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opting out of homework

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

My husband and I, after being faced with the stress of homework for the last 2.5 yrs (oldest child is finishing 2nd grade this year, middle is finishing K), have decided to broach the subject of opting out of homework for our kids.  My child in K hasn't had any homework yet, but we've talked with my oldest's 2nd grade teacher who at first was very resistant.  All they have is spelling each day, which I know is very minimal, but I've already heard that goes up a lot next year (and for the record my eldest only switched to this new school this year).  However I emailed his teacher two summary resources I had, which is the page from the stophomework.com site as well as a few pages from Alfie Kohn, and she actually read them.  Her daughter is also in the 2nd grade class and even she agreed it is very difficult to basically "bribe" our kids to do the work after a long day of school.  She was surprised to hear the findings by Harris Cooper, The Battle Over Homework, second edition, page 26, and Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of the Re­search 1987-2003, the Review of Educational Research [Spring 2006] that there was no correlation between homework in elementary school and achievement.  However, we made a deal b/c I agreed that we would still orally go over the spelling words each day instead of just doing the written copywork that was the homework.  And we are still going to do book reports and science fair projects.  We are in a very very small private school (in 2nd grade, my son is 1 of 6 students, in K my middle child is 1 of 10).


But next year is another year and another teacher, and the teachers my kids will have for 3rd and 1st are much more "old school" teachers, in both experience and personality.  For those who have opted out of homework, did you meet with the new teacher for the next grade at the end of the school year before the new year even begins?  Have all teachers been open minded about it?  What things have you learned?  Have you had any resistance from other parents if they found out?  I ask about this b/c I can imagine Johnny sitting next to my son and saying "Why doesn't he have to do his homework?" then asking the teacher and going home to tell his mom.  It just seems like I would be inviting some stress into others lives unintentionally.


II was wondering if since our school is such a tiny private school with a really available principal, I should just skip ahead and meet with the principal to request his approval so I don't need to meet with each teacher individually every year.  I honestly don't know if that would make my job harder or easier.  In the past, I broached the subject with him about showing the "race to nowhere" documentary at our school and though he said it sounded great, he refused to show any kind of movie without him being able to screen it first.  And he is SO SO SO busy (at such a small school he does a TON of work) he wasn't able to make any of the free screenings nearby at other schools.   


Any thoughts?  Thank you!!


post #2 of 13

I think that since this is something you are looking at doing for your child's academic career you should go to the principal about it.  The "old school" teacher may or may not have homework so I wouldn't address it as a worry for next year but rather as a long term thing you want to see changed for your children.  My dd has an "old school" teacher right now and the homework is really very minimal, usually just work that dd didn't do at home and I let her sit and take as long as she needs to in order to complete it (which is typically five minutes as long as I don't but in). 


If the only homework kids have at this school is spelling maybe you could look into ideas for making spelling homework funner and give them to the teacher if the principal shoots down your request.  My dd's teacher has a bunch of different things kids can choose from to practice spelling and they only do 2 a week.  It has seriously made spelling so much fun.


I have heard of parents who flat out tell the teachers their kids won't be doing homework but I have also worked in schools where the teachers take turns staffing a room at recess where kids who don't do their homework are sent.

post #3 of 13

I would imagine at a private school, where you are literally paying them directly to teach your kids, you could tell them to do or not do whatever you want.  Then again, they could say that attending that school is a choice and if you don't like their "rules" you can go elsewhere. 


I can only speak from my own experience, which is strictly with public charter schools.  Our county used to have an opt-out policy but it was recently taken out of the handbook.  Ds2 went to one school for K-3.  I simply told them he wasn't doing homework and I expected that he would not be penalized in any way.  That meant NO missed recess and no "bad" report card grades.  We had no problems.  That school closed the summer after 3rd grade and now he is in a different charter school.  They are giving me a hard time, mostly because the written policy changed verbiage, and also because the principal is new at her job and isn't actually very good at it.  Ds's grades have slipped, almost totally because of HW issues.  I'm deciding now if he will return next year for 5th grade or if we will start HSing earlier than I had originally planned.


I've posted lots about HW opt-out.  Feel free to search for other posts I've made.  :)  Best wishes!

post #4 of 13

I am a teacher myself, and I'd suggest talking to the 3rd grade teacher before meeting with the principal. No one likes feeling as if someone is going over their head. I'm sure the teacher would have a better outlook if he/she feels like you are working with him/her rather than around him/her. 


