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The Debate: Homework

Elementary School: Teacher gave me homework. Hurray! I'm a big kid, now.

High school: Pull all-nighter finishing up homework after full day of school followed by school musical practice and family dinner.

College: Procrastinate on all homework. Do bare minimum to pass. Too burned out from high school for extracurricular activities.

Is this the path that schools are sending our kids into? Earlier this month, The Post's Lori Aratani wrote about a move underfoot at one of the Washington region's most competitive schools to help teens relax. Besides meditation class and limiting the number of AP classes a student can take, the school is implementing homework-free weekends. And earlier this week, The Post's Jay Mathews debated whether kids have too much homework with author Nancy Kalish.

What's happening in your house? How much homework do your children have? Is it useful? Too much? Too little? Where do you stand on the homework debate?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  February 23, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  The Debate
Previous: Date Night | Next: Television for Geniuses or Dummies?


Way too much homework. My daughter is 6 and in first grade. We have to sit down each evening for 20 minutes of homework and 10 minutes of reading. I was for it at first, now it's a burden because it interrupts fun time, play time, cuddle time. She's 6 for crying out loud. They spedn 6.5 hours in school, so I view it as unneccesary.

Posted by: Too Much | February 23, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I can't speak to the younger grades, but the high school and college picture is pretty dead-on (I recently graduated from college). Senior year for me wasn't fun, it was pretty much constant work, even when I finally figured out how to budget my time and get sleep; it tended to be working on major papers/projects on the weekends, do daily work during the week -- which worked, but meant I didn't get to go out with my friends a whole lot.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Our school district has a new policy of giving less homework. They say that the research shows that, other than reading, extra homework doesn't help scores in the long run. I'm not sure I believe this and none of the parents I've spoken to think this new policy has actually reached the teachers.

I'm an advocate for less homework. Both of my kids are very active in extra-curricular activies; one music the other sports. In addition, we need to be able to relax and enjoy life as a family, visit relatives, enjoy nature. Whenever we take a small outting just for ourselves, it seems we pay a hefty price of something not getting done for school.

I am comfortable with reading and math for the younger kids. As they get older, a small amount of homework for each class is appropriate. Then as parents we can see what the kids are working on in school and be aware of their progress.

Teachers need to remember that we are raising whole children who need a variety of activities in their lives.

Posted by: soccermom | February 23, 2007 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Just to note -- the district policy of less homework does not apply to high school. My high schooler is taking two AP classes. The homework is extreme in one of them. I almost refused to let him take a sport this term in order to keep up, but I gave in last minute because, especially with the AP classes, he really needs a way to get some exercise and fun. It's going to be a tough spring.

Posted by: soccermom | February 23, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I despise the very idea of giving homework in elementary school. My daughter is 4 and I hope the school systems are starting to rethink this in time for her.

Posted by: Olney | February 23, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Well, there is one way to split a family apart. Give children so much homework that a family dinner is out of the question. The highschool kids are eating alone in their rooms at their desks, the elementary school kids have their homework papers spread all over the kitchen table, and the middle school child is crying because they don't understand college-prep algebra.

Posted by: Stephanie | February 23, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

My son is 7 and in second grade. We have to cut play time in order to get homework done. I don't mind supplementing math and reading, but the deadlines, and the constant book projects doesn't leave much time for fun and relaxation as a family. From college on they'll spend the next 50 years working. I don't see why things can't be moderated a bit when it concerns homework so that the kids can enjoy their short childhood.

Posted by: NV | February 23, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

My daughter is 7 in second grade. She has had homework since kindergarten. We had a tragic death in our family that year and I told her teacher that we just weren't going to do the homework. This year's teacher is more resistant.My entire parent teacher conference was telling her that too much homework was causing terrible emotional upsets (a typical night of homework: put 30 words in alphabetical order, write each word twice and then use each word in a sentence, plus do a math worksheet, then read for 20 minutes). When we finally got to reviewing my daughter's reading placement scores, the teacher informed me my daughter is at the 5th grade level. I said that I was very glad that not doing her homework in kindergarten seems to have had no effect on her achievement, Stick up for your kids and their right to be kids!

Posted by: KB in San Diego | February 23, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I have an 8 y.o. in 2nd grade and the amount of homework is absurd. We have always made/make regular trips to the library but those books are going unread. I think she should be able to choose what she reads for pleasure because she has so many years ahead of compulsory reading. Her math homework is well below her abilities and has become a thorn in my side. On top of all of this, she doesn't even get grades! Between swimming and our conversational spanish class (for fun) she doesn't have time to play during the week.

Posted by: Annapolis DB | February 23, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I am just wondering about the epidemic of eye problems/poor visions modern society has.

Posted by: bkp | February 23, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Thanks. the interview with jay matthews was excellent and the author's points really got to the heart of the matter. It's not so much how much homework the kids have as whether or not it's appropriate, relevant and reinforces the lessons being taught in school.

When our kids went to Fairfax County public schools, we saw two trends that were disturbing:
1. Too much "Homework for Mom". This is essentially projects handed out in school which are too complex, poorly thought out or complicated for the age level at which they are assigned. (i.e. assigning a second grader to research six kinds of butterflies, compare and contrast the various types, draw pictures of each and design and produce a pamphlet about them). I always ended up having to rewrite the assignments, including all the intermediate steps which the teacher had glossed over or left out and felt like it was nearly impossible to avoid becoming way too involved in "helping" the child finish the project.

