Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Homework load called too heavy

'Crying, debating, arguing, just total frustration'

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lisa Jackson says when her children sit down to do their homework, there is no end to it.

        The stepmother of fourth-grade twins at Central Baptist Schools in Cincinnati says she doesn't have time to work with them on school subjects they are struggling with because they have so many assignments that must be done for the next day.

[photo] Brandon Jackson and his twin sister, Brittany, 9, work on homework. Their father, Arthur Jackson, tells a neighbor child in Mount Airy that they can't come out to play because they're doing homework.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        “You hear complaints from teachers that parents want the teachers to raise the kids,” she said. “Well, piling on homework leads me to think that the teachers want the parents to teach the kids.”

        Three weeks ago, the Enquirer gave our readers a homework assignment: Tell us about your experience with homework. How much do you or your child have to do each night? Too much, too little or just right?

        The overwhelming response: too much homework.

        “Crying, debating, arguing, just total frustration,” Jo Anne Ayers wrote to describe her children's homework experiences. “Give a parent a break.”

        Following an article about increasing amounts of homework and a growing backlash among some parents and educators, the Enquirer received about 125 responses via e-mail from parents of first- through 12th-graders at public, private and parochial schools. A handful of students also chimed in.

        About 65 percent said their children have too much homework. Another 24 percent said the level of homework is just right, while 11 percent said there's too little homework.

        The battle lines were fairly clear: Some parents said homework intrudes on family time, while others said doing schoolwork with their children is quality time. Some said kids need time to just be kids, while others criticized the amount of time children spend watching television or playing video games. Homework cuts into soccer practice or piano lessons, some wrote, but school should come before other activities, others said.

        Ms. Ayers, the mother of a second- and sixth-grader at Nativity School in Cincinnati, said she spent almost three hours a night last year working with her children on homework. And most Sunday afternoons were filled catching up on what didn't get done during the week.

        Her son, then in fifth grade, was struggling in math. His frustration was compounded by the mounds of homework. Ms. Ayers hired a tutor and cut soccer practice from her son's schedule. But getting all of the assignments done was still a challenge.

        “You feel like you're doing everything, and you're paying for it,” Ms. Ayers said. “It got to the point that his grades sometimes were my grades.”

        The amount of nightly homework reported by readers ranged from 10 minutes to four and five hours. One high school senior said he's tackled as much as seven hours of homework in one night.

        Unbelievable, ludicrous, ridiculous. These were just some of the words readers used to describe the amount of homework.

        Many parents said school nights were like a race to get everything done before bedtime: homework, dinner, sports, clubs and bath time. For some families, homework has become another thing to fit in between baseball and Girl Scouts.

        “We have to cancel family things, fun nights out, even fun nights in because of the incredible amount of homework he is responsible for,” wrote Lynn Price, mother of a ninth-grader at Clark Montessori, a magnet school in Hyde Park. “After spending all day in school, two hours of homework a night is outrageous and detrimental to family time.”

        After consistently having two to three hours of homework a night, Rita Garstka finally made her fourth-grade son quit his soccer team. The nightly practices and games kept him from getting home until around 8 p.m., pushing his bedtime past 10.

        “I had to stand over him to get it done,” she said. This year, Ms. Garstka is looking for weekend recreational activities for her son, now a fifth-grader at Robert E. Lucas Intermediate School in Sharonville.

        “I want him to do well and not feel pressured,” she said.

        The second-largest chunk of responses were from parents who are satisfied with their children's homework habits.

        “Homework is important to learning. If you can't handle homework now, what happens when you go to college?” said Wayne Gibson, father of a first-grader at Milford Christian Academy.

        Margaret Ungar, mother of a third-grader and a fourth-grader at Carson Montessori in Price Hill, says homework is necessary for a well-rounded education.

        “Homework is a review of prior knowledge and allows me as a parent to gauge whether or not my child is retaining knowledge rather that just memorizing material learned,” she wrote.

        Many of the most scathing comments came from parents of fourth-graders, who pointed to the Ohio fourth-grade proficiency tests as a reason for their children's large homework load.

        “If the school systems would worry about making sure the children fully comprehended the basics instead of worrying about teaching to pass a stupid proficiency test, we would be in better shape,” said Steve Gooch, father of a sixth-grader at Amity Elementary in Deer Park.

        Among the anti-homework parents was a common suggestion: lengthen the school day if there's not enough time to teach everything without adding hours of homework.

        It's the teachers' job to teach, not the parents, many wrote:

        • “I am not educated to be a teacher. That is what I pay his teacher for. I do not think it should be up to me to explain math, science, etc. So many times my child doesn't have a clear picture of what is expected of him, and this is the teacher's responsibility, not mine,” said Linda Peters, grandmother of a fourth-grader at Maple Dale Elementary.

        • “I'm doing the teacher's job because they are too busy dealing with overcrowded classrooms, proficiency test-taking techniques, unruly children and their uncooperative parents. ... no wonder homework is piled on these kids,” said Jennifer Schueler, mother of a second-grader and a sixth-grader at Seipelt Elementary in Milford who says her older child has three to five hours of homework a night.

        • “I don't believe in homework. It is the teacher's job to oversee work, not send it home,” said Roberta Campbell, mother of a second-grader at Cornerstone Montessori School in Bellevue.


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