Considering the audience for the LeaderTalk blog, I am sure that some of you read the article in Greater Good entitled, "The End of Childhood?" The article begin with the following two paragraphs:
- My daughter does her homework at our kitchen table at 5:30 p.m. while I cleanse lettuce leaves and roast asparagus for dinner. There are tears, very occasionally, and, more often, annoyed rants at social studies worksheets. She's lucky if she gets an hour of play in the backyard.
Today children are overburdened and overscheduled, and so they are, in effect, losing the freedom to be kids—that is to say, losing unstructured time to run around and play. In four books published over the past year, we see that the calls for reducing homework and increasing playtime are reaching a crescendo. But these books also remind us that we as a society are still very far from bringing our day–to–day lives in line with these lofty goals.
The author of this article is Mary Anne Abramowitz, Ph.D. (a pseudonym for a freelance writer) but it could have been my wife. We have two daughters (first grade and second grade) who are fortunate to attend a wonderful elementary school. Yes, their school makes AYP and receives an “A” on the Florida School Report Card every year. Their teachers are talented and creative and my daughters love school, except for one thing – homework.
As a former elementary teacher and administrator, and now as an educational administration professor, I know the issues around over scheduling young children’s lives and I know that play=learning. We are committed to ensuring that my daughters have free-play time every day, even with Girl Scouts, choir, piano lessons and soccer.
The one activity that we do not have control over is homework. There are days that my second grade daughter will have 2-3 hours of homework (spelling words, vocabulary, daily oral language, reading response journal, math problems, FCAT test prep worksheets). This comes after a full day of learning and being on task at school. She still loves school, but recently she said, “I hate Thursdays”. She said this because there are so many assignments she has to complete to prepare for all of her tests on Fridays. She is 8 years old. I didn’t have that much homework when I was in high school. I am scared that her innate love of learning is going to be smothered by homework.
My daughters long to play outside, run around with our puppy, play make-believe, and do all of the things that we had time to do when we were in elementary school. But, there are many days that all they have time for is homework, dinner and bed (hopefully with a bedtime story from me).
This is not meant as a condemnation of teachers, principals and schools. I know the extreme demands that have been placed on schools from federal, state and local authorities. I also know that schools that have been successful feel enormous pressure to maintain that success. As a result, many teachers feel that they have to assign extensive homework to supplement the learning that occurs in school. However, as noted in this article and extensive research,
- "widespread assumptions about the benefits of homework—higher achievement and the promotion of such virtues as self–discipline and responsibility—aren't substantiated by the available evidence" (Kohn, 2006).
As school leaders, are you having these discussions in your school with students, parents and teachers? Do you have guidelines for acceptable and appropriate homework assignments? Do you have suggestions for school leaders who are struggling with these issues?