Unclear directions, lack of guidance and explicit criteria for an assignment (as well as lack of developmental appropriateness) are the hallmarks of bad/lazy teaching. This creates homework that doesn't help the child and frustrates the parent. And I imagine it's a nightmare in households where both parents work full-time.

2. Homework that involves a parent essentially teaching or re-teaching material that the teacher either explained poorly or neglected to explain at all. This was a particular problem with math homework in elementary school, due largely to the district's poor choice of elementary school textbooks.

I've actually taken education courses on assessment, grading and homework and the author's points were right on target. The teacher is SUPPOSED to start from the question "What do the kids need to learn? What do they need to practice? How will this assignment help them learn or practice a skill?" It shouldn't just be about cooking up twenty minutes worth of busy work every night. Personally, I feel that in really strong elementary schools, bad homework is seldom a problem because it's monitored by administrators and principals. If this isn't the case at your school, you need to look at the leadership in your child's school.

Posted by: Armchair Mom | February 23, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

My 6th grader is so swamped with homework that we had to eliminate extracirricular activities. Multiple teachers assign long-term projects due at the same time and still require nightly homework. Good gravy, she even has reports to do for P.E. Once we get home from school (I work) and I cook and we eat, the kids are wiped out and we have to get up an hour early for them to finish their homework.

Posted by: Tired&Hungry | February 23, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I'd feel better about homework if it were well-selected and had a purpose -- and if the teacher ever looked at it.

As it is, homework fails to be worthwhile simply because the teacher can't know how much of it was done by the parents.

In that regard, homework works in favor of middle-class kids with educated parents in orderly households -- and it works against many low-income kids.

Also, teachers don't realize that as few as five math problems are sufficient to check the kid's mastery and give the kid practice. That's a level that the teacher can check, as well. More than that is unproductive torture.

Also, it seems to be common to have kids check each other's homework. My overwhelming impression was that my stepson was marked right for wrong answers and wrong for right answers -- completely destroying the value of learning by doing homework.

If teachers don't have time to carefully review the homework so they can diagnose individual-student and classwide academic weaknesses, then parents should say that families don't have time to do the homework.

I'd feel better if kids were more productive at school and had much less homework. I feel as if parents are being asked to provide direct instruction because teachers don't want to. Reading and writing are so unimportant in our schools that parents pretty much have to teach those subjects. We will literally pay teachers to be tutors in the summer to teach what they refuse to teach in the school year.

Posted by: Eric Fry | February 23, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

My son, who is in the first grade, has at least 2 1/2 hours of homework each evening. His teacher requires a short story, written with the week's 45 spelling word each night with a different subject. She also requires that a 150 page book be complete every three days along with math homework. Along with my son's music composition class, honors Hebrew and Talmudic study, this makes for a very full evening. Remember, my son is only 6 and can't get to sleep until at least 11pm every night.
Granted, he's been tested and is reading at a 9th grade level and is currently being pursued by the local Mensa chapter, I just think this is way to much for first grade.

Posted by: NoXtraCredit | February 23, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

WOW! Please describe your school. It's obviously not a public school. Is your child being challenged like this because he's gifted and talented? (I sure would like to see more of that in the public schools.)

What does your school do if a child cannot read at age 6 (some kids just can't; it comes at a later time developmentally, and they catch up quite quickly). I suppose such a slower reader would not be accepted at your school?

Posted by: to NoXtraCredit | February 23, 2007 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I too have a second grader with TOO MUCH HOMEWORK. As a result, we have limited after school activities and playdates. This is a shame. Are we teaching our kids it is more important to know how to spell the word "fruit," than it is to exercise, have fun and make new friends. She's SEVEN.

Posted by: Charlottesville Mom | February 23, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

My son is in first grade, and his homework takes him about 15 minutes every night. The school (MCPS) sends out a weekly homework package with 10 new words they have to learn, and every night has a different exercise with these words. We also get some additional math worksheets during the week, but they seem to take him about 10 minutes to do.

It does not seem excessive, and I think this amount of homework is good in that it not only reinforces concepts that he learned in school, but also teaches him that homework is a routine responsibility that has to be incorporated into every night's schedule. By checking his homework, I also get a sense of how he is doing in school, what he understands, and what he may need help on. He also enjoys reading for fun, and likes to work on some reading and math workbooks that I have purchased, but I don't push these. He does them on his own and gives himself stickers for doing them.

Posted by: Emily | February 23, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Maybe kids need to learn earlier in life how college students cope. There are times when not all work can get done. Plain and simple. Sometimes you just can't get everything done. So you have to learn to figure out what must get done, what should get done, and what is pointless, then at least try to make it through the "must get done" list.

Students will eventually have to learn to prioritize and realize they can't be on top of everything all the time.

Posted by: catmommy | February 23, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

This is just a public elementary school that strives to provide an environment that is conducive to academics rather than social interaction. They tell us it is normal not to have social skills at the first grade level, so they keep physical activity and playtime at a minimum.
I agree that kids at that age should begin to prepare for the rigors of adult life which is why it is recommended that we begin "light" visits to colleges during the extended breaks.
And yes, my son is happy.

Posted by: NoXtraCredit | February 23, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

To NoXtraCredit

"Granted, he's been tested and is reading at a 9th grade level and is currently being pursued by the local Mensa chapter, I just think this is way to much for first grade."

Wow! Stop the presses! When does he enter Harvard? When is the Nobel Prize ceremony?

When is he scheduled for his nervous breakdown?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 2:01 PM | Report abuse

You have to be kidding, NoXtraCredit. I would definitely change schools. OF COURSE social skills and interaction are important to first graders. Even child prodigies should be allowed to have friends and play. It sounds like a very unbalanced school.

