Monday, December 3, 2012

Kingston Homework Policy Reviewed

On Friday, I had the pleasure of talking with Kyle Wind, a reporter for the Daily Freeman, who was writing an article on a proposed homework policy for the Kingston, New York school district. His article, “Kingston Board of Education Mulls new homeworkpolicy (with policy),” was published this morning. In it, he referred to some of our conversation. Here, I will include my full comments to the proposed homework policy:

The policy mentions several times in bold text that research supports homework as a valuable educational tool. This is misleading in both fact and emphasis. The research supporting homework is scant. As with all studies, thoughtful people can read the results in different ways. Yet even homework advocates like Harris Cooper have commented on the limited marks homework gets in formal studies. He tends to support homework for its so-called intangible while other homework experts, like Alfie Kohn, Sara Bennett and Etta Kralovec, question its value. Even if that committee that reviewed the literature came up with this conclusion, to present it in the policy as a boldened fact without reference to controversy is in my mind questionable.

Even if a committee reviewing the issues finds homework valuable, there is the question of teacher training. Mr. Wind told me that there are about 700 teachers in the Kingston School District. It is important to know whether or not those teachers, not just the committee, have studied homework, too. Schools of education do not tend to teach homework-giving, at least at a level that compares to the weight it is given by educators. On that basis, I think the homework policy should include a provision for the district to sponsor in-service education for teachers on homework.

The policy suggests that homework reinforces time management skills, and perhaps, for those children who already have those skills, it does. But that should not be confused with “teaching” time management skills. Drawing an analogy to managing one’s money, if you have trouble managing money, the first step you take is to cut your credit cards up and work on managing the money you have. Similarly, if a child has trouble managing time, the first thing they need is a time-based boundary in which to do their work. Forcing children to do the work until it is done does not teach time management since the child has no fixed amount of time to manage.

I agree with Trustee Robin Jacobwitz that the ten minute per night per rule is probably too much. I don’t quibble over that amount simply because I think the most important issue is having a fixed amount of time. But I think it is important to know that the ten minute rule is not research based, but a norm. It is certainly better to operate with a clock based norm than it is to use estimates of how long the homework much take.

Provision 6 talks about no student failing because of homework alone, and I absolutely agree with that concept. But the statement is followed by one that gives the student a chance to make up work that has not been done. As it is written, this provision could be read to suggest that if the child does not make up the work, then he might fail.  The reality is that if a child cannot complete homework assignments on time, that child is not going to complete homework assignments as they continue to accumulate. That child needs homework relief, with an effort to better understand what is making it difficult for the child to complete the work.

Mr. Kyle refers to my comment about parents having the authority to relieve struggling students of some of their assignments. I would like to add to that position that it is also important for teachers to understand that parents are the ultimate heads of their homes. Teachers should understand that homework is being completed on “borrowed ground.” Teachers should have full authority for things that take place in the school. But they should also understand that, in the end, it is the parent not the teacher who makes the final decisions on what happens in their home.


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

 I recommend giving copies of the book to the teachers at your child's school. Discount purchases are available through Wyndmoor Press. Single copies can be purchased at Amazon.


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