Yesterday, I suggested finding out your school, district, or state guidelines on summer homework. A few months ago, I followed the very steps I suggested yesterday for my own state (New York) and I discovered that in May, 2009, the New York State Board of Education sent a memorandum to all District Superintendents, all Principals, and all Chairs of the English Language Arts Departments throughout the state. Titled, 'Guidance on Locally Required Summer Reading Assignments,’ the memo set forth guidance and suggestions for developing acceptable required summer reading assignments.
Here’s what the guidelines state:
Where a district/school chooses to require a summer reading assignment, it must comply with the following:
* Class grades should reflect work done under a teacher’s direction and supervision. There must be sufficient opportunity for students to obtain teacher guidance and instruction before completing a graded assignment.
There are several other requirements including that if students are unable to reach teachers by phone, by email, or in person, then students should be permitted to complete the assignment upon returning to school.
You can read the guidelines here.
What interests me about my discovery is that if schools were to follow the guidelines, it is unlikely that they would assign summer homework. It would just be too difficult, too costly, and teachers would have to be on hand to provide 'guidance and instruction.’ But as long as no one knows about the guidelines, and no one asks that the school enforce them, schools will continue to assign summer homework. In fact, even though the guidelines were issued over a year ago, every New York State student I heard from got homework last summer.
Yesterday, I wrote about just a few of the reasons I am opposed to summer homework. Of course that doesn’t mean I am opposed to reading for pleasure, learning for pleasure, or pursuing one’s passions. I’m just opposed to the school sending home the same kind of work it sends home during the school year work that is mostly an afterthought, is busywork, and doesn’t engage a student.
Before you resign yourself to summer homework, though, make sure that your school is complying with all policies and guidelines.
Take a few minutes and check your school’s policy. You might be surprised to find that it forbids summer homework. If it does, just give your school principal a friendly call and remind her/him of the policy. But if your school policy doesn’t prohibit summer homework, don’t stop there. Be sure to check the district and state guidelines as well.
This is how you check the state guidelines:
Google your state name and Board of Education. When you get to your state’s website, put 'summer homework’ into the search box. If you don’t come up with anything, call the contact number and ask whether there are statewide guidelines on summer homework. If the person who answers the phone tells you that s/he doesn’t know, don’t give up. Ask who might be able to help you and ask to be transferred. If need be, go all the way to the Commissioner. All told, you won’t spend more than 5-10 minutes.
TOMORROW: What I discovered when I followed the above advice.
In Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, 12-year-old Douglas Spalding treasures
a whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day. …He saw his hands jump everywhere, pluck sour apples, peaches, and midnight plums. He would be clothed in trees and bushes and rivers…. He would bake, happily, with ten thousand chickens, in Grandma’s kitchen.
After 4 years of running Stop Homework and talking to thousands of parents and children across the country, I know that summers no longer promise those complete and absolute carefree joys. Instead, most students across the United States will have homework hanging over their heads the entire summer.
It won’t surprise anyone here to know that I am adamantly opposed to summer homework. While I am a big fan of reading, those assigned summer homework books don’t usually appeal to most students, and they end up discouraging reading rather than promoting it.
Here are just a few of the other reasons I hate summer homework:
Check back tomorrow and the rest of the week for some ideas on ways to advocate for an end to summer homework. And in the meantime, post your opinion on summer homework in the Comments.
I really like this piece, Pushing for Perfection A Poor Choice in Parenting, sent to me by northTOmom, who often writes interesting comments here.
Pushing for Perfection A Poor Choice in Parenting
The importance of allowing your children to be ordinary
by Joanne Kates
I was talking the other day to a woman who described herself as 'Type A, a bit of a control freak’ and said that she knows this infuses her parenting style.
I admitted to her that I play for that team too, and that it hasn’t been so hot for my parenting. She seemed shocked.
She then asked me: 'Would you do it differently if you had it to do over again?’
I said yes. Which I think made her want to throw up, but she gained control over herself and asked me for details.
I told her that my biggest parenting mistake was schools. In order not to get sued, I shan’t mention specific names, but I will confess to pushing both my kids to go to high-performance academically rigorous schools. Which neither of them liked. What a surprise.