Posted by: Emily | February 23, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I resent the previous poster's comments. They can take their average kids and keep them average for the balance of their lives. Whatever happened to "achievement". Be average if want, but don't put down my child because he is exceptional.

Keep the "when does he enter Harvard" comments to yourself.

Posted by: NoXtraCredit | February 23, 2007 2:05 PM | Report abuse

"They tell us it is normal not to have social skills at the first grade level, so they keep physical activity and playtime at a minimum.
I agree that kids at that age should begin to prepare for the rigors of adult life which is why it is recommended that we begin "light" visits to colleges during the extended breaks."

Ha ha! No social skills in first grade!!
College visits for first graders!!

Some is pulling our legs.............

Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Please let up on NoXtraCredit. XtraCredit is a neighbor of mine in Potomac and is on the level. I am a member of the local Mensa chapter and there are 4 students in his class with similar abilities. There is nothing wrong with pursuing exellence.

Posted by: XtraCredit | February 23, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Maybe someone is pulling our legs. I certainly hope so, because the alternative is tragic. But I wonder. There are a lot of "exceptional" people out there who are focused only on achievement and have no sense of the other things that make life so wonderful.

Posted by: Emily | February 23, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure what the solution is.

I know that "vacations" ended freshman year of high school (93) because they were just times to give us long term projects.

I know that I was pushed pushed pushed to be in the best classes on all levels in order to get into the best colleges and took 6 AP courses my senior year (I dropped one of them).

I know that while AP classes give you great information on college LEVEL learning, they don't tell you cr*p about actually dealing with the college study experience.

I actually think an all year school system combined with eliminating all but a few basic standard tests would work best.

The curriculum teachers have to force into just a few months, filled with interruptions of test prep, admin junk, field trips, science fairs, holidays and more is ridiculous- so it spills over to homework.

Make schools year round to spread out the pace and eliminate most of the uneccessary testing which will relieve stress AND remove the wastes of time in the classroom.

Posted by: Liz D | February 23, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I graduated in 2001 from an IB school, then attended an exclusive private college in Amherst, MA (hehe)...and to answer your question, do students have too much homework? It depends who you ask. Some students, myself included, pushed ourselves to the brink of exhaustion. In high school this included 6 IB courses, IB examinations, three music ensembles, art director for a literary magazine, and art classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Let's add senior year college applications, senior awards, spending final times with friends, and prom to the equation. Did I forget my exclusive internship at a posh architecture firm for two years? Yeah, I was that kid. No, not done yet. Now, add regular school examinations, musical solos, final projects, and competing for the title of valedictorian or maintain a gpa reputable in the top 10-15 percent. Sorry parents, these students have not touched the iceburg. College, though laid back, required not one but three majors to compete with over achieving students, plus a minor, competency in one or two foreign languages, and yes, extracurricular activities. Hmm..and homework, professors threw extensive readings to students, required your weekly 5-7 page papers, and yes, the final paper. If you're a double major in science courses and humanities courses, such as myself, then prepare yourself for extensive math courses, hours on top of hours of readings, and improving your writing skills to articulate your ideas similarly to professors with double doctorates. You think I'm done yet, NO! Add the extra pressure of thesis anxiety, working with a brutal, yet nice (at your thesis defense) committee, who define arrogance as ambition's greatest reward, and define mediocre as work compiled at public universities (yes private, elite, New England schools are arrogant), and let's not forget the ubiquitous break down. Love them! Honestly, by the end of your senior year of college, after the thesis, full courses, requirements, and thinking about graduate school or a job, the best solution is relaxation. Take the summer and relax. However, after molding us into overachiving maniacs, relaxing requires working one full-time job, having a part time position as a consultant, and trying to brainstorm a company. Why all of this? Because we move and think as quickly as the international arena. Its fast, brutal, and requires immediate attention. Sleep is for the weak and recreation for the lazy. I tell you this is the new age of student. Whether parents like this or not, this is the new age student. We compete for positions, dominate in every arena, and make students from other schools feel amateurish and inadequate at best. We hail from similar regions and backgrounds, private and public schools, upper middle and wealthy classes and degrade you if you try to push your ideas, attiudes, and self into our groups. We are the new Alpha age. Trust me, we exist.

Read, Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class by Ross Gregory Douthat. It outlines the competitiveness of our generation. Not every person operates this way, but many, especially at these institutions do. My brother graduated from a top Math/Science school, attended the University of Chicago, and finds himself at peace, not like me. I won't say the overcompetitiveness empowers everyone. As for me, a polisci and econ student, I developed a growing passion and need to push harder and harder. Maybe it depends on your major, but the issue of homework does define a person's ambition. They develop certain analytical skills (whether to complete an assignment or now), and some, learn to think independent of a text. Students either sink or swim and most professors and teachers do not care either way. My advice, if you want to achieve greatness, achieve it; if you prefer mediocrity, choose mediocrity. Do not allow homework to define you, use it to your advantage and apply all areas of knowledge to your passions.

Posted by: Michael | February 23, 2007 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Not every child can be exceptional academically; likewise, not every child can be exceptional socially. Very few can do both. It's called normal distribution of talent and skills. Maybe NoXtraCredit's son will not be social animal. So what? We need a distribution of talents. Leave that mom alone.

NoXtraCredit -- your son sounds a lot like my husband. He's not a social animal; is brilliant in certain areas and a great partner. I'm the social one.

