Weekly Feature

2017-11-29 / Editorials

Does excessive homework cripple the creative process?

Managing Editor

School board members are unpaid stewards of public education. They are expected to have the wisdom of Solomon, the credibility of Lincoln and the financial acumen of Scrooge. In other words, why would anyone want to be one?

It is no longer about which geography book to select for junior high students. The decision is whether or not an online curriculum is most appropriate for middle schoolers, and which one is best.

Entrance doors are locked during the school day, and in many educational sites, cameras eavesdrop on everyone’s activities. These security measures had to be debated at the board level, and if approved, added to an already lean budget. Finding a way to finance unfunded mandates from Albany has added an additional burden to the process.

All the while, board members have to remind themselves that they are not running a business. They are charged with providing the best education possible for the children of their community. Yet each year in New York State, crafting a school budget becomes a bit more mechanical. It has become increasingly difficult to see the faces of the children through a spreadsheet.

Then there is the issue of homework. How much is too much?

Author Karl Taro Greenfeld, writing in The Atlantic, penned an enlightening article titled “My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me.”

Alarmed by his 13-year-old daughter’s nightly workload, he decided to do his daughter’s homework for one typical week. She is in the eighth grade at the New York City Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies, a “selective public school” in Manhattan.

“We moved from Pacific Palisades, California, where she also had a great deal of homework at Paul Revere Charter Middle School in Brentwood. I have found, at both schools, that whenever I bring up the homework issue with teachers or administrators, their response is that they are required by the state to cover a certain amount of material. There are standardized tests, and everyone — students, teachers, schools — is being evaluated on those tests,” Greenfeld wrote.

“I’ve often suspected that teachers don’t have any idea about the cumulative amount of homework the kids are assigned when they are taking five academic classes. There is little to no coordination among teachers when it comes to assignments and test dates.”

I am a proponent of having students serve on their local board of education. Usually appointed by the superintendent, they cannot vote and do not participate in confidential personnel matters. Yet they are helpful, constructive voices in the decision making process. It would be a tremendous advantage to any school district to have one of these students graduate and run for a conventional board seat once that individual reached voting age.

Who better to offer insight into the homework question? Higher high school graduation rates and success at college usually translate into good-paying jobs and productive careers. In other words, better, more literate citizens. But at what cost to our teens?

“Some evenings, when we force her to go to bed, she will pretend to go to sleep and then get back up and continue to do homework for another hour. The following mornings are awful, my daughter teary-eyed and exhausted but still trudging to school,” Greenfeld added.

“Balance too often gets lost in the process of educational innovation and trends. Washing hands is a good idea, too, but not if you do it for two hours when you should be getting a good night’s sleep,” replied creative writer Anna Leahy.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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