Too much homework?

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.[IMAGE DESCRIPTION]

Metlife Survey of the American Teacher

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.

Goldilocks arrested for vandalism

In Goldilocks and the Cops, the “crazy” blonde intruder doesn’t get away. Momma Bear calls the police, who handcuff Goldilocks and charge her with breaking and entering, vandalism and “general uncontrolled behavior.”

A parent complained when the story was taught in a third-grade class at an East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania school. Miguel Velez said the story is offensive to police and includes inappropriate language (“crazy”), reports the Pocono Record. Board member Ronald Bradley, a former police officer, also disliked the story’s portrayal of police.

I remember as a child thinking that Goldilocks had no right to go into someone else’s house, eat their food  and break their chairs.

I can’t understand my child’s teacher

At back-to-school night for her fifth-grader, Dahlia Lithwick felt like a dummy, she writes in Slate. She couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying.

The evening passed in a blur of acronyms, test names, and emendations to last year’s system. Which I also didn’t understand. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I understood significantly less at this open house than I did at my sons’ open house during a sabbatical last year, when it took place overseas and in a foreign language.

Public education has been overwhelmed by jargon, she writes. There are more acronyms – MAP and SOL and EAPE—than words.

Even if we can all agree about the singular benefits of “project-based learning across the curriculum,” I am less than perfectly certain any of us knows what it means.

Her child’s school is now “un-levelling,” parents were told. And soon it will be “fitnessgram testing.”

I checked with friends this morning to find out if I was alone in my sense that I had fallen asleep in the late 1990s and woken to a world in which I have no idea what schools even do anymore. My friend Stephanie advised me that her back to school night involved a discussion with a teacher about “interfacing with a child’s developmental space,” as well as a reference to “scaffolding text to text connections” in Ramona the Pest. My friend Laurel was told by her child’s teachers that “the children will be required to work in groups in this class, as collaboration is a 21st-century skill.”

Lithwick plans to use an education jargon generator to prep for her first teacher conference, she writes.

I tried the jargon generator. “We will generate child-centered interfaces within the core curriculum,” it suggested. “We will expedite meaning-centered paradigms across the curricular areas.” It sounds perfectly plausible. “We will aggregate interdisciplinary enrichment through cognitive disequilibrium.” Indeed.

‘I will not check my son’s grades 5 times a day’

I Will Not Check My Son’s Grades Online Five Times a Day  vows Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic. Her son’s high school lets parents access information on their children’s academic progress, attendance and grades.

My husband and I handed the letter over to my 14-year-old son with the promise that we will not be using the system to check on his grades or attendance (or anything else). In return, he promised to use the system himself and keep us appraised of anything we need to know.

More than 80 percent of parents and students who can access student information remotely check in “at least once a week…and many users check multiple times a day,” Bryan Macdonald, senior vice president of PowerSchool, tells Lahey.

When I posted a challenge on Facebook encouraging friends to join us in eschewing PowerSchool, I received many comments and emails, none of them neutral. Either PowerSchool and its ilk are best thing that’s ever happened to parenting or the worst invention for helicopter parents since the toddler leash.

“We just talk to our kids,” responded Elena Marshall, mother of eight.

Teachers and administrators have mixed feelings, Lahey writes.

I like that parents can check grades and I encouraged them to do so. I feel that open communication between home and school is essential in educating children, and only sending midterm and final grades home makes grades seem like a big secret. With parent access on PowerSchool, there are no secrets.  I am bothered, however, by parents who CONSTANTLY check…sometimes 5 or 6 times a day. These parents tend to be the ones who push their children the hardest and are the first to complain when grades aren’t entered on the DAY an assignment is due. As a language arts teacher with 60 papers to grade, I just can’t do that!  I’m not sure parents realize the school can see how many times they access the portal. -Mindi Rench, mother of two and junior high literacy coach and education blogger

Teacher Gina Parnaby tweeted that PowerSchool is a “Bane. Stresses my students out to no end. Freaks parents out b/c they see grades not as a communication but as judgment.”

Let’s assume that crazy parents will use the access to feed their craziness. But there are sane parents who aren’t sure how well their kids are doing in school and would appreciate a heads up before it’s too late to save the semester.

Parents make the best teachers

Parents make the best teachers, writes Sara Mosle in Slate Magazine.

Some charter schools hire young teachers who are willing to work long, grueling hours for low pay, reports the New York Times. Most leave after two or three years to be replaced by a new crop of young idealists.

Inexperience in the classroom isn’t the only problem with this model, writes Mosle. Young teachers lack experience as parents.

A Teach for America teacher in the program’s first year, Mosle taught for three years in New York City schools. “I was single, childless, and clueless about even the most basic aspects of child-rearing,” she recalls. “My students’ parents seemed like creatures from another planet.”

Nearly 20 years later, now a mother, she returned to the classroom to teach writing at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark.

