Ronda Walker: Homework — no child left outside

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The lazy days of summer have ended and school is back in session. K-12 children across the country are strapping on backpacks and heading to the classroom for seven to eight hours each day. During their time at school they are learning the academic fundamentals of reading, math, and science and, if they are lucky, they get a few minutes of physical education and the arts. Their school day is jam-packed with learning, teachers encouraging students to stretch their knowledge base, and expand their understanding of the known and unknown.

Children wake up early for school and arrive home mid- to late afternoon tired and ready to unwind. But they cannot rest or unwind because they are sent home with up to several hours of homework each evening. Apparently seven hours of school is not sufficient for instruction — but it should be.

Excessive homework is a waste of everyone’s time. And that is not just my opinion, studies have shown there is no conclusive evidence homework increases student achievement. A Duke University professor recently concluded that while homework can have a positive effect on student achievement for older students, too much homework for any age is counterproductive. And there is no correlation between homework and student achievement in elementary grades. If your elementary child is required to do more than about 30 minutes of homework each evening, it is too much.

My anti-homework stance is nothing new. Since the inception of formalized education in America, the issue of homework has been debated. Studies have been conducted, conclusions have been drawn, and opinions fortified. And the tide of homework volume has ebbed and flowed generally in tandem with real or perceived global advancements and competition. Perhaps the best benefit homework has generated is the strengthening of time management skills, perseverance, and responsibility of students who complete their work, especially if they have assistance from an adult or sibling. Those are indeed excellent benefits, ones that can be achieved in numerous ways without a significant volume of homework.

My children are awake approximately 13 hours of each day. They spend one hour preparing for school, seven hours at school. By the time they reach home each afternoon they have about four hours before bedtime. Four hours is actually more time than most families have to spend together each evening. I have the great fortune of scheduling my day to ensure I am always home when my children get home from school in the afternoon. In our four hours post-school at least an hour is spent eating supper, showering, and getting ready for bed.

That leaves about three hours for activities including playing outside with friends, sports practice, piano lessons, gymnastics, church, goofing off, watching TV, reading, household chores, and of course talking to their mom. Add an hour or two of homework each evening and their day equates to school, homework, and bed.

That is not OK.

Fortunately, many schools and school systems are rejecting the myth that more homework produces smarter students and higher test scores. Many teachers have read the research and reversed their position on homework. In fact, as I write, a news alert came across my computer about a North Texas elementary school teacher who sent a letter home with her students explaining she would not give homework the entire year because research has failed to prove a positive effect. Kudos.

My younger children are in second and fourth grade and their teachers do an excellent job assigning age-appropriate homework. It rarely takes us more than 30 minutes to complete homework each afternoon, which often involves writing sentences using spelling words and a math worksheet. This time provides me the opportunity to understand what my children are learning at school and gauge any deficiencies they may have. Older children, like my teenagers, have more homework but still a reasonable amount for their age and grade level.

Again, most teachers get it, but too many do not.

Our goal is smart children who are well rounded emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Generally speaking, public education in America is struggling to provide a quality learning experience for all children regardless of their socioeconomic status, their gender, their race, and their family structure.

Federal government-supported schools in America are forced into a one-size-fits-all model of testing, curriculum, and structure and it is failing many of our children. Fortunately, many systems are allowing their teachers the autonomy to think outside of the box and try varied approaches to learning. Learning takes place every waking moment. Learning is not limited to a worksheet or poster project. And too much homework actually degrades the learning process and weakens the family structure.

A final note to parents: if you are allowing your child to fill their afternoon and evening hours on electronic devices, you are squandering a valuable opportunity to participate in their emotional and intellectual growth. You are as culpable for the failures of the education system as the teachers assigning too much homework. Let’s all do better.

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Ronda M. Walker is a wife, mother of four and a Montgomery County commissioner.

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