In How one school turned homework on its head, PBS looks at “flipped” teaching at Clintondale High, a low-performing school near Detroit. “Teachers record lectures for students to watch online outside of class, and what was once considered homework is now done during class time, allowing students to work through assignments together and ask teachers for help if they run into questions.”
In a New Orleans suburb, Common Core homework is confusing parents, notes a Hechinger Report story.
When Mike and Camille Chudzinski tried to help their son with his homework earlier this fall, they were bewildered. The fourth-grader brought home no spelling lists, few textbooks, and a whole new approach to solving math problems. When he tackled multi-digit addition, for instance, Patrick did not just line up the two numbers and then add the columns, as his parents had been taught to do. Instead, he sketched out a graph with a series of arrows and marks that appeared at first to his parents as indecipherable as hieroglyphics.
“The first few weeks of homework … there was a lot of us asking, ‘Why are you doing that? You are wasting time. Just add the numbers,’ ” said Camille Chudzinski.
When their son, Patrick, got to multi-digit multiplication, “a single equation could consume an entire page.”
Faced with the problem 452 x 4, for instance, he started with the “break apart” method, which entails multiplying 4 by 2, 4 by 50, and 4 by 400, and then adding up the results. He depicted a similar problem graphically using the “area model.” He also tried “repeated addition” (adding 452 four times) and what’s referred to as the “standard algorithm” (lining up the problem vertically, as his parents were taught to do).
Teachers hope “children will come to understand the meaning behind math problems—and not just learn how to follow rules.”
Across the country, teachers are changing the way they teach in response to Common Core standards.
In Belle Chasse, Louisiana, first-grade teacher Debbie Giroir is cautiously optimistic, according to the Hechinger Report.
Jasmine, a small girl with braids, stands in front of the classroom, sketching out different ways to represent the number: five triangles, five tally marks, 2 + 3 = 5.
“Does anyone have another way we can make five?” Giroir asks. The answers come fast and furiously.
“Five plus zero!”
“Four plus one!”
“I have another way!”
In Giroir’s first grade classroom, traditional math textbooks and worksheets are relics of the past. In their place are “manipulatives”—physical objects such as brightly colored blocks, dice, cubes, popsicle sticks, and dominoes—that students can use to explore the math concepts they are studying. When learning that two plus three equals five, for instance, they can count out the equation using their cubes instead writing it over and over again on a worksheet.
Belle Chasse first graders will spend more time learning how to represent and manipulate small numbers and less time on on measurement and telling time. There’s no time to learn about coins. “Before, they had a little bit of everything, but just didn’t dig deep,” said Giroir.
English teachers are using more nonfiction, reports the California Teachers Association.
At Lincoln High School in San Jose, students compare F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby with an essay, also by Fitzgerald, Echoes of the Jazz Age.
Students are told they have 20 minutes to write a group essay describing “social customs” and “societal norms” of the Roaring ’20s.
. . . Each group has a “scribe” entering the essay dictated by the group into a laptop. Meanwhile, English teacher Ryan Alpers monitors each group’s progress on his own computer via a shared drive on Google Docs, inserting suggestions into their essays to help them along.
In an algebra class at Pioneer High School in Whittier, students answer questions with “brief constructed responses” to show their understanding. “I have adjusted instruction to allow students more time to work together to process and critique the reasoning of others,” says Jessica Sandoval.
Last year, Melissa Anderson would explain unfamiliar words in a story to her first graders before reading it. This year, she tells them to listen to the “gist,” think about what they didn’t understand and discuss it with their “pair-share” partner. “It’s wonderful to see them engaged in active learning,” she says.
Doing his middle-school daughter’s homework for a week was exhausting, Karl Taro Greenfeld writes in The Atlantic. Most nights it took thee hours. His daughter, who attends a “lab” school for gifted students, is becoming “a sleep-deprived teen zombie,” he complains.
Well-educated parents lead the complaints about too much homework, responds Robert Pondiscio. Their kids probably would do just fine with “a humane 30 to 60 minutes a night” of homework. Poor Students Need Homework, however, if they are to have any chance to succeed in school.
For the low-income kids of color that I have worked with, thoughtful, well-crafted homework, especially in reading, remains an essential gap-closing tool.
