Monday, October 8, 2012

Implementing the homework trap -- Part 4

This is the final segment of a four part series on implementing the homework trap. Here, I will discuss influencing district-wide homework policy. The key to making change lies in education instead of argumentation. It is important to develop a community-wide forum in which parents and teachers alike can learn what current homework policy is doing to kids. Without such an educational approach, it is likely that efforts to change homework policy will deteriorate into community-wide debate without positive results. I have followed homework news throughout the United States and around the world and it seems to me that in every case where education precedes debate, change occurs. This is certainly true for communities that have had a community-wide showing of The Race to Nowhere film. In contrast, there are other communities where a specific parent brings up the topic of homework at the school board meeting. This may lead to a homework task force, and some parents will argue for more homework while some will argue for less, but nothing really changes. This happens because the problem has not been well defined before the debate starts.

I've presented my homework model at various meetings of organizations that bring together people who do not work with each other. They go back to their home communities with my ideas in hand but then find it hard to bring others on board. In contrast, I find it more effective to speak to one school district where parents and/or teachers who will work together or live near each other can continue the discussion and debate. I recently learned that an individual who lives in another state (from New Jersey, where I live) presented my ideas to a principal at a school. The principal agreed with the model so the person who spoke with the principal went on to purchase books and donate them to the school for distribution among the teachers. It is my understanding that this led to faculty meetings to discuss homework policy based on a shared reading of the concepts of the homework trap. I don't expect that every teacher will agree. But they will have access to the core concepts that are needed for meaningful debate to take place.

If you are a parent who wants to see change, I strongly suggest you resist the temptation of going straight to the school board, but rather look for someone in a position of authority who might be receptive to new ideas. It could be the school principal as in the case I described above. It could be the superintendent. It could be a caring and motivated teacher. But to foster change, you need to find someone in the system who is receptive to new ideas, who can talk with colleagues and help establish the type of forum in which learning about homework begins to take place.

I've often said that I have great respect for teachers, but that I am also aware that teacher training typically overlooks homework, despite the fact that it is so widely used, and factors so heavily into the student's grade. You can't change the educational field, but you can participate in the education of a teacher or principal in your child's school, and encourage that person to help spread the word. The fall is a great time to introduce new ideas, before homework problems start to occur.

Educate first, then debate.

Visit The Homework Trap website

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

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