Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Never-Ending Homework Battle

This morning, I sent the following e-mail to my older daughter("OD")'s teachers at the mucho expensive private school:

To OD's teachers:

Last night, OD got home from her soccer game (away) at close to 7:00. She was exhausted from a full day of school followed by sports. At this point she had already put in over a 10-hour day.

She had dinner and relaxed a bit with her sister, and got started on homework at about 8:00. She had homework in 4 subjects: Math, Spanish, Science, and Social Studies. I would estimate the time needed for each of these assignments as follows: Math, 1/2 to 1 hour; Spanish, 1/2 to 1 hour; Science, well over an hour; and Social Studies, 1/2 to 1 hour. If she worked without a break, with maximal focus and efficiency (not likely because of her exhausted condition), she might have been able to finish it all in about 3 hours. As it was, she got through everything except the Science by about 11:00, at which point I sent her to the shower and started winding her down to bed. She didn't get to sleep until well after midnight.

There are two issues with homework; quality and quantity.

First, let's discuss quantity. Even if the quality of the homework was excellent, there was simply too much. OD is a 13-year-old child. I don't want school taking up every moment of her day, and wrecking her sleep at night. She needs time to call her own. She needs to have dinner with her family, hang out with her sister, and just plain relax in the evening. It's not reasonable to pile hours of work on top of a 10-hour day of school activities.

Second, let's discuss quality. The quality of much of her homework is not high. Often, it seems like paperwork rather than actual learning. One of her assignments, writing an outline of a paper that she already read and highlighted, seemed especially ill-conceived, tedious, and burdensome. The physical act of writing the outline would take OD at least an hour.

In conclusion, I would like all of you to look closely at the homework you assign. Is it reasonable? Is it useful? Is it necessary? Then, you need to communicate with each other and make allowances for sports teams so that you don't pile hours of work on a child who has only a few waking hours left in the day.

We took OD out of the public schools in the first place because she was profoundly depressed on account of stress and overwork. I don't want her to go from the frying pan to the fire.

There is a film showing tonight at the [local theater] at 7:00, called "The Race to Nowhere". If you have a chance, I hope you will see this movie. It's about the pressure that our kids face in school.

Thank you for your consideration. -- FedUpMom.

We're going to see "The Race to Nowhere" tonight. I'll keep you posted --


  1. PsychMom says:
    I feel for you. Your letter is excellent.
    I'll bet the school is opening their big book of RESPONSES TO PARENTS now. Which one do you think you'll get?

    1) nothing
    2) OD should not be in sports. Homework is more
    3) We don't expect it will be like this every
    night, isolated incident.
    4) If we make allowances for one we have to make
    it for all (this is despite the fact that you
    did not ask for any allowances)
    5) Oh my heavens, we didn't
    realize! ....Tough.
    6) Oh my heavens, we didn't realize....we'll get
    together and discuss.
    7) We feel this is necessary to prepare your
    daughter for her academic future.
    8) None of our other parents have complained.

    Are there ones I've missed?

  2. Thanks, PsychMom!

    As for responses, they can't very well claim that OD shouldn't be in sports, since it's their requirement and their program.

    I've mostly been getting "we'll discuss" so far. I don't really want to have a discussion; I want action. We'll see.

    I got one response from the science teacher that he was "surprised" that I thought the outlining assignment was tedious! Give me a break.

  3. Oh, an added problem is that a lot of the homework is assigned "long term" -- that is, a week or more before the due date. I'm sure the teachers will claim that this magically teaches time management. I usually encourage dd to leave it till the last minute, since she wastes the least amount of time on it that way.

  4. From PsychMom:

    The more I'm involved with this homework affair, the more befuddled I am with it. It's just sooo assumed to be correct in the education system. No one even thinks about it for 5 seconds. Parents get this astonished smile on their faces if one should suggest that homework doesn't belong in school. You almost expect them to say, "Right, and I'll bet you're going to tell me there's no Santa next..."

    But it's school?...there just has to be homework. It's not real school is there's no homework. It's not real school if the kids like it.

  5. PsychMom -- My favorite on your list is "None of our other parents have complained." And how many parents expressly asked for their kid to get hours of homework?

    Talking to school administrators is like talking to a brick wall; they often do everything they can to convey that complaining about school decisions is futile. Many people are actually afraid to complain about anything for fear that doing so will somehow have negative repercussions for their kids, and administrators don't go out of their way to dispel that impression. And then they act like people's silence is an indication of their satisfaction.

    Of course, in a situation where silence is presumed to be assent, the rational course of action is to speak up every time you are dissatisfied with something, and encourage other parents to do the same. Is that really what the school is after?

  6. So when I picked up my daughter from school today, she told me that all her teachers told her that if their homework takes more than 20 minutes, she should just stop. That's progress, I think.

  7. PsychMom says:

    Yes, it is...but 20 minutes times 4, 5 or 6....still adds up to more time than just the sweet sounding 20 minutes.

    And you know that your good daughter is not going to leave just one more question..she'll do more than 20 minutes. Just because it now turns into her choice, doesn't make homework suddenly better.

  8. PsychMom: I agree, it all adds up. And, FedUpMom, even if the teachers' responses suggest progress, still, an evening like the one you outline in your letter shouldn't happen in the first place. Next year my daughters start middle school, and I'm worried that homework is going to become even more burdensome than it is now. Our board's homework policy stipulates that middle-schoolers' should spend less than an hour per night on homework, but according to parents whose kids attend the local middle school, most kids end up spending much more time than that, precisely because teachers often don't bother to coordinate assignments. I'm currently looking into other options for my daughters, but I suspect that kid-friendly middle schools are in even shorter supply than kid-friendly elementary schools.

    In any case, good for you for writing such an intelligent, bang-on letter. (Ditto, the letter to the math teacher.)

  9. PsychMom says:

    I've said this many times...I really like the school that I've chosen for my child for so many reasons. I do think it's been worth it, despite my grousing.
    But I'm at a crossroads about the homework issue because of the negativity it brings to the child's world about school. I can't accept that it's necessary, like water and air is. I want a new paradigm.