The homework debate should focus on what kind of homework is assigned for what purpose, Pondiscio writes. Quantity is less important than quality.
Using homework merely to cover material there was no time for in class is less helpful, for example, than “distributed practice”: reinforcing and reviewing essential skills and knowledge teachers want students to perfect or keep in long-term memory. Independent reading is also important. There are many more rare and unique words even in relatively simple texts than in the conversation of college graduates. Reading widely and with stamina is an important way to build verbal proficiency and background knowledge, important keys to mature reading comprehension. And all of this is far more important for disadvantaged kids than for Greenfeld’s children, already big winners in the Cognitive Dream House Sweepstakes.
How much homework do kids actually do? Six percent of students say they spend more than three hours a night on homework, according to a 2007 Metlife study. Fifty-five percent spent less than one hour a night.
Blacks say they spend 6.3 hours a week on homework, Latinos report 6.4 and whites 6.8 hours. Asians average 10.3 hours.
KIPP middle schoolers learn significantly more than comparison students, concludes a report by Mathematica Policy Research on 43 schools in 13 states plus the District of Columbia. Three years after enrollment, the average KIPP student gained an extra 11 months in math, moving from the 44th to the 58th percentile, and eight months in reading, moving from the 46th to the 55th percentile. Science gains equalled an extra 14 months and social studies an extra 11 months.
In 13 schools, students in the control group had applied to KIPP, but lost the charter lottery. If there was no lottery, the study used “matched” students of similar achievement and demographics in nearby schools.
For KIPP students in the lottery sample, researchers administered the TerraNova test—a nationally norm-referenced test—which students had not prepared for, and which carried no consequences for students or schools. The impacts shown in the TerraNova test were consistent with those shown in state tests.
KIPP students resembles other students in their neighborhoods, but with lower reading and math achievement than their elementary school classmates, the study found. Ninety-six percent are black or Hispanic and 83 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. However, KIPP entrants are less likely to have received special education services or to have limited English proficiency. (Since many more KIPP students are black, it makes sense that fewer speak English as a second language.)
Critics charge KIPP “counsels out” low achievers to inflate scores, notes Education Week. To account for attrition, the study included all students who started KIPP, even if they left for another school.
For example, a student could leave KIPP for another school in 6th grade, but their performance at the new school is counted towards the academic achievement of KIPP students overall regardless. The report also found that KIPP schools have similar attrition rates as traditional district schools (37 percent over three years for both sets of students).
KIPP students spend much more time in school than traditional public school students: nine hours per day, for 192 days each year, in KIPP, compared to 6.6 hours per day, for 180 days. In addition, KIPP students spend an extra 35 to 53 minutes on homework each night.
However, a longer school day didn’t raise test scores, possibly because the extra time was spent on non-academic activities, researchers found. KIPP schools that spent more time on core academic subjects and enforced a comprehensive discipline policy had the strongest results.
In schools where school-wide behavior standards and discipline policies are consistently communicated and enforced, the school rewards students for positive behavior, and the school punishes students who violate the rules, reading and math scores went up, researchers found.
While KIPP students are more satisfied with their school, the study did not find an increase in “attitudes associated with success,” such as persistence and self-control. Students were more likely to admit to losing their temper, arguing with or lying to their parents, or giving their teachers a hard time. Researchers weren’t sure if they were more ornery or more honest about it. Students may have raised their standards about acceptable behavior, said Mathematica researcher Brian Gill.
In comparing higher-performing to lower-performing KIPP schools, researchers found “class size, teacher experience and professional development opportunities” were not associated with higher scores, adds Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.
The latest CREDO study of charter school effectiveness found New York City charter students gain an extra five months in math — seven months in Harlem — and one month in reading, compared to similar students in traditional public schools. Charters enroll many more blacks. One in three Harlem kindergartners attends a charter school.
France’s president, Francois Hollande, wants to ban homework because some children get more help from their parents than others. Is this The End of Homework? asks Louis Menand in The New Yorker.
It’s not true that homework is just “busywork, with no effect on academic achievement,” writes Menand.