Even if you get some kind of "mandate" from the principal that is to last the rest of your child's elementary schooling, you need to talk to the individual teachers so they can hear your point of view. Take the opportunity to present yourself as educated and agreeable. Teachers might still label you as lazy and difficult, but they will be much more inclined to do so if they do not hear your reasoning presented by you in an amicable manner. 

post #5 of 13

I am a strong believer in parents having the final say when it comes to homework. My own model calls for time, rather than content boundaries on homework.  Feel free to use the materials on my website, www.thehomeworktrap.com when you present your position to the school. Regarding the research, you are right that the research supporting homework is very thin, and that the major problem is that teachers are not aware of that research. Over the long run, I believe that schools of education need to include a course called, Homework, if teachers are going to continue to use it as widely as they do. That is one of the problems parents have, which is that teachers have not received serious training in homework before you bring the issue up. Good luck with your efforts and let me know how they turn out. I’m trying to keep track of the homework reform movement as it unfolds throughout this country and throughout the world (which is why I was able to pick up on your question).

post #6 of 13
Thread Starter 

One_Girl, yes there is more than just spelling homework starting in 3rd grade.  Actually 1st grade at this school has more homework than 2nd.  The 2nd grade teacher is very very laid back and only assigns spelling every day. 


blessedwithboys, I have actually tried searching for your posts (I've seen you write in past threads about opting out of homework), but I can' find the posts you are talking about.  I can tell the search engine has changed and I'm not on mothering as much as I used to so maybe I'm not searching correctly?  Any chance you can cut/paste the info or copy the url to where the posts are?  Thank you :)  And I'm really sorry to hear about your new situation.  We were at a big public school prior to this which kept kids in at recess if they didn't finish their 45 min worth of homework (in 1st grade).  2nd grade had 1 hr of hw each day.  It was insane and they wouldn't work with us either, and I wasn't interested even in going no hw at that point but just less hw.  So we switched our kids but not just b/c of the hw reason but others as well.  We still consider homeschooling as an option for the future too.


KathrynH my husband is also a teacher, a high school AP teacher.  Even he was surprised when reading the information I've found.  He has gotten lighter in his hw load because of it.  He goes with me for parent teacher conferences and I have to say I usually let him lead our discussions.  We've never gone in demanding anything, and in my original post I mentioned how I forwarded the information I've found to the 2nd grade teacher.  I don't think what we've done up to now could be considered as lazy or difficult, and my goal would be to avoid that as well.  


What surprises me is why having less homework for a teacher to hand out or grade could be construed as causing the teachers life more stress.  If having less hw doesn't work (and performance would go down) I would think that would be evident quickly, and I would be setting my own kid up for poorer performance.  But from the information I've read thats not what happens.  I do want my kids to be more present in our home life.  My kids are also voracious readers and I do plan to share with the teachers next year that reading is one of the best indicators of school success.  If anything like I mentioned in my OP, I think a big issue the teacher faces is what the other students/parents think if/when they find out one of their classmates isn't turning in hw.  In a big school where you can't pay as much attention to what others are doing is one thing, but in my kids school it is so small they ALL know what is going on with everyone.  Or, who knows maybe other parents have thought about opting out too and I'll open the door for them :)  


Dr Goldberg thank you for your reply, I will check your book and website out.

post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 

Ok I'm replying to my own post with an update.  I have to say my son and I are really enjoying our different way of doing the spelling words now.  Like I mentioned above, with his teachers approval, instead of forcing him to sit still to do the typical spelling homework routine, which each night is supposed to take 10 min but it takes my son 40 min--write each word 3x on Mon; alphabetical order on Tues; and write the words in rainbow colors on Wed OR use each in a sentence; followed by the written practice test on Thurs.  We are instead orally going over the spelling of each word together (which has been happening over breakfast, while driving in a car, or even while watching one of his younger brother's sports practices); then I am additionally asking him what the definition is, and to use each word in a sentence.  I'm asking him to try a new sentence each day so he's not just thinking of the same thing over and over.  


Previously, by trying to get him to sit still and write, I am embarrassed to admit in the craziness of the day I honestly wasn't even following up with whether or not he knew the definition of the word, and in the typical homework routine above he wasn't even required to use them in a sentence (he'd always pick writing the rainbow words over having to write out sentences!!)  Even my son commented "wow mom its like we're doing even MORE homework that we were before!" and he said this with a big smile and very happy.  Plus it doesn't take nearly as long as forcing him to sit still and write (but his writing skills are very good, so I'm not in the least bit worried about that.)  I'm really happy to have tried this out and even more satisfied that I think deeper learning is taking place.

post #8 of 13

Another great way to practice words they need to know the definition of is with Vocabulary awareness charts. I teach English and also do private tutoring. Helping the  kids make a personal connection to the word is vital. With the awareness charts, they tell me how well they know the words before we even start. If they are really comfortable with a word, then they don't have to focus on it. It makes for much more individualized learning and awareness of their own education.


There are many different versions of the chart based on grade level. If interested, just google.

post #9 of 13

OP, I'm going a little OT here, but on the general idea of homework I've surprised myself by not really being against it wholesale. I do think homework can be valuable, especially as a bridge between school and the parents. I can see how well my 5th grader understands math concepts when I look over her homework sheets and help her with problems she doesn't understand. If there wasn't homework I wouldn't really know until progress reports were handed out and then I still don't get a detailed picture of what my dd knows just a generalized report of how she's doing. With homework I can help her understand concepts she may have missed in class through no fault of the teacher's-- dd1's just not always one to speak up if she doesn't understand. 