. . . being a parent has made me a better teacher. While I still have a reformer’s high expectations for my students, I am more flexible about discipline, in part because I’d never want my daughter to be so docile she wouldn’t rock the boat. Now when parents approach me with worries or high hopes for the future, I have greater respect for their commingled love and fears. I also have a far stronger sense than I did at 25 that children’s lives . . . flow in waves of achievements and setbacks.

In 2002, Ryan Hill started TEAM Academy, the first KIPP charter school in Newark. He worked more than 100 hours a week “in a profession he regarded as less of a vocation than a crusade.”

At the time, he thought of his school like a Silicon Valley startup, which like all new ventures demanded insane hours. “We were a bunch of 25-year-olds,” he recalled in a conversation this spring. “We’d be there every day, including on Saturdays and Sundays. We’d have students at the school until 10 o’clock each night—kids who needed a place to do homework or whatever.” It was part of the school’s ethos and formula for success: longer days and a longer school year. Hill loved the job. “It was hard work, but it was also good work,” he said.

It was also unsustainable as teachers got older, married and started families just as “they were blossoming into full flower as educators.” Unwilling to lose his veteran teachers, Hill began to offer flexible hours to top teachers who’d become parents.

In Our School, I write about attending a staff meeting at a start-up charter school and realizing I was old enough to be the mother of every person in the room — and not the teen mother either. I was 49. I was the only parent in the room too, though the principal’s wife was pregnant.

Slate: Private school parents are bad people

“You are a bad person if you send your children to private school,” writes Allison Benedikt a trollish Slate piece. Parents who choose private school (and presumably home schooling) are putting their children’s welfare ahead of the common good, she argues.

. . .  if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.

. . . Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better.

If the local school is lousy, parents can raise money for enrichment programs and “get in the administration’s face when a teacher is falling down on the job,” she writes.

If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy. She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.

Benedikt went to “terrible” schools that didn’t offer advanced classes or expect students to read. Unprepared for college, she didn’t learn much there either, she writes. She hasn’t read novels or poetry, knows little about art and is fuzzy on history. But she’s “done fine” in life without all that. “Where ignorance is bliss,” after all, “tis folly to be wise.” (Thomas Gray was not a cheerful man.)

While public school didn’t provide an academic education, it taught Benedikt other things.

Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me.

I’m sold! Sign up the kids right away!

I was educated — quite well — in public schools in a suburb settled by educated and education-valuing parents, many of them Jewish. The “level 1 crowd” did not get drunk before basketball games.

I paid a premium for a house in Palo Alto so I could send my daughter to excellent public schools with the high-achieving children of highly educated parents.

The public schools were so good that the Catholic K-8 school in our neighborhood didn’t enroll a single Palo Alto child. Its students — all Latino or black — came from a nearby town with terrible schools. Their low-income and working-class parents scraped up the tuition money to give their kids a shot at a decent education. They were not bad people.

James Taranto outs himself as a very bad person: He doesn’t have children. Not only has he failed to invest his flesh-and-blood in the public schools, he’s “depriving the future United States of taxpayers . . .  hastening the insolvency of Social Security and Medicare and increasing their burden on other people’s children.”

How to praise a child

Instead of praising kids for good grades or athletic achievements, parents and teachers should praise children for acting ethically, says Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

Most parents are pragmatists

Nearly all parents want their child’s school to provide a strong core curriculum in reading and math and  stress science and technology, concludes a new Fordham study. They want their children to learn good study habits, self-discipline, critical thinking skills and speaking and writing skills. But, after that, parents have different priorities, concludes What Parents Want.

Pragmatists (36 percent of K–12 parents) assign high value to schools that, “offer vocational classes or job-related programs.” Pragmatists tend to be less educated with lower incomes. They’re also more likely to be parents of boys.
Pragmatists

Jeffersonians (24 percent) prefer a school that “emphasizes instruction in citizenship, democracy, and leadership.”

Test-Score Hawks (23 percent), who tend to have academically gifted and hard-working children, look for a school that “has high test scores.” If they’re not satisfied, they’ll switch schools.

Multiculturalists (22 percent), who are more likely to be urban, liberal and black, want their children to learn “to work with people from diverse backgrounds.”

Expressionists (15 percent), more likely to be liberals and parents of girls, want a school that “emphasizes arts and music instruction.”

Getting their child into “a top tier college” is important to Strivers (12 percent), who are far more likely to be African American and Hispanic.

After the “non-negotiables” (reading, math and science) and the “must-haves” (study habits, critical thinking, communications), “desirables” include “project-based learning, vocational classes, and schools that prepare students for college and encourage them to develop strong social skills or a love of learning,” the study found. Rated “expendable” are small school enrollment, proximity to home and updated building facilities. Teaching love of country and fluency in a foreign language also was a low priority for most parents. “When forced to prioritize, parents prefer strong academics,” Fordham concluded.

There’s a lot of overlap between Test Score Hawks and Strivers: Add them together and you get  35 percent of parents focused on academic success, nearly as large as the Pragmatist group.  Jeffersonians and Multiculturalists don’t overlap as much, but arguably both groups are concerned about preparing children to be citizens in a diverse society.

