent who is working 2 consecutive shifts and still living below poverty would answer.
Which brings me to Point 2. Parents need to be a big part of this conversation. Schools and Districts considering the change from a traditional homework model to something else, whatever that might be, have to engage all – and I mean all – the parents, not just those who find it convenient to come to meetings and presentations between 8:30 am and 3 pm. The educators have the expertise to make these changes, but the parents bring viewpoints to the discussion that not only need to be considered, those views must be considered.
Read the article. Learn from it. And let’s move forward in making homework something more than a mindless and epic after school battle.