School's out as districts weigh lightening homework loads

MONTCLAIR, New Jersey Fri May 27, 2011 3:39pm EDT

Students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School use their laptops during a class in Dorchester, Massachusetts June 20, 2008. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

Students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School use their laptops during a class in Dorchester, Massachusetts June 20, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Adam Hunger

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MONTCLAIR, New Jersey (Reuters) - School districts from coast to coast are weighing the elimination of homework on weekends and holidays, part of a move by educators to rein in student workloads.

Officials at public schools in Galloway Township, New Jersey, this week proposed no more homework on weekends and holidays for their 3,500 students, and the Pleasanton Unified School District in northern California suggested drastic changes to homework policy for the 14,500-student district.

The moves come in response to complaints from parents that children spend too many after-school hours buried in work, and concerns from teachers that test preparation trumps learning.

Some, like Grant Elementary School in Glenrock, Wyoming have eliminated homework altogether for primary school children. But others are just trying to lighten the load.

"Kids need to be given balance in their lives," said Jane Golden, Pleasanton's district director of curriculum and special projects.

Parents there said they were outraged that middle school students were spending four hours a night on homework in the high-performing Bay Area district.

Under the proposal, there would be no weekend or holiday homework for elementary students, while middle and high school students would get a reprieve on holidays and vacations.

The new policy in Pleasanton would set time limits on how much homework children can be assigned and require teachers to coordinate tests and projects so students do not get too many assignments at one time.

In Galloway, in southern New Jersey, the suggested changes would limit the time children spend on homework by using a formula of 10 minutes a day multiplied by a child's grade. Thus, a child in second grade would have no more than 20 minutes of homework a day, with nothing assigned on Fridays.

"This is about homework being meaningful and making it manageable," said District Superintendent Annette Giaquinto.

The issue of stressed-out students overloaded with homework as well as tough academic commitments and extracurricular activities drew attention among parents' groups with the release of a documentary film "Race to Nowhere" last year.

"Homework is messing up the balance of kids' lives in terms of having downtime and playtime and family time," said Cathy Vatterott, associate professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the author of "Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs."

Schools have found that cutting back on homework does not harm students' performance and may even improve it, she said.

But not everyone thinks cutting back is a good idea.

Critics of the trend say that by scaling back homework, students will fall behind because they don't have the time in the school day to cover all the material needed to prepare for standardized tests.

And school board officials in Galloway noted that some parents do not object to weekend homework because it's time they can spend with their children helping them study.

The issue goes before the school boards in Galloway and in Pleasanton for further consideration this summer.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)

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Comments (2)
richwood7 wrote:
WOW, China and other Far-eastern countries, most European countries and middle eastern countries give 4-5 hours of homework a night and they are the fastest growing economies in the world. Many, particularly China never really suffered under the Republican recession. In fact US industries try to hire them over American students who need remedial training to bring them up to college standards. Another effort to dummy down American. Why not limit school to 4 hours a day Tuesdays and Thursday only so as not to stress the poor children out? Here in Texas students who must pass certain state wide tests ARE GIVEN UNLIMITED TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There may be 30 to 50 questions, if they haven’t answered it in 2 to 3 hours…THEY DO NOT KNOW THE SUBJECT MATTER….. DUH! Sometimes they have over 10 hours to answer the questions. It is NOT education, it is babysitting.

May 27, 2011 7:25pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
richwood7 wrote:
Another point. In many oriental schools students are 45 to 90 per classroom…no discipline problem because they enforce rules. Most of the schools the students are not allowed to ask questions. When I first heard that I thought how can that be? How do they learn? Now I know! I have written on the board (these are exact words) Read in your textbook pages 554 through 558 and answer questions on page 558, Q 1 through 7. I then read the assignment out to them, tell them they need a pencil, paper and their textbooks. 99.9% of the time several students will sit there and I say “Why are you not doing your work?” and they say they do not know what to do. I repeat the instructions. About 80% of the time after that several students will still ask the same question, responding that they didn’t hear it. I repeat the the assignment. Even then some students will say “I don’t know what to do.” at that point several students will usually say “He has already told us two or three times.” and point to the board. The whole point is that the teacher has explained the assignment (usually including examples) so if they were listening, questions are not needed.

May 27, 2011 7:37pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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