Posted by: to NoXtraCredit | February 23, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

NoXtraCredit worried that her first grade child may be overloaded with homework. No one is suggesting that he should be average. But there has to be balance, even for the genius kids. I bet that even they could benefit from some free time to pursue their own hobbies and interests rather then spend all their time preparing school assignments. Maybe what is balance for her first grader is not what is balance for mine (who is not reading at the 9th grade level and does not do hours of homework every night). But I would suggest that she trust her instincts about her child, if she thinks that the homework load is too much. Don't let the lure of high achievement interfere with your knowledge of your child and your sense of what is best for them.

Posted by: Emily | February 23, 2007 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I feel you. BTDT (though no, not to that level)

I did burn out in the end. But this was good- I realized I much preferred to excel in my self and my LIFE, rather than necessarily a position.

We SHOULD strive to excel- in whatever will fulfill us most. And there will always need to be sacrifices and strict discipline to get there, whether it's to be a good parent, or to be a CEO.

I think part of the problem with the schooling track is stemmed in the "You must go to college to make it" myth. It's a myth because college isn't enough anymore to be a ticket to success, and it eliminates all the GREAT other paths and openings that there are in the world.

A lot of the "Above and beyond" kids are really insecure control freak perfectionists who don't feel they CAN relax, or be less than perfect or their world will crash down. Life will eventually knock them down and the less support they have in that, the harder it will be.

You CAN have a happy healthy life and be the best of the best of the best- but very few people get the FULL life education and support they need to get there.

So I settled for having a mediocre career life and an amazing partner in life (for now).

Posted by: Michael | February 23, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I spent the first 2 years of college recovering from the rigors of high school. Then I realized I was behind everyone else in terms of academic sophistication and work prospects. I then replicated my high school work load for the last 2 years of college and am now spending my first two years in the work force recovering from that. Either I have low energy or a better system should be designed.
How about this: all college applications should be due at the end of an applicant's junior year, and in the middle of it for early decision. Then, when they get in, they can spend senior year relaxing and getting all the social training and conditioning they missed out on while studying and generally try to figure out who they are. (This may remove the need for the worthless drinking-year-abroad a lot of college students take these days).

Posted by: Neel | February 23, 2007 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Please tell me you are not taking about the magnet program at Takoma Elementary.

Posted by: NoExtraCredit | February 23, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Dear Potomac Mensa chapter member-

"There is nothing wrong with pursuing exellence."

You'd have more credibility if you knew how to SPELL excellence.

The mother of the first grade wunderkind might try living her own life instead of living vicariously through her son.

Reserve a bed for the upcoming nervous breakdown for this pathetic kid.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate the supportive comments by a few of the other posters.

Why is everyone assuming that I am a "mom"?

Posted by: NoXtraCredit | February 23, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I am sorry that I am not as good a typist as you. Don't judge my son for my lack of typing skills.

Posted by: NoXtraCredit | February 23, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

There is nothing wrong with pursuing exellence.

Posted by: XtraCredit | February 23, 2007 02:14 PM
Its terrific that your son is so gifted, however please don't forget that who he is is being developed at the same time as his knowledge base and is just as important. How many people do we all know who are brilliant, but cannot interact socially. I also am concerned that a 6 year old is not getting enough sleep if he goes to bed at 11pm. He needs that rest to grow AND learn.

Posted by: moxiemom | February 23, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

When you worried that your child has too much homework, people responded to that concern. Some not so nicely. But your defensiveness makes me wonder if your concern is not in fact real, but rather a way of boasting about your child's achievements. I think it's cool that your child is academically exceptional. But I also think that it would be cool for him/her to have some free time to tinker with his/her own hobbies. Mark Twain once said that he never allowed his schooling to interfere with his education. I think it is a very wise comment.

Posted by: Emily | February 23, 2007 2:43 PM | Report abuse

NoXtraCredit is joking. Come on, guys!

Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I think it is interesting that a lot of people have this concern about some gifted kids not getting enough social interaction. I was reading a bit on high functioning autism and Asperger syndrome, and maybe for such people with these conditions, social interaction is not as important as it would be to neurotypicals. So I hesitate to place such a high importance on being social for people who are not wired that way. But I do think that no matter what, people need free time to do whatever it is that suits their particular needs, whether that meanns playdates for some kids or something else for other kids.

Posted by: Emily | February 23, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I don't think I am being defensive, I am just surprised at the animosity on this forum. Isn't this supposed to friendly open forum? We were initially discussing the advantages/disadvantages of the current homework load in the school system.
Instead someone feels that they should call me pathetic and criticize my typing. I am just a concerned but proud father of an exceptional first grader.

Posted by: NoXtraCredit | February 23, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

My son is 10 years old and he is in 5th grade in a private school in the MIami area.
I think the problem of too much homework goes back to inefficient and non intelligent teaching: teachers who barely explain the subjects and leave the kids mainly on their own. This is what I have observed in our school: the kids are bombarded with huge amount of information delivered at a fast pace. They start with another subject when they barely had the time to digest the previous one.This happens in all the courses whether it is math, science, history or languaje. I suppose this fast pace has a great deal to do with the fact that some classwork is not finished and converts itself into homework!!.
The school looks more like a bureaucratic apparatus where the kids spend time filling in forms,finding the meaning of words without context, are assigned projects inappropiate for their age and more appropiate as marketing tool for the school. No wonder the stomach aches of Sunday evenings, I would suffer them too.