According to the leading authority in the field, Harris Cooper, of Duke University, homework correlates positively—although the effect is not large—with success in school. Professor Cooper says that this is more true in middle school and high school than in primary school, since younger children get distracted more easily. He also thinks that there is such a thing as homework overload—he recommends no more than ten minutes per grade a night. But his conclusion that homework matters is based on a synthesis of forty years’ worth of research.
U.S. students aren’t doing more homework than they were in the 1940′s, according to researchers. A majority of students, including high-school seniors, spend less than an hour a day on homework during the school week.
Finland has the most successful educational system in the world, according to The Economist, writes Gill. “Students there are assigned virtually no homework; they don’t start school until age seven; and the school day is short.”
The No. 2 country is South Korea, “whose schools are notorious for their backbreaking rigidity.” South Korean kids don’t just do homework: 90 percent study with private tutors or go to cram schools.
Yet both systems are successful, and the reason is that Finnish schools are doing what Finns want them to do, which is to bring everyone up to the same level and instill a commitment to equality, and South Korean schools are doing what South Koreans want, which is to enable hard workers to get ahead.
Americans “want everyone to have an equal chance to become better-off than everyone else,” writes Menand.
Supporters of homework say that it’s a way of getting parents involved in their children’s education by bringing school into the home, and that has to be a good thing. But it’s also likely (contrary to President Hollande’s assumption) that the people most hostile to homework are affluent parents who want their children to spend their after-school time taking violin lessons and going to Tae Kwon Do classes—activities that are more enriching and (often) more fun than conjugating irregular verbs. Less affluent parents are likely to prefer more homework as a way of keeping their kids off the streets. If we provided after-school music lessons, museum trips, and cool sports programs to poor children, we could abolish homework in a French minute. No one would miss it.
Homework isn’t the root of all evil, but it’s often counter-productive, writes Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal, in Ed Week.
If we really want students to be engaged with learning, we should allow them the autonomy to self-explore at home one their own and not give them death by ditto because it makes us feel better about the assignments we provide.
DeWitt quotes teacher Mark Barnes, who thinks homework “fails our students.” Assigning homework “is undermining effective 21st-century teaching and learning,” writes Barnes. “Most teachers link homework to grades so the students who don’t do homework don’t learn the material — mainly because not enough teaching is being done in class — and many would-be learners grow to hate school because they wind up with poor grades and, ultimately, feel like failures.”
In the name of egalite, French President Francois Hollande wants to ban homework. “He doesn’t think it is fair that some kids get help from their parents at home while children who come from disadvantaged families don’t,” writes Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.
Hollande also proposes hiring more teachers and adding a half day of school on Wednesday, while shortening the eight-hour school day — which includes two hours for lunch — on the other four days of the week.
Currently, French children spend Wednesdays in state-run “leisure centers,” if there’s no parent or babysitter at home, AP reports. At some schools, the “afterschool program amounts to sitting silently at a desk for two hours or near-chaos in the play areas”
French elementary school students spend 847 hours per year in school compared to an average of 774 for other developed nations, but “France ranks below most of its European neighbors and the United States in results on international tests.”
More schools now let parents go online to track their children’s grades, attendance and homework completion, reports the Wall Street Journal.
In the past five years, the number of schools using such systems has more than tripled, to an estimated 25% to 35% of U.S. public schools, says Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association in Rockville, Md. Parent use is likely to expand faster in coming years, as more take advantage of the systems’ mobile apps, Mr. Bagin says.
Some parents complain it’s too much information, while others love it.
John Patriarche, a construction consultant, tracks his 13-year-old daughter’s school performance.
Using the online data, “you can get ahead of it and help your child so they can turn it around before the final,” Mr. Patriarche says.
These days, schools are adopting “integrated über-systems that link class materials and assignments, gradebooks, discussion boards and blogs, attendance records, and school calendars.” Often “parents can request immediate texts or emails if their child is tardy or absent or receives a low grade.”
In a recent online poll of 115 parents by SheKnows, a website on parenting and lifestyle issues, 32% said online reports help them prod their children to study and get assignments in on time. But 49% said teachers don’t keep their pages updated, 14% said grade and assignment information is inaccurate and 15% said their children resent such monitoring efforts.
Charting students’ performance in real time — not just at the end of the grading period — means more work for teachers. Is it worth it? I’d think so, but I’d be interested to see what teachers and parents think.