Time for homework to come back in style

It's time that homework came back in style.

I've talked to a lot of parents in the last few years who believe teachers should teach everything kids need to know in school during the regular school day. These parents believe their kids need time to develop socially, to play, to do chores at home, be involved in extra-curricular activities, maybe hold down a part-time job, and spend time with the family. Homework gets in the way of all that stuff!

With most states developing new academic standards, it appears that something has to give. The Third International Math and Science Study indicated that one of the reasons American students do not fare well on international tests is that we ask them to cover too much. The phrase most often associated with the TIMSS report to make the point was "America's curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep."

The Midcontinent Regional Educational Laboratory study suggests that the new standards adopted by the states make that problem worse. That study indicates classroom teachers would need an additional nine years of education to teach their students all the material in the new standards.

What both studies clearly indicate is that students in America are not afforded the opportunity to learn what teachers present very well. Classroom teachers are forced to move on even when they know their students have not fully mastered the concepts they are trying to teach and students are trying to learn.

What that means to teachers is that in order to cover the material, students will have to take more work home. While that's not a bad thing, if the work they are taking home reinforces what they have been taught in school. But more homework could cause greater difficulty for students if they are expected to learn new material on their own because the teacher just does not have time to cover certain areas in class.

Classroom teachers often use homework assignments to check student learning, to reinforce what was presented, or to review topics so students are less apt to forget material during the course of a school year. Teachers will also assign homework to have students reflect on their knowledge, to do problems that allow more thought time than is possible in class.

The research suggests that students are more likely to do homework if the assignments are in line with what they are learning, are meaningful and count towards their grade in class.

Questions that have to be addressed include: How much time are students willing to schedule for homework on a nightly basis, and are parents going got support teachers who place greater emphasis on homework for student learning?

A more important question is: Will parents start taking a more active role in their children's education? Will they sit down with them and read, help them learn their basic arithmetic facts and procedures, help solve problems, and prepare them for tests and quizzes?

Too many parents stop actively helping their kids as they reach middle school. Not only do they stop actively helping their kids at that age with homework, parents also have a tendency to stop contacting teachers and don't bother to come to open houses at their kids' schools.

With the pressure of high-stakes testing to determine promotion and graduation combined with additional material that teachers have to cover because of the new standards, homework will increase in importance for students to succeed.

While parents have always played a vital role in their kids' education, their role as active learners with their kids will increase as new standards are implemented and teachers are asked to do more and more with no increase in time during the regular school day or year.

What I see coming is some parents will have to adjust their attitudes toward homework and not see that as an infringement on their family time. Without that attitude adjustment, their sons and daughters are more likely to repeat a grade or plain not graduate from high school.

Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a member of the Nevada Board of Education. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other members. His e-mail address is bhanlon@accessnv.com.


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