My own experience tells me that we can attain a better education with much less pain and much more joy. I am from Argentina; my elementary school was a very modest neighbourhood school, we did not have computers or smartboards but we did have loving and very competent teachers. I started high school at age 13 and that education gave me a basis to have a better comprehension of the world we live in. Every year of the 5 years that lasted the high school, we had 12 different courses that lasted the whole academic year:spanish grammar and literature, english, french, math, physics, chemistry, history , biology, geography, music , history of art and p.e. I remember studying every day 1 or 2 hours after school, preparing oral presentations on any subject. That daily practice helped me a lot the day I started medical school and had to understand and summarize more complicated subjects.

Nowadays the educators have a lot of "attention competition" from: TV, videogames, computers; and I don't think giving the kids huge amounts of information, making them read books and later be tested by a computer (and gain points, memorize words and have little time to free play) will be of any deep benefit for the love of learning.
What shall we do?

Thanks for let me participate in this interesting debate.

PS: Argentina's public school system was inspired in the American schools and introduced in the country in the late 1800s by the great educator and future president, Domingo Sarmiento. He was a friend of another great educator: Horace Mann and his wife.

Posted by: martaines | February 23, 2007 2:50 PM | Report abuse

OK that post was made by me, I thought I'd put the "Michael" in the comments section. Sorry.

Posted by: Liz D | February 23, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, NoXtraCredit. I did not mean to make you feel attacked. Please ignore the typing comment. Most of us know that a typo can occur to anyone, and that it means nothing. And it is unfortunate that so many people react negatively to kids who are gifted. Good for you to advocate for your child.

Posted by: Emily | February 23, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

NoXtraCredit - I totally understand your desires for your son to excel academically. But I would be wary of any institution that tells you social skills and physical activity are not important. Ask your pediatrician what he/she thinks about the value of children (or even adults) getting enough physical activity each day. I am not saying that academics should be compromised, but schools need to stress the importance of both.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Why do you have to take it as bragging? Maybe it's just a fact. My son has brown hair. It's a fact that would not offend anyone. But if he had an IQ of 200 (it's only 140) , a bunch of people would consider a simple statement of this fact as an attempt to brag. Why is that?

Posted by: Emily | February 23, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I graduated from high school ten years ago, but I can still empathize with today's overworked students.

From my perspective, teachers in Fairfax County and City of Alexandria public schools that I went to were using homework as a way to artificially "toughen" their classes. Not that the homework would be hard to complete, just excessively tedious and time consuming.

Given the placement of American students near the bottom of every international comparison, I see the current homework overload as the lazy way teachers can look like they are doing all they can to improve the situation.

By the way, Michael's story about his own overworked childhood reminds me of the top students at my own high school. To a man, they were very ambitious, hardworking kids who went to great colleges. Then they graduated and found themselves with fancy jobs they hated and no idea what to do with themselves. They had spent so much time excelling in school that they never really developed themselves as human beings. They are sad people to be around.

Posted by: Christina | February 23, 2007 3:11 PM | Report abuse

There are a lot of kids in my son's school with 140+ IQs. It's not that rare in some zip codes.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse


As a senior at George Mason I am burnt out.

I take out loans to go to school, and in order to get more benefits, a full time school schedule is required. In order to pay for the loans a full time job is required.

Each class assigns 1 chapter a night on the weeks, and usually 2 chapters or multiple readings on the weekends. For 5 classes that is 5 chapters during the week, and at times doubled on the weekends. Dont forget to add in papers, regular homework from the readings, cramming for quizes, tests, and exams.

On top of school time, and time to do homework add the time that you need to do an internship or hold a steady job. Being social and involved in extra curricular activities is just not happening, sleep we need sleep!

I have a 3.5 gpa and certainly realize the benefit of having an education, and how lucky I am to have it at all, but professors could make things a little easier on us.

Posted by: Jacqueline | February 23, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Prior to going to law school, I used to teach 8th grade algebra and 9th grade geometry.

We had a 50-minute class period, which I generally allocated as follows:

1) 10 minutes verifying previous night's homework was done, and answering questions;

2) 20 minutes explaining the new concepts in today's lesson

3) 20 minutes for students to work on the "homework" I had assigned

I believed strongly that mathematics skills at these grade levels benefited from lots of practice, so I assigned a large number of problems. Nevertheless, since the students had 20 minutes in class to work on them, they did not need to spend much time at home, 15 minutes or less. My fastest students often finished their assignments in my class and had no homework.

I gathered this approach was somewhat unorthodox, but my headmistress let me run with it since the standardized test results were so positive and the students did so well with subsequent math classes.

At least as far as math goes, I really question what other teachers do with their 50-60 minutes of class time. Generally, one or two new concepts is introduced per day -- how long can it possibly take a competent teacher to explain these topics well? 20 minutes? 30?

The rest of the class time, in my humble opinion, ought to be spent practicing what the students have learned, obviating the need for time consuming homework assignments.

Posted by: Bill M. | February 23, 2007 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I think today's On Parenting blog belongs in On Balance and vice versa.

Posted by: moxiemom | February 23, 2007 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Math practice: valuable
Writing practice: valuable
Reading/comprehension practice: valuable
Spelling; valuable

Time consuming artsy BS projects that keep kids (or parents) up late to complete: priceless!

In my kids school the faculty are supposed to coordinate workload and average 20minutes per core subject each night.

Recently they have started using a website where each teacher posts (well they are supposed to anyway) the homework assignements - has been a VERY usefull tool, both to check my kids assignment book as well as to check how badly they coordinate workload.

3 paragraphs of essay typed
1 math packet
spelling worksheet
science project work; typed
french homework
study for SS test

It is 10 oc'lock, and DS is in 6th grade.

