NJ’s Great Big Homework Debate

Schools  / 

Homework. It’s like the kale of parenting. We understand the benefits, and it’s not terrible in small amounts, especially when it’s made to look or taste like something way more fun. But a giant mound of it every single night is just a little too much to stomach.

The luckiest among us have kids who are self-motivated, organized, proactive and efficient. They come home from school, pull out the homework folder, assignment sheet and text books, buckle down and move steadily through their work, stopping only for snacks.

Wait, is that…are you laughing? Not the kid you have? Don’t worry. The other 99.9 percent of us have kids who require some sort of assistance, prodding or supervision to complete their work. And so we are left begging, threatening and policing in order to get the worksheet finished, the math facts practiced, the history read or the lab report completed.


Here in Bergen County, NJ, parents of high schoolers, like Jen Martin of Wyckoff, report between two and four hours of work a night and say that the work doesn’t end on the weekends. Add in the all-important extracurricular activities that often keep kids away from home until the early evening hours, and students are sacrificing sleep and family time in order to keep all the balls in the air.

Meanwhile, parents of middle schoolers wonder if their kids are receiving enough homework, if their curriculum is rigorous enough and if their children will be prepared when they hit high school. Alison Barth Burgoyne of Ridgewood says that putting in the time to help her son with organization and time management in middle school has helped him in high school: For us, it was to sit with him and go class by class to see what had been assigned and what was coming up. What we did was to make a weekly to-do list. Once it was all in one place, I'd help him chunk out the longer assignments. We also used multiple pocket folders in one binder to keep everything together.”


At the elementary school level, parents often find that after seven hours in a classroom, their kids need to move their bodies far more than they need to stretch their minds. And in towns like River Vale, NJ, some teachers are getting creative with optional homework based "star systems" to prevent homework overload for the younger kids. River Vale mom Sara Deutsch says, "I think the star system, where kids get to select the amount of homework they will do each night, is positive because it puts less stress on the child and gives kids greater flexiblility and independence, and I've seen more of a willingness to do homework from my 3rd grader."

So, does homework do any good? Teachers and parents say yes. In small, manageable amounts, homework can:

-give parents a snapshot of the work their children are doing in class.

-enable parents and teachers to pinpoint areas where kids might need

intervention or remediation.

-reinforce lessons learned in class and provide valuable review of concepts.

-provide practice in subjects like spelling and reading where repetition is beneficial.

-prepare students for the harder coursework and greater demands of higher education.


Plus, ask many administrators, and they will tell you that part of the reason they keep giving homework is that parents demand it. It seems that though we don’t love the process of getting homework done, we would feel as if our kids' education wasn’t complete without it. That’s a conundrum wrapped in a riddle, isn’t it?


So are there ways parents and teachers can make homework more bearable while still making it effective? A recent article on nj.com detailed some of the programs and ideas that are gaining traction around the state. They include doing away with traditional homework in favor of projects or self-directed study, instituting homework-free days or weekends, or keeping journals in lieu of completing worksheets. As Kedra Gamble, assistant professor at Rutgers University Graduate School of Education says in the article, homework, when thoughtfully assigned, can foster a love of learning: “Now we’re teaching them to think, to posit questions, to conduct research, to solve problems.”


Elementary school teachers believe it is most important that their students “read, read, read” both for the practice and for the almost accidental knowledge they will receive through well-written, well-researched books. Remember how you learned about pioneer living from reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, kindness from Wonder, and what it was like to live in the East Village at the turn of the century in the All-of-a-Kind Family books?


They also stress that homework should never be a point of contention between parent and child. They offer parents the lifeline that if homework is a true struggle, teachers can find a way to ensure their students gain proficiency in the material without creating World War III at home. Teachers also use "no homework" passes as classroom currency allowing kids to earn more through good behavior and use them at their discretion.


But what about when the stakes are higher? High school teachers are foregoing traditional homework in favor of curriculum-related games and review websites. Results are mixed. More motivated students (the ones who would probably also do the homework) are utilizing these tools but for others, it’s still a struggle. Across the country, some schools have gone to a mandatory study hour at the end of the school day in which homework can be completed with access to the teachers. Even better, kids can head to after-school activities with some of the stress of homework lifted from their shoulders.


One thing is for sure, as parents, we have a great deal to say on this subject. So now it’s your turn. Tell us:


-How do you feel about the homework your child does (or doesn’t) receive?

-What do you wish were different?

-Most importantly, share your homework tips with us. What works for you?


Visit the Bergen Mama Facebook page to comment, and you could win a $25 gift certificate to Marcia’s Attic for kids just in time for the holiday shopping season!

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