Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Homework Battle & Why It Must Be Won For Kids

Students at my elementary school receive a small amount of homework each night.  This mostly consist of independent reading and a few minutes of math fact practice.  The work and the effort are never graded, and they are never held against the student in terms of loss of privilege or even a hallway scolding ("We've talked!  You KNOW homework is important).  We encourage kids to read every night, and we also encourage them to play outside, to join sports, music, and church programs, and to eat dinner together as family.  Our school has regularly scored above the district and state averages in both reading and mathematics.  The junior indicates that our children and regularly the most prepared feeder school.  And I'm hated by a measurable percentage of people.

My daughter goes to a school with a long 'traditional of excellence' that has them very proudly stuck in pedagogical and assessment practices that are way outdated.  They affluence of the feeder  neighborhoods allows them to overcome bad practice and believe, that in spite of ignoring most modern research in the field, they're doing a great job (translation: the parents are really good at 'helping' with homework).  Predictably, we fight through hours of homework nightly with our 5th grade son.  We rarely can eat together.  He had to quit the swim team to keep up with homework demands.  My spouse is effectively his math teacher.  She cries regularly.  She drinks wine nightly.  My son hates his teacher.  He hates school.  This is the experience my school's parents are fighting me over denying them?

How can educators- particularly administrators- work with families and school boards who continue to cling to the outdated and many times over disproven notion that lots of homework equates to high standards, rigor, and preparation for 'the real world?'

Part of the challenge stems from the fact that we've become a data horny field with completely reckless use of information many don't even understand.  "My child got a 'developing' on Smarter Balanced Assessments! This is because he didn't have more homework!"  This is same blocked-headed reactionary thinking that sunk us into this mess following Sputnik and later the 1983 report A Nation At Risk.  The difference is, now we've tried the kill em' with homework approach and have a mountain of evidence to show that it's not effective. So why are we still do it? More isn't always better.  Not everything can be counted.  I'd argue learning is one of those things.  

These are hard conversations to have.  Most of the time, the resistance to modern assessment practices and homework reduction come from people who have already made their mind up.  After all, since they attended school, they too possess expertise (or they fear the advantage of white privilege will be negated by allowing someone else to re-do an assignment for full credit).

As uphill as these battles are, it's our obligation as educators to keep fighting these fights.  Squeaky wheels DO get greased.  Parents who do understand the harm of these practices need to be calling their principals, talking at school board meetings, and sharing their concerns with other parents.  Teachers need to have the courage to not do the wrong thing because it's the path of least resistance.    This just isn't the profession for it.  Our children deserve better.  




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