Hahahahaha cry cry cry

Posted by: Fo3 | February 23, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I graduated from high school in 1996, and I was an "over-achiever." I regularly spent four our more hours each night on homework, on top of my extracurricular activities, and that was just to get the "must get done" assignments finished. I rarely finished reading or other things I could get away with not doing. I spent most of my high school years surviving on four hours or less of sleep each night. It's a wonder I never crashed my car into anything, since I can remember nodding off as I drove to school my junior and senior years.

College was almost as bad. I didn't learn about budgeting my time until I was in graduate school, and I realized that, if I had ten homework problems for a class, I had time to get one of them done perfectly, or get all of them done pretty well. I still didn't get enough sleep, but I finally decided that sometimes sleep was more important than a 4.0!

Posted by: FutureMom | February 23, 2007 4:24 PM | Report abuse

except for the trolls (hi, noXtraCredit.) most everyone here seems to have the right idea: asking whether kids have too much or little homework is asking the wrong question. The more important question is how useful the assigned homework is. I'm a recent college grad and looking back at my own recent school experience, I got much more homework at my small, private, college-prep high school than at my big, anonymous Montgomery County middle school. I'd say I had too much homework in MS and just enough in HS, though. In middle school I got assigned a lot of meaningless busywork. It wouldn't take me too long to complete, but I'd resent wasting my time on it. I certainly didn't enjoy high school homework (who ever really enjoys homework?), but at least I learned from it. We also had enough homework that we were forced to learn to prioritize. Not all assignments could receive our fullest attention/effort, so we needed to skim and work efficiently. Those skills helped immeasurably in college.

clearly too many of even the best designed assignments can be overkill, but I'll add that almost all teenagers take more time on their homework than they really need to. I was certainly guilty of getting distracted by instant messenger and online games as I "worked" on the computer. Almost all of us (even the super high achievers with numerous extra-curricular commitments) did.

Posted by: recently was there | February 23, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Emily wrote:
social interaction is not as important as it would be to neurotypicals. So I hesitate to place such a high importance on being social for people who are not wired that way.

Like it or not, social interaction is imperative as a functioning adult- even if they live happily alone without kids their whole life, they will have bosses/reviewers/bank tellers/check-out people etc which they will have to learn how to comfortably deal with.

And the more socially apt a person is, the more their intellectualism will be able to shine and be seen.

As someone who is very shy, non empathetic, despises mingling, I completely understand just not working on social skills- but I have friends and family and a partner and co-workers in my life and I WANT to enjoy time with them. I have to learn how to balance social time with me time, and how to do the social dance and not get overwhelmed.

Posted by: Liz D | February 23, 2007 5:00 PM | Report abuse

One of my best friends in college was a double major, 4.0 GPA, and decided to spend the first few years after college in the Teach for America program, teaching in a low-income, inner-city school in Chicago. She was terribly excited about being accepted into the program. However, when she shared this with her college advisor, he told her he was disappointed in her and felt she was wasting her education and her potential to succeed in the business world by becoming a teacher! She challenged him back asking, would you rather the person teaching your kids have a 4.0 from a top university or barely make it through? He conceeded that he would prefer someone like her; however, it always stuck with me that there are probably many others perpetuating the mindset that to be a teacher is a last resort. I'm sure you all have experiences with some wonderful, dedicated teachers out there, struggling to make it in a world that assumes many things about them. Let's make sure we thank those teachers and support them as they make a difference in the lives of our kids.

Second, concerning homework, I work closely with youth and their families in my job. One of the most frequent topics of conversation is homework and what is expected of our young people today - rank at the top of the class, get into an Ivy League university, be a star of the sports team or the seasonal play or 1st chair in the band, excel in extra-curriculars for the resume, be in the most popular crowd, go to the right parties, and then find some time to sleep. It is almost as if we teach our kids that it is an Ivy League university or no college at all, all the while there are wonderful colleges all over this country. And yet if we as parents are upholding this mindset, how can we be advocates for our kids to get rest and find some down time without them feeling like they have let us down? Yes, the world is competitive and school is competitive and getting into college is continuing to be more competitive each year. So, how then do we support our kids when competition surrounds them on all sides with the message that if they are not number 1 then they have failed?

Posted by: jenn | February 23, 2007 5:02 PM | Report abuse

This homework-mania is totally crazy. It is the result of helicopter parenting and everyone wanting their kid to be the smartest...Parents go to teachers, principles, school boards and demand higher standards. The schools/teachers just slop on some extra homework. Most of this homework is just busy work and completely worthless. I graduated from high school in 1995 and I never had more than 10 minutes of homework. Granted I probably didn't spend as much time as I could have and I was sometimes scribbling it out during homeroom or when I should have been listening to the teacher teach, but I was an honor student, so I couldn't have been missing much.

Posted by: AllisonNY | February 23, 2007 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Why did you leave the classroom?

Posted by: to Bill M | February 23, 2007 5:25 PM | Report abuse

My experience is much the same as AllisonNY's. People need to come to the realization that not every kid is a candidate for Mensa (which I wouldn't exactly be thrilled with even if my kid was but nothing wrong if your kid is and you are thrilled) and demanding more from schools so that they start piling on the homework isn't going to help. My daughter starts kindergarten next year and like another person on here, the teacher is definitely not going to be receiving any homework from us, SHE'S FIVE, I'd rather she played in the mud and twirled around until she fell over.

Posted by: Centreville SAHM | February 23, 2007 5:29 PM | Report abuse

"This homework-mania is totally crazy. It is the result of helicopter parenting and everyone wanting their kid to be the smartest."

