Dealing With Homework
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Dealing With Homework

When kids work harder, it doesn't necessarily mean they're learning more.

What's at Stake

Ideally, the goal of homework is to reinforce concepts and skills introduced in school, and experts generally agree that the amount of homework kids are assigned should take about 10 minutes per grade per night. If experts and teachers agree this is the right balance, why then are parents around the country reporting that elementary-school kids are routinely dragging home two or three hours of homework a night?

Because of the emphasis on standardized tests, for one thing, says Bob Chase of the NEA: "Teachers, schools and students are being judged by these tests; pressures are being applied from all angles to make sure kids do well. Does this translate into more homework? The answer is yes."

In addition, says Shirley Igo, president of the National PTA, teachers may assign as homework any material that won't be covered by standardized tests. To free up class time for test prep, subjects like art appreciation, health education and citizenship may end up as homework tasks. The alternative is to skip them altogether.

Sometimes parents themselves are supportive of heavier homework loads, says Chase. "Many parents just don't understand the appropriate use of homework," says Chase.

"They think if children are working harder they must be learning more." In fact, overburdened kids actually learn less.

What You Can Do

What you can do about it: First things first: Talk with your child's teacher. She may not even be aware of how long your child is spending on homework. And if a child has more than one teacher, each instructor may not be aware of how much homework the others are giving.

If the problem is dueling assignments, it can easily be solved by better coordination among teachers. If it's a problem that's unique to your child, says Deborah Diffily, Ph.D., an assistant professor of early childhood education at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, the teacher can often make accommodations in the assignment so that the work doesn't take so long to do but the lesson is reinforced nonetheless. After you've described the problem in nonaccusatory terms, stop talking and listen to what the teacher suggests. If she doesn't volunteer any specific remedies, propose a few of your own. You might suggest, says Diffily, that your child be permitted to do only the odd-numbered math problems in a long assignment, or be allowed to move on to the next subject's work after spending 15 minutes on a particular assignment. If the teacher is opposed to all such accommodations, and if the child is genuinely doing her best to keep up with expectations though to no avail, don't hesitate to appeal to a guidance counselor or the school principal, says Igo.