Leave It To The Experts


I don’t remember any debates about homework when I was a kid. You got homework. You did it.  Your parents didn’t attend school board meetings to discuss the merits of too much, or too little, homework.  But now, like Goldilocks, we search for the amount of homework that is “just right”.  And parents are the biggest complainers. Kids may not love doing homework, but they tend to complete it — and the ones who don’t would probably not do their work even if they had less of it.

     I sometimes long for a return to the time when parents weren’t so hyper-involved in their kids’ education.  For example, when parents wrest control of the homework mandate, it emasculates teachers; teachers become disempowered — by district mandates, principals, the teachers’ union — when they should have more of a say in the homework battle.  There are schools across the country where parents have decided that enough is enough — their kids aren’t doing any more homework. What gives them the right to make this decision?

     Instead of worrying about the quantity of homework, we should be concerned about the quality.  Busy work serves only a punitive purpose; meaningful work that reinforces or deepens classroom work is more time-consuming to produce, but useful to the student.

     Over the summer, my daughters, who are entering 8th and 10th grades, respectively, had to read a couple of books and take notes.  Of course they left this to the end of summer, and of course they were annoyed, but I didn’t see anything wrong with them having summer assignments.  Other parents I know felt it was ridiculous that there was any summer work. Summer is the time for play, they argue.  But if kids go 10 weeks or more without using their brains, the school transition is more difficult.

     The really odd thing about homework is that it is often not checked for accuracy.  It seems to me that looking at the homework would be useful to a teacher; he could see if the student understands the work (unless, of course, the parent did it).  I have no problem helping my kids with their homework, but if they don’t understand something, I encourage them to speak to the teacher.

     What drives me crazy, though, is when one of my girls works hard on a paper, and gets back no commentary from the teacher.  Simply writing “good – A” on the top of the paper is not helping the student.  Admittedly, this has not occurred frequently. They go to good schools, with quality teachers, but every so often, it happens, and they are almost as upset by it as I am (I guess seeing “Fair – C” would bother them more). But if a student puts all that work into a paper, she deserves some feedback.

     Many schools in New York City, including the elementary school and high school that my youngest and oldest attend, are now part of a new ‘empowerment zone’ of schools that will be granted a tremendous amount of autonomy.  But one odd thing — they will have to add even more frequent assessments, making them more accountable to parents.  I consider teachers the experts in education; I like to leave medicine to doctors, and teaching to educators.