I asked a few parents to share their current thoughts - before
they read this article. There answers are below. What do you
1. Approximately how much time does your child spend doing
homework each day (in minutes)?
2. Do you think homework affects your child in a positive or
negative way, and why?
3. Do you think it is appropriate to give homework over school
breaks and weekends?
4. Do you think a longer school day will raise test scores?
5. How much importance do you place on test scores?
Jen Steiner, parent
Alexander Graham Bell School
Grade of child(ren): 4th and 6th
1. 10 minutes
2. Homework affects my children in a positive way because it
reinforces what they have learned at school and gives them the
opportunity to earn rewards from me.
3. Yes! I love working on "crafty" projects with my children
during a break. It gives us something to do besides playing video
games. When we are traveling over a break, I look for ways to
incorporate their lessons. We have gone to pow wows, excavations,
aquariums, and Civil War reenactments where I told my children they
were forbidden from learning because we were there on vacation.
(They are well familiar with my sarcasm!)
4. A longer day is just a longer day. However if additional time
is spent learning, then test scores should rise. I am in favor of a
longer school day, not to raise test scores as much as to keep my
children occupied and safe in a pro-learning environment.
5. I place importance on test scores because I want to know that
my children are trying to do their best work and feel they have
value in evaluating both teachers and students. I fully support
testing to provide guidelines for designing, evaluating, and
improving teaching methods. However, I abhor when grades are based
solely on test scores. And don't even get me started on when
admissions are based on test scores, grades, and socio-economic
Heather Ondersma, parent
Inter-American Magnet School
Grade of child(ren): twins in Kindergarten
1. They are given one assignment every day of the week. We are
supposed to keep a reading log (books that are read to them) and
they are supposed to make a weekly book report. The daily
assignment takes us between 5-25 minutes. However, our kids do not
complete all of the homework. We keep the reading log and our kids
do 1-2 assignments a week. They've done a handful of book reports
during the year.
2. When we try to do homework every night, our children get
stressed out, have meltdowns, express hatred for homework, etc. If
homework is less frequent they have a more positive attitude.
3. Researchers state that there is no positive correlation between
achievement and homework for elementary school students. I agree
with the educators who believe that homework should begin in middle
4. Perhaps a longer day will raise test scores if the added
minutes are devoted to an additional recess (not just a lunch
recess) or daily PE, since there is a direct link between exercise
and higher test scores. Regardless, Inter-American already had a 6
1/4 hour day, which seems quite long to me for the lower
5. Little. I care more that my kids are excited to go to school,
are excited about learning, and are curious about the world.
Parent/teacher who does not want name
Grade of child(ren): Kindergarten
1. Approximately 45 minutes a day
2. One positive effect of homework is that it helps keep parents
involved in the learning that is happening in the classroom. Also,
my child's understanding is made more complete when she explains
her assignments as we go over her homework. Finally, homework gives
her an opportunity to develop organizational skills. However,
especially in the early grades, students should have less homework,
allowing for more time to rest and play.
3. In general, school breaks should be a time of little homework,
allowing students and their families a chance to relax, enjoy
family time, explore new interests, and come back to school
refreshed. In the case of homework over the weekend, the best case
scenario is probably to allow children and their families to
determine the best days or times to complete homework. Weekly
homework packets are particularly valuable in this regard. Given a
week to complete the assignments, families can choose whether it
would suit their child and their schedules best to have homework
completed during the week or over the weekend (or a little bit of
4. I'm not sure.
5. While test scores are interesting, they are only one of many
ways to measure a student's success.
Nicole B., parent
Grade of child(ren): 1st
1. 50 minutes on weekdays, 20 minutes on weekends
2. It really depends on the subject and how much was actually
taught in class. If it is something that isn't learned at school it
ends up being very negative.
3. No, especially when the kids understand that school staff gets
a true vacation without work.