That said, I don't believe in overburdening kids with homework. I heard an interesting story on NPR recently about high schools in Detroit (I think) that had gone to a "flip" model of teaching and homework. Instead of the the teacher lecturing during class and assigning homework based on the lecture, the lecture is assigned as homework through YouTube videos of the teacher and then the class works on what would have been the homework project in class. I thought it sounded great. http://www.ideastream.org/news/feature/44582


Now as far as my second grader, her homework is minimal and mostly easy math that she does in 5 minutes or less. I don't find it very useful because it's really too easy for her so I rarely need to help her or reinforce any concepts she's learned at school. On the plus side it's so easy that it barely takes any time and she doesn't grumble about it too much. Dd2 rarely has spelling homework. Dd1 (5th grade) did have some spelling earlier in the year, but her teacher has kinda stopped giving that. Sometimes that did get on my nerves because it seemed so pointless (alphabetize the letters in the word, so "homework" becomes "ehkmoorw") or just drudgery (copy the word 3 or 5 times). But overall for us I have appreciated the connection that homework can give, especially in math, but sometimes it can be overwhelming to dd1 who struggles with anxiety. 

Edited by beanma - 5/2/12 at 3:18pm
post #10 of 13

I hope you didn't take my post to mean that you were actually being "lazy or difficult!" I was simply trying to emphasize that open communication with teachers helps keep them from creating incorrect labels. It sounds as if you have been very communicative up until this point, and it has resulted in cooperation from the teacher. Good luck to you!

post #11 of 13

Nothing that I posted was really "valuable" like links to studies or anything scientific.  Just mostly my rantings and ramblings about how I hate HW and so opt my kiddo out of doing it.  :)

post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 

Kathryn no thats not what I meant, I was just trying to address your post is all :)


blessedwithboys I wasn't asking about scientific studies, but your personal experience if anything you felt worked when you talked to teachers 1:1, or what happened when you talked to other parents about it, etc, just since you've been through this for a few years already.  


beanma yes I understand what you are saying, and that is what I originally thought about when I thought about homework too.  But I realized that all my kids classwork and tests come home which tells me every day what they are doing, and on tests if they get any wrong they are expected to correct them, so in that sense I am able to help.  And in reality even with the homework I'm rarely helping anyway because like you mentioned the majority of it is copy a word 3 times or write them in rainbow.

post #13 of 13

Well, helping dd1(5th grade) with her math homework really does help her understand concepts that she missed in class, so that when she does have a test she is able to do better on it than if she hadn't had the homework. We get papers back, too, but that's after the fact, and there's not nearly the number of papers for dd1 that there are for dd2 (2nd grade), so I wouldn't see a problem area until it was too late and she had already done poorly on a test.


Don't get me wrong, I am not a big proponent of homework, but when it's not busy work I think it really can be a valuable tool. Right now pretty much the only homework dd1 has is in math. Her other teachers don't really give homework (spanish, reading, science, social studies, writing) and math is her most troublesome area so it has been helpful for us to be able to see what concepts she's having trouble with and work with her at home on them so she can do well in school. If she had homework in all her subject areas it would be too much, and earlier in the year when she was having more writing and spelling homework it was a lot for her, but her  writing/spelling teacher hasn't given any this quarter and a minimal amount last quarter, so it's much better now. 


DD2 (2nd grade) pretty much just has math, too, and does that in about 5 minutes (sometimes on the way home from school in the car). She's also supposed to keep a reading log, but both she and the teacher are pretty slack about that because she doesn't need any extra help in that area and is reading way above 2nd grade level. She was annoyed at the beginning of the year when they were making her read these little leveled readers (they use that letter scale and they had her on "L" and "M" books which were the highest in her second grade class) that she just felt were way too easy and "baby" for her. They're not really doing that any more and I am glad about that because that was just busy work for her. She'll read plenty on her own and books that challenge her (Harry Potter 4 instead of Frog and Toad) so she doesn't really need that kind of homework. She doesn't do her math perfectly every time (might miss one problem) so it does help to reinforce some concepts to do some homework. If it was really cutting into her time and she wasn't learning anything I might feel differently, but it's just not worth fighting about for her because the time is so minimal and she might actually be getting a little bit out of it. She doesn't really have spelling words very often. I have seen a few come home, but not regularly. 


For dd1 homework does take a lot more of her time because she is the queen of dragging it out and complaining about it and getting distracted and not focusing. However, even so, I do think it can be valuable for her because it's a subject she's having some difficulty with and we're able to work through those pesky math concepts together. If she could do it easily and just still did the complaining and dragging it out bit I would probably feel differently, but I'd also feel like she needs to be able to concentrate and focus for the 20 minutes it should take to get it done.


So, I have totally taken this thread off topic and I am really not trying to convince you that you should give up your plan to opt out of homework, but the teachers and principal are probably coming at it from the same direction that I am. Homework is supposed to reinforce the concepts taught in school. If you can show that your child already gets it or if you can show that you will work on spelling a different way like you already are then they might be more receptive to the idea of opting out. 


Good luck!

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