Is Homework Elementary? Parents Have Their Say.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Several readers commented on my suggestion in the Aug. 5 Washington Post Magazine that we abolish regular homework for elementary school students and instead have them read whatever they like, with a parent to help the younger ones, from 30 to 60 minutes a night. Here is a sampling:

Dear Extra Credit:

It's so good to have a mother's instinct backed up by studies and statistics! I took my child out of Montgomery County Public Schools and put her in private school because she was so beaten down by homework and drills. An hour of homework a day in first grade! They say it's supposed to take 20 minutes, but most of the parents I talked to reported that it took their kids an hour, too.

Carole Kagan

(The family has since

moved to Chicago.)

Dear Extra Credit:

I wish your article on elementary school homework had at least nodded to a few issues that would need addressing before such a switch in homework strategies could take place in the D.C. metro area. How will we get more books to low-income families? The one library book a week these kids bring home is not going to accommodate an hour of reading every night, assuming there is an adult at home who can read with those who are not yet independent readers. You know the demographics of this area, and you don't need me to tell you that this a big assumption.

Elementary school learning is already skewed heavily toward the language arts curriculum. Even in math, curricula such as Everyday Mathematics rely heavily on strong language skills. What little pure math comes in the form of homework offers children with reading disabilities or who speak English as a second language a chance to shine while their parents are watching.

Too often, nightly homework is the only insight parents have into the work our children are doing in school and how well they are mastering it.

Sherry Delaney


Dear Extra Credit:

I taught second grade in Montgomery County for 30 years. Since we were required to give homework, I thought of the easiest way to plan it. I gave them a folder on Monday, and they brought it back on Friday or Monday. It consisted of three assignments -- one for Tuesday, one for Wednesday and one for Thursday. Tuesday was a math page that would take about three minutes, Wednesday was an assignment that would be fun (diorama, make Jello and write directions, go through a fire drill at home, etc.) and Thursday's assignment was to study the spelling words. If they wanted to do it in one day, that was fine with me -- they just had to bring it back for the following week's assignment.

My attitude was that the children work very hard in school. I felt they needed to play when they got home. I also told the parents that I could imagine nothing worse than when they are screaming at their child and the child is crying about homework, or vice versa!

Pat Howell


Dear Extra Credit:

You assert that students should be reading, and few educators would disagree with this. But doing away with homework will not advance reading, and, on the contrary, will certainly reduce it, particularly if (as you suggest) there should be no reporting on the reading. Doing away with homework will increase computer game-playing, Xbox and Game Boy, and will allow parents even to add activities to the family schedule. Some of these may arguably be good, but none will increase students' reading.

Alice Foltz


Dear Extra Credit:

Enjoyed your article in The Post Magazine. As the mom of rising fifth-grade, second-grade and kindergarten children, I've gone through the elementary homework drills for a few years and I agree with you that a lot of it is kind of silly. I also agree that so much could be gained from reading and that there needs to be more energy at school and at home focused on developing a love for books and how to choose good books.

I do believe one plus of homework, however, is it helps teach time management. I'm finding this particularly helpful with my 10-year-old son, who is a pretty typical kid -- messy, unorganized with a million and one ways to fill his time playing outdoors with pals, riding his bike, reading Harry Potter and playing on the computer (which is all great).

Elementary school homework provides me the opportunity to have my guy manage his time himself with benign consequences for making a poor choice. We've had several instances this year when homework was not done, incomplete, lost, turned in late, messy, etc., and it was graded accordingly. These were great, tangible examples for us to use in discussions with our son about getting organized, making enough time to do the things you have to do so you meet your responsibilities and still have time to do the things you want to do. We're making some headway on the organization front, and we think he has developed more ownership of his school responsibilities -- both in and out of the classroom.

Christie Peters


As I explained in the magazine piece, I am usually a strong proponent of homework but think no harm would be done if we experimented with abolishing it in favor of free reading for these youngest children.

But many of the points here are good ones, particularly homework's usefulness as a way to keep parents in touch with their children's progress and the risk that, because of family circumstances, the reading would not be done.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or

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