You are looking at a photo of my daughter. More specifically, you are looking at a photo of my daughter half obscured by her laptop, which is my perpetual view of her these days. She is a junior in high school, and she has too much homework.
Here’s how it goes for her and many from her tribe: she arrives at school before 7am for choir practice. She then reports to her four classes plus lunch, and is dismissed from school at 2:30pm. Except she can’t go home, because extra-curricular activities begin when the dismissal bell rings. For instance, she attends practices for the marching band — but after-school is also the time designated for other instrumental groups and school sports in every season, not to mention clubs such as chess and yearbook, or the assortment of extra-curicular activities not associated directly with the school. My daughter takes the occasional vocal lesson, but many of her friends attend things such as ballet class, pottery class, or the many prep classes touted as the path to college admission tests.
My daughter’s four classes are all designated “Advanced Placement,” and she is committed to excellent grades. Her passion is theater, and as such, she is always involved with either workshops, such as Musical Comedy, or theater productions associated with local companies. Both require their share of time for rehearsals and performances.
Colleges expect a lot from our teenagers these days. Not only do they want a student who can juggle difficult classes, but they look for students with an interesting passion or skill set that sets them apart. Combine those things with college admission tests such as the SAT, and the prep — formal or otherwise — involved with optimum performance.
But we all know colleges look at other things besides grade point average, passion, and admission tests. For instance, the National Honor Society only considers candidates who — along with possessing excellent grades, proven character, and leadership qualities — have completed 40-60 hours of volunteer service.
In order for kids to hit all of these marks (no grade pun intended), homework must be issued. The argument is that homework sets us up to be productive adults. Homework promotes good habits, an industrious work ethic, and the ability to think and reach conclusions away from the pack.
But productive adults also know how to be sociable and throw dinner parties and discuss world events and interact with family — and homework interferes with the time to advance any of these important skills.
In an article published in The Atlantic, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me,” author Karl Taro Greenfeld attempts to do his 13-year-old daughter’s homework for one week and finds himself buried. And to what end?
Obviously, there is a wide range of homework hours assigned according to the school and its mission, the subject studied, and the teacher. Some underfunded schools struggle to graduate their student body, while private academies receive blue ribbons of excellence. Some classes require reading and writing and the time that takes, while others require calculations. A 2007 Metlife study reported that teachers with five years of experience or less assign more homework than their more seasoned colleagues: 14% of the lesser experienced teachers assigned an hour of homework a night, versus 6% of the seasoned teachers.
The abundance of homework is often blamed on “teaching to the test” (the standardized tests) and the many challenging, less creative classroom hours teachers are directed to consume for this purpose. In a University of Virginia study, “When Is Homework Worth the Time?”, authors studied high school transcripts from a nationwide sample, comparing the year 1990 with 2002, and concluded that while more homework hours increases standardized test scores, it does not share the same correlation with classroom grades — leaving to question the form and function of homework.
But to form and function considerations, I add the component of time. I miss my daughter. Personally, I think she learns equally important, quality things when having the time to participate in dinner conversations, for instance, instead of shushing those around her while shoveling the food that is balanced on her open textbooks.
What say you? Let’s begin a conversation.