Obviously from this board, parents are not the motivating force behind the level of homework. I believe the pressure comes from the universities on down. They complain that the kids who come to them aren't ready so they put pressure on the high schools to send them students who are better prepared. That eventually creeps down to the elementary schools.

In addition, there is pressure from our global environment. The Asian students excel in math and the European students learn multiple languages.

What gets lost whenever there is a discussion about homework, obesity, whatever, we focus on the issue and lose the larger perspective. As parents we're actually trying to find the right balance for our individual children.

Posted by: soccermom | February 23, 2007 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Lighten up people! There are many, many paths even to conventionally defined forms of success. Remember too that there are forms of success that do not require a degree from an elite university.

An underachiever from ages 18-20, I dropped out of college, served in the military, and upon return to civilian life, worked a variety of dead-end jobs that would have been beneath Charles Bukowsky. I refer to now it as assembling material for my memoirs. I finally hit stride at the age of 32 or so. Now I am a successful, well-compensated IT manager with an MBA, who teaches part-time at a private college, and is pursuing a doctorate in his spare time. Not bad for a college drop-out.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but you all are missing a big thing--the vast majority of kids are underachievers, not overachievers. Yes, there are the top 5% who work to the brink of exhaustion. The other 95% do not. If you go to a normal high school (not TJ), you'll see this in effect--5% get straight A's and the rest do not. I teach high school and have done so for several years. I give 10-15 minutes of homework a night (they need more to get the practice in, but if I assign more, no one does it!) and about 50% of the kids do it on a regular basis. I have so many kids who are happy to have a C or D, even though if they actually tried, they would all be capable of an A or a B. We have a LOT more underachievers out there than we'd like to admit. The thing that gets me is when parents "accept" that their child is only capable of C work, and therefore only expect that from their child--when the child could do much better if they took school more seriously and tried harder.

One of the greatest feelings in life is of being successful...many students don't get to experience that much because they don't try hard enough to actually LEARN the material.

Posted by: teacher | February 23, 2007 5:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm actually pretty sickened that some on here are DELIBERATELY choosing to tell their kids to not do their homework. What a wonderful example of work ethic that you are setting for them. No wonder by the time they get to high school so many are lazy slackers like the ones that "teacher" above wrote about: after all, they have your explicit permission and approval to goof off if it's not "fun."

Posted by: StudentMom | February 23, 2007 6:11 PM | Report abuse

The pre-k team at my school actually does assign homework for the little ones...the finished product is not the goal, but the time spent with the parents is what is emphasized. We give work that is relevant to the theme and takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Our goal is also to start the kids out enjoying their homework (they want to be like their big brother/sister) and we set the stage for future success.

Posted by: prekteacher | February 23, 2007 8:15 PM | Report abuse

I had teachers like Bill M in high school. My algebra teacher was like him in that she taught for part of the time, then assigned homework. This allowed those of us who understood the concept to explain it to the others. Had I worked on my homework during that time I could have gotten it done. Instead, I waited until lunchtime the next day and whipped it out. Having spent 15-20 minutes teaching the material to the other students, I clearly knew it, and the homework was excessive. My geometry teacher was like Bill M in that he was going to law school part time while he was teaching, and eventually left teaching to become a lawyer. Mr. Kelley, though, checked homework, then taught for most of the rest of the class period, leaving little, if any of the time for actually doing the homework. This was really unfortunate, as I didn't understand the concept very well. Thus it fell to my father, who every night sat with me for what felt like hours, teaching me geometry. He'd say, "What do you know about these two figures?" I'd say, "They're both triangle." "What else do you know about them?" and I'd come up with a little more each time. Gradually I'd work up to the answer to the problem.

Then I went on to college, grad school, teaching at the college level, more grad school, and now teaching preschool special education. I also have two children, ages 5 and 8. I can certainly empathize with the Mason student and too much homework and reading. If I went back to college level teaching now, after my second round of grad school, I would assign less reading. All the instructors say, "I know most professors assign a lot of reading and don't expect you to do it all. I'm different. I assign less reading, but expect that you will read it all." HAHAHA. One instructor even described one book as "bathtub reading." There was no less reading, and I hardly read any of it, and I did just fine. One of my friends ran out of money for books, which cost $150-200 per class, so she didn't buy them. She did fine.

My second grader has homework two nights a week. She whips through it, sometimes while playing Connect Four with her sister. They are supposed to do a math activity for 20 minutes every day. I figure one game of Monopoly on the weekend averages out to 20 minutes or more a day. Her teacher told me at the parent conference that she can tell I work with her on spelling and handwriting. Are you kidding? I can think of nothing more boring for me or her than working on handwriting. Homework that is too easy is meaningless. Homework that is too hard is frustrating. Seldom is it just at the in between stage of being just right.

Posted by: former student | February 24, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

You assign homework to make kids spend time with their parents? Why is that your job?

Of course families should spend time together, but why do you need to be involved with how they do that?

I'm hoping you're actually a troll, but if not, you need a little perspective.

Posted by: to prekteacher | February 24, 2007 10:40 PM | Report abuse

Worthwhile homework is OK, even if middle school students end up with 2 hours/night on average. But to be worthwhile, teachers need to give kids constructive feedback, especially with written assignments. Otherwise kids learn that they can write nonsense and still get checked off for completing the assignment. Also, art projects masquerading as English or history projects are never a good use of kids' time.

Teachers aren't necessarily to blame if a child seems to have 4 hours/night of homework. The same assignment that some students finish during class will take other students hours.