4. Maybe, if they are actually teaching the information in the
5. Not much, we make it about trying your best. Grades on
individual assignments are more important because my student sees a
direct correlation. I figure school is stressful enough, why add to
Laura Sullivan, parent/teacher
Peirce School of International Studies
Grade of child(ren): Kindergarten
1. 15-20 minutes of school work and 15-20 minutes of
2. I feel that it affects my child in a positive way because it
reinforces what he has learned at school and I also get to see if
he understands the concepts that have been taught. However, I know
that it is important that he not feel pressured or be forced to do
homework for extended or unreasonable amounts of time that would
affect him negatively.
3. I do feel it is appropriate to give students homework over
school breaks as long as, again, it is appropriate. As for
weekends, I like that my son has a break without homework during
this time and students should have breaks from homework.
4. It depends on what kind of instruction students are receiving,
how the extra time is being used, and what is being taught. So my
answer is no, not necessarily.
5. As a parent that works very closely with her son and his school
I am well aware of his abilities or the lack-there-of and I know
how to help him, and what my expectations of him are. Test scores
are important, but they should not be the only indicator of a
student's achievement and the last thing I would want to do to my
son is put pressure on him or stress him out.
If you think March Madness is all about college basketball, then
think again. Abc's, 1-2-3's, ISAT's and SAT's. March Madness is our
kids embarking on the Race to Nowhere.
With the dreaded ISAT testing season upon us, and selective
enrollment high school letters in the mail, I'm reminded of what I
did over the winter break from school. I found myself googling
"homework over school breaks?" When sorting through the search
results I stumbled upon several text and video links referencing
the "Race to Nowhere," a documentary produced by Vicki Abeles. I
also watched several You-Tube clips of schools that have taken some
form of a "no homework pledge." A wave of calm overtook me, as I
realized I was not the only person in the world that thinks it just
plain stinks to give a first-grader homework over a school
As I delved deeper into the topic, my calm was overshadowed by
the dark-side of this underlying phenomenon: Teenagers with
depression and eating disorders, elementary-age school children
with anxiety and stress related illness, to name a few. Apparently
homework over break in first grade is only the beginning of the
cycle. Teachers are being told to teach to the test without regard
to critical thinking, or the physical toll it can take on the kids.
And students are pressured to perform, not to learn.
Even in the pre-ISAT years the children begin testing of all
sorts to ensure they are comfortable with the idea of testing long
before the real thing rolls around. We have ISAT rallies that rival
a pumped-up crowd at the Final Four. We have quiet rules to the
point where too much movement or noise could be distracting for
those testing, so the whole school gets no recess, and no "extras"
like gym, music, and art while testing is in progress. Our schools
are teaching our kids from the start that test scores are more
important to them than anything else. Period. And what about the
parents? Some of us are doing the same thing by prepping and
coaching our kids for their Kindergarten entrance exams, and
begging that seventh grade teacher for an extra-credit project to
avoid that fatal 'B' that could mean no entrance into a selective
enrollment high school.
"The dark side of America's achievement culture" is a very
appropriate sub-heading to the Race to Nowhere. What are we doing
for our children? I think Tim Devine, the Principal of Walter
Payton College Prep High School, one of the top selective
enrollment high schools in Chicago, says it best in this video "Race to Nowhere Ignites Change."
"There is a balance that's achievable between the curriculum and
ensuring that the students are leading healthy lives."
Even the kids at Payton can't get homework over breaks.
Have you ever wondered what the purpose of homework is? I always
assumed it was proven to be a necessary reinforcement tool-though I
questioned the validity of so much at such young ages. I easily
found that Duke University has conducted numerous studies on the topic of homework, and
the results show that while homework continues to be controversial
among educators, one thing they all agree upon is that too much
homework is counterproductive, and that below seventh grade there
is no relation between homework and good grades. Still, many
educators use the 10-minute rule. A fourth-grader gets 40 minutes;
a 12th grader gets two hours. The problem is that even a 10-minute
assignment can take elementary aged children 45-60 minutes to
complete, and often create a scene much like you see in this
hysterical social animal video clip, in which my daughter
and I could have starred.
If there is no correlation with homework and good grades for
kids below seventh grade, then why are elementary school kids
getting homework packets? Pro-homework groups will claim it's
creating good study habits for all of that future homework. Some
parents think of it as proof their child is in an academically
rigorous program. I think the truth is that homework is often
required in lower grades because the teachers, to no fault of their
own, do not have time to give individual instruction to 35
students. If you read between the lines, this means that we as
parents have turned into our child's teacher whether we like it or
not. This means that differentiation at school is not possible.