My kids are both super bright (we all think that) so I thought they’d benefit from high academic standards.
At least that’s what I told myself. And other people.
Because of the stories I get to hear from kids, thanks to my privileged position as a camp director, I knew girls were participating in oral sex at age 13, and kids were starting soon after that to smoke pot and drink alcohol. I was so scared of my daughter being influenced to join that party that I pushed her to go to a highly academic school where I thought the social agenda would be less aggressive.
Boys are different. When his turn came I was worried that he wouldn’t work hard enough, pay enough attention to his studies.
That’s why he got the pressure to go to a high-octane school.
Hindsight being 20/20, I have the same regret with both kids and it concerns control. Both my kids would have been happier at regular high schools.
The best gift I could have given them would have been permission to be ordinary and I couldn’t bring myself to do that.
Something about being a Me Generation parent the narcissism and specialness of our own selves made me not even able to see how much pressure I was putting on my kids.
That they were both bright enough to perform just fine in those environments is not relevant. What matters more is that I chose their paths. They did not.
We all pretended that they got to choose, but the pressure I exerted was so pervasive that they both knew better than to disappoint me.
So if I had it to do over again, I would make more space for my kids to follow their own stars.
I would acknowledge that my own worries about their lives today and their lives tomorrow are just that my worries. And I would fight (myself) tooth and nail to refuse to give in to my worries when making decisions about my children’s lives.
I would trust them more, knowing that we had raised them with great love and good values, and that they would be all right.
I would understand that permeating their child-rearing with my anxieties was a disservice to them.
I would work harder to control my desire for them to be special, and what would help me with that would be knowing (once again, thanks to hindsight) that the best way to acknowledge kids’ specialness is to love, support and respect them. That’s special enough.
It wasn’t necessary for me to make them special by growing them into great students or gymnasts or hockey players. They were already special enough.
The part I missed was that who they were was plenty good enough. Absence of pressure was a gift I would have loved to give them if I only knew then what I know now.
A few weeks ago, the Boston Globe ran a piece, Homework Hell. Here’s the letter, heavily edited, that the Globe published on Sunday in response:
Beth Teitell’s article 'Homework Hell’ (May 2) provided an important, albeit anecdotal, view of how homework can negatively affect family life, but the topic of homework and the ways many schools routinely apply the requirement deserves fuller treatment. Teachers, administrators, parents, and reporters would do well to consider what’s driving blind acceptance of homework at all levels and whether current practices are beneficial or based on nothing but an enduring myth. Peggy Field / Norwell
Peggy Field sent me the full letter she had written to the Globe:
To the Editor:
Beth Teitell’s article 'Homework Hell’ in the May 2 Boston Globe magazine provided an important, albeit anecdotal, view of how homework can negatively affect family life, but the topic of homework and the ways many schools apply the requirement as a matter of routine deserves a much fuller and more serious treatment.
Teitell’s piece seemed promising at first, illustrating the real rifts that can occur between parent and child when parents are put in the position of homework enforcer. However, the piece veered into a discussion of vague 'parental anxiety’ before concluding with an exhortation from Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman to parents to 'keep your anxiety to yourself’ when helping out.
Omitted is the possibility that parents can maintain a positive attitude toward school, teachers and learning, and continue to urge their children to work hard and do their best, while asking questions of their child’s teacher and school officials about homework policy.
Many important questions about the stated goals, educational validity and simple fairness of compelling students (and their families) to devote periods of at-home time to additional school work particularly in elementary and middle school grades are simply not being asked by those who should be asking such questions. Existing thorough and respectful examinations of the subject, not only by Alfie Kohn but also by Sara Bennett, Etta Kralovec, John Buell and Cathy Vaterott, are blithley ignored in lieu of complacently maintaining the status quo.
Few would argue that taking time outside of school to thoughtfully puzzle out a vexing calculus problem or computer program, or to read a novel or historical text at length, is a negative. But teachers, administrators, parents and education reporters would do well to take a step back and consider what is actually driving blind acceptance of homework simply as a matter of routine at all levels, and whether current practices are beneficial or even harmless, or if they are based on nothing but an enduring myth.