Posted by: FCPS Mom | February 26, 2007 8:03 AM | Report abuse

In response to teacher:

So are we saying that the homework that is given is inappropriate and you need to be an overachieving perfectionist to try? Perhaps the reason the rest don't do it is because they realize it's too much too fast and get too frustrated.

I'm not saying there aren't slackers, there are plenty. I'm simply pointing out that this doesn't mean there is too much. If the overachievers, the ones who really WANT to make it work, are the ones burning out- then maybe there really is a problem?

Posted by: Liz D | February 26, 2007 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I went to an independent high school considered one of the most rigorous and prestigious in the area. It wasn't worth it. Yet, my sister who went to an MCPS was just as burnt out at 18 as I was. You can't win.

High school students in my school were assigned a half hour to 45 minutes of work per class per night. Sports were required and the regular school day was from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Athletics then ran from an hour to three hours after the regular school day, depending on the student's chosen activity. If a student fell ill, she was expected to make up ALL of the work she missed within days of her return. If you do the math on the hours that would take, you can see how students who didn't sleep much anyway ended up totally exhausted when they should have been healing. English classes often assigned 40 to 50 pages of reading in a classic book per night. Imagine catching up on two to three days of missed reading while doing that night's reading as well. Would one less book read per semester make the difference in college admissions or in life?

What was really galling were the assignments themselves. In the seventh grade, I spent many late nights constructing a viking ship that would float. About 15 years later, I have no idea what that taught me about history.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

When I was in high school, I never minded long assignments that were just reading. They could give me history books, contemporary novels, or even Dante, and I would tear through everything. It was the desk time that got me down, especially long problem sets. My father usually made sure I did at least a couple of problems of each type, however, and that was usually enough to learn the material for the test.

The thing that I liked about the reading assignments, as opposed to other types of homework, was that they were portable. Most of the books were individual works, not huge textbooks, and I could keep them in my purse and pull them out in those odd blocks of time that use up so much of the day. I read in the dentist's waiting room, while waiting to audition for the musical, at the bus stop... even high achievers have to wait around a lot. Reading in a lot of twenty-minute blocks does not feel like hours and hours of homework, but the time adds up.

This approach served me well in college (Ivy League) and professional school as well, although it was often a trick to make the assignments portable. Sometimes I photocopied pages or even sliced entire chapters out of bound books (only if I owned them, of course) so that I wouldn't have to lug a year's worth of reading material through my daily routine.

My point is that time management is sometimes about material management. If a person has to be in a lot of different places during the day (which seems to be inevitable for college students, at least), work has to be portable so that it can be done wherever the person happens to be. Laptops certainly help with this, but why can't we have looseleaf textbooks? Or even audiobooks in some cases? Literature is still literature if it comes in through the ears rather than the eyes, and listening well is as important as deciphering symbols on a page.

We all know adults work this way, in any event. Why shouldn't students start to learn the technique?

Posted by: M.C. | February 27, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I went to a very good boarding school with 4 hours of homework every school night - we went to school every other Saturday on top of Mon-Fri. (This was in addition to mandatory sports.) I found this early training helped me immensely in college as I tried to balance varsity sports and a heavy workload and has trained me to balance a heavy workload in my adult professional life. Of course, this amount of work would be inappropriate for younger children.

Posted by: JB | February 28, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Adulthood is for work. Pre-adulthood is for education and skills. You won't have a strong mind without exercise. Of course, too, regular exercise, but not intended to replace learning time. A single set of graduation requirements lets the smart kids off too easily. Knowledge and skills need to be "cool". The so-called nerds need recognition and some level of segregation, to be free to learn unhindered, as there are those who define cool differently. My major complaint would be redundant learning (college repeats high school, graduate school repeats college too much).

Posted by: christopher | March 6, 2007 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Have you guys ever considered cyberschool??? We moved from Fairfax 7 years ago before we put our gifted daughter in school in Pennsylvania. At the time they had suggested that we just advance her a grade (which we didn't care for). We did public but it didn't challenge her and we weren't always happy with the choice of teachers. We even went to the administration to ask for a change of teachers and were refused.

Luckily in 2001 K12 ( opened. It is a public school 'at home'. We've been doing it ever since. There are 2 of these schools in Virginia and many in other states across the nation (go to the K12 website and see). If there is no school in your state, you can purchase the curriculum (many do). Because my husband is job hunting, this provides me with continuity of school/curriculum. It will greatly help us in locating a house we want, that doesn't have to be in the 'best' school district. I now have the 'best' school district available to me wherever we choose to go.

Materials that would be provided by public schools are sent to your home. My girls have up to date computers (fully loaded with great tech support) and the curriculum is fantastic. They get all the students guides (I get teacher guides), hardcover books and a fantastic online curriculum. **How many of your kids still have books that teach that Pluto is a planet???? Our curriculum was updated promptly.

The material is great for all learning styles. When my daughter finishes her Math for the year, she has the option for going on to the next year curriculum if we choose. K12 knows that each child learns in a different way, and they accomodate them at each level.

Group outings are organized, as are Co-ops. Teachers return emails within 24 hours and are top-notch.

My kids are in an advanced learning internet group that allows them to discuss Global Warming with students all over the United States in real time on their computer (with 2 facilitators). They give their presentations via microphone and onscreen.

Because this school is considered public school, it is paid for by our school tax dollars. It is not homeschool, even though the learning occurs at home. The brick and mortar schools don't like it because they once had a captive audience and now we are free to choose a better, more effective, more stimulating, more current curriculum.

Anyways, that is my 2 cents worth!

Posted by: happy cyber mom | March 6, 2007 9:49 PM | Report abuse

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