This means there is no time for exploration, questioning and
interactive learning in the school classroom. Instead, we have
become homeschoolers whether we like it or not. Homework is giving
our kids the instruction they're not getting at school.
The Chief of Chicago Public Schools has decided to improve our
schools' test scores by lengthening the school day and the school
year. The problem with this is that one size does not fit all when
it comes to education. This is reflective of not just schools, but
teachers and students as well. When you have children from
preschool through eighth grade on one campus, it becomes even more
difficult to run a school effectively. Should a 6-year-old go to
school the same amount of time as a 14-year-old? Do first, second
and third graders really need 30 minutes of homework per day as
recommended by the Chicago Board of Education? Quantity does not
equal quality, which is why many parents are fighting the extended
day and calling for a compromise of "6.5 to thrive."
In Chicago, we seem to go from one extreme to another. If it
goes through, we will go from one of the shortest days in the
country, to one of the longest. There is no guarantee that anything
will be better, only that it will be longer. This has become the
sad state of our schools. As William Glasser said: "There are only
two places in the world where time takes precedence over the job to
be done. School and prison."
The state of our schools leaves our children fighting for an
individual moment with their teacher, it leaves them deprived of
daily physical exercise, it leaves them believing that good test
scores equal a good life, it leaves them with no curiosity and
little desire to learn. With no time for questions in class, it
brings on adult size anxiety, stress levels and health problems to
them at very young ages, and has them believing they are failures
if they don't get high scores. It leaves them running circles in
the race to nowhere.
Many kids are being rescued from this never-ending race by
something I once thought to be rare and radical: homeschooling and
unschooling. There is another education focused documentary called
"Class Dismissed" that is currently in
production. It focuses on a grass roots movement that has become
quite popular among many families across America and worldwide:
letting your child be educated naturally by exploring our
While the thought of my child not going to a school was a bit
hard to swallow at first, once I really researched the idea, I can
see how it makes complete sense. Imagine an individualized
education plan that you can design. Stress free -with no strict
schedules. Open-ended discovery. Daily exploration of the world.
Integration of education and real life. Check-out this blog
written by a girl that was home/unschooled. These ideas are no
longer rare or radical, and their demographic is not full of
religious and political conservatives. The new home/un-schoolers
are just ordinary people that take the opportunity to mold their
child's education to their liking. Yes, I understand it's still not
for everyone, but it can work for many families.
If you're not quite ready to take the plunge into the world of
homeschooling and unschooling, and want to stay in our education
system, what can you do? Go to endtherace.org and sign-up to be an advocate
for no homework policies in your child's school. Encourage your
school to host a screening of the film. Sign the "6.5 to thrive" petition. Give your child
plenty of de-stressing time at home. Fight the new law that will
link test scores to teacher's performance reviews. Try to find, and
successfully enroll in, a school that shares some of your ideas
about education. Teach your child that scores are not equal to
success. Let them know that ISATS and SATS are not what they should
think about in elementary school. Focus on A-B-C's and 1-2-3's and
let them be kids. Provide them with opportunities to ask questions
and engage their curiosity no matter where you are, or what you are
And if you are passionate, why not organize the parents at your
school to show up one hour late when the extended day starts? This
is not just about the teachers being over-worked and under-paid, it
is about our kids being stressed and pushed away from learning, and
toward performing. Or why not join parents across the country that
are opting out of state standardized testing for their kids? Let's
put March Madness back where it belongs-in college hoops.
A few years ago, my story would be different. But now, I have a
better understanding of our public education system. And when my
kids cross that finish line, I don't want to look back and wonder
where their childhood has gone. Not in that sentimental parent kind
of way, but in the literal way. Did they ever get to just be a kid?
Did they learn and become educated through means that made them
well-rounded, happy, healthy and relaxed? Are they comfortable in
this world that surrounds us because it has been their classroom?
That's what I hope to accomplish by avoiding the Race to
See more of Heather's stories here.
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