Saturday, January 5, 2013

Homework policy

I came across this homework policy for a middle school in Nebraska. It seems quite similar to the policies that affected my kids when they were in school. The policy was a non-issue for two of my kids, and was a disaster for my other child. Just as happened with our school, the policy proved highly punitive, as if strong armed tactics and coercion could produce a positive result.

The principal who posts this blog prefaces his policy by saying, "There are a myriad of reasons for this (increased social life, athletics, extracurricular commitments and simply more homework)" [note: this refers to homework completion problems], while overlooking the most important reason why middle school children do not do their work. In general, it is an under-the-radar learning problem that causes the problem. The supposed ten minute assignment takes the homework noncompliant student twenty, twenty -- forty, and so forth. By middle school, the student gets homework from five different teachers which he manages at the start by doing all of his work for some of his teachers, none for the others. Eventually, as pressure to do the work increases and consequences as described here kick in, the student turns off and does nothing at all.

Once we realize the nature of these underlying learning problems (usually in working memory and processing speed), we realize that we have to forego the concept of "homework completion," and replace it with time-bound homework that is accepted whether finished or not it is done.

The other key piece involves recognition of parents as the heads of their homes. There is an arrogancy in this policy in that it presumes to tell parents what they are required to do rather than suggest options that might be helpful. In the end, homework takes place in the home, not in the class, and this is borrowed time and space. While most parents will agree to homework and support the schools, when problems arise, it is critically important that the parent be the one who has the final say.

A final word that is separate from this article is that teachers have an obligation, if they are to assign it, to study homework. To the best of my knowledge, no school of education has a class called "homework." There is a dearth of continuing education programs for teachers on homework. It is imperative that teachers teach themselves the theory, research, and practice of homework giving. It is the minimum that we require of all professionals. I'm a psychologist who does therapy and psychological testing. You can be assured that when I went to graduate school, I took several courses in therapy and testing, and that I have access to numerous courses in my field for continuing education. Why don't we find this in teacher education?


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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