AP vs. PDK vs. EdNext: Who ya gonna believe?

Three education polls came out this week from AP-NORC (for the Joyce Foundation), PDK/Gallup and Education Next. Who ya gonna believe?

Education Next‘s Paul Peterson analyzes why EdNext‘s poll differs from the PDK poll:

EdNext: “As you may know, all states are currently deciding whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math. If adopted, these standards would be used to hold the state’s schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the adoption of the Common Core standards in your state?”

Public
Support 65%
Oppose 13
Neutral 23

PDK: “Do you believe Common Core State Standards would help make education in the United States more competitive globally, less competitive globally, or have no effect globally? (Asked only of those who have heard of the Common Core).”

Public
More competitive 41%
Less competitive 24
No effect 35
No opinion 3

While EdNext described Common Core, PDK asked people whether they knew the education “code words,” writes Peterson. The 38 percent who did — a small sample — were asked to predict the future, which people are reluctant to do. “In short, I believe that on this one PDK fished for the answer they wanted,” he concludes.

EdNext asked:How much trust and confidence do you have in public school teachers?,” while PDK asked: “Do you have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools?”

“Talking about the “men and women who are teaching children,” using evocative words such as “children” and hinting at that famous patriotic phrase—the “men and women who serve in our armed forces” encourages positive responses, writes Peterson.

Only 42 percent of the public have “a lot of” or “complete” trust and confidence in public school teachers in EdNext‘s poll, which gave four choices. “PDK forces people to say they do have confidence unless they have ‘no confidence’ in teachers, a polling strategy that will increase the proportion of positive responses.”

The two polls get similar responses on charter schools, but PDK finds a better than 2:1 split against vouchers, while EdNext says the public is divided. Again, PDK has loaded the question, writes Peterson.

The move to tie student test scores to teacher evaluation generates different answers on the AP-NORC PDK/Gallup polls, writes Steven Sawchuck on Teacher Beat.

In the AP poll, 53 percent of parents said changes in students’ statewide test scores should be used either “a great deal” or “quite a bit” in teachers’ evaluations compared with 20 percent who said “only a little” or “not at all.”

On the PDK/Gallup poll, 58 percent of adults surveyed opposed state requirements that teacher evaluations “include how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests.”

Why the differences?

  • AP frames the evaluation question in terms of changes in scores rather than performance on the tests.
  • AP does not reference a state requirement, as PDK does.
  • As colleague Lesli Maxwell points out, the PDK poll prefaced its questions by saying there had been “a significant increase in standardized testing.”

“Not surprisingly, folks on either side of the testing wars are embracing the poll that supports their viewpoint and condemning the other poll as biased or misleading in some way,” concludes Sawchuck.

Education Gadfly has more on the polling trifecta.

Teachers won’t be fired for backing molester

When a Michigan math teacher faced sentencing for molesting an 8th-grade student in July, six teachers urged leniency in letters to the judge. A West Branch-Rose City school board member, married to a teacher, sat with molester Neal Erickson’s wife, also a teacher in court.

“Neal made a mistake,” writes (Sally) Campbell. “He allowed a mutual friendship to develop into much more. He realized his mistake and ended it years before someone anonymously sent something to the authorities which began this legal process.”

“I am asking that Neal be given the absolute minimum sentence, considering all the circumstances surrounding this case,” writes Amy Huber Eagan.

.  . .“Neal has plead (sic) guilty for his one criminal offense but he is not a predator,” writes (Harriet) Coe. “This was an isolated incident. He understands the severity of his action and is sincere in his desire to make amends.”

One letter said the boy hadn’t been affected much by the molestation, which occurred over three years. Another said Erickson had been punished by losing his job.

Judge Michael Baumgartner, who sentenced Erickson to 15 to 30 years in prison, said he was “appalled and ashamed that the community could rally around” a child molester. “What you did was a jab in the eye with a sharp stick to every parent who trusts a teacher,” Baumgartner added.

The boy’s parents, John and Lori Janczewski, demanded that the teachers who supported their son’s molester be fired; they’ve started a recall campaign against the board member.

The board rejected firing the teachers at this week’s meeting, saying it would bring on a free-speech lawsuit. The board president read a letter signed by the six teachers:

“Dear community, criminal sexual conduct is a serious crime we do not condone. The safety of our students is our foremost concern. Our letters were never intended to cause any harm. We know the young man’s family is suffering, and empathize with their pain. It is our sincerest hope that the community will move forward for the sake of the students.”

Several parents threatened to pull their children out of WB-RC schools and send them to a charter school.

The family has been threatened for speaking out against the teachers, the victim’s father said on the Glenn Beck radio show. Their garage was fire bombed in the middle of the night and the letters “YWP” and “ITY” were spray painted on their house.  John Janczewski thinks that may stand for “you will pay” and “I told you.”

I don’t think the board can fire teachers for supporting their former colleague — and his wife, who’s still teaching in the district. But teachers minimizing child molesting is shameful and appalling.