Too much homework

Homework Can Turn Your Kid Into a Stressed-Out Wreck, writes J.D. Tuccille on Reason‘s Hit & Run. But the homework burden falls much more heavily on affluent students.

At high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class communities, students average more than three hours of homework a night, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Education.

Students who did more hours of homework experienced greater behavioral engagement in school but also more academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives.

My daughter went to a high-performing Silicon Valley high school.  She averaged three hours of homework a night.

Test prep explains only a small part of the large gap in SAT scores between rich and poor kids, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution  Perhaps, in addition to being the children of better-educated,  smarter parents, affluent kids go to schools that make them work harder.

Despicable SAT

Save Us From the SAT, writes Jennifer Finney Boylan, an English professor, in the New York Times.

The SAT is a mind-numbing, stress-inducing ritual of torture. The College Board can change the test all it likes, but no single exam, given on a single day, should determine anyone’s fate. The fact that we have been using this test to perform exactly this function for generations now is a national scandal.

The problems with the test are well known. It measures memorization, not intelligence. It favors the rich, who can afford preparatory crash courses. It freaks students out so completely that they cannot even think.

Boylan wants college admissions officers to consider what applicants’ “schools are like; how they’ve done in their courses; what they’ve chosen to study; what progress they’ve made over time; how they’ve reacted to adversity.” That’s very expensive — and very subjective.

The new (sort of like the old) SAT

The Onion lists upcoming changes to the SAT:

In response to accusations of cultural bias, all questions to now only refer to 13th-century Mongolia

Reading comprehension section will test students on their ability to differentiate between the foolhardy Goofus and his more responsible brother, Gallant

Eliminates stress by reminding test takers that whatever college they’re admitted to, they still won’t be able to get a job

Also from The Onion:  The parents of 20-year-old Patrick Tobin have advised their son to devote himself to pursuing an improv comedy education. “Remember, this is an investment in yourself, one that will pay you back many times over,” said his mother, Rhonda.

Hard working, high scoring — and creative

“Let others have the higher test scores” on international exams, says anti-reformer Diane Ravitch. “I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people.” 

It’s a false tradeoff, argues Brandon Wright on Flypaper. Those hard-working, high-scoring Koreans and Japanese could be just as innovative as Americans.  

Bloomberg News lists the most innovative countries in the world based on factors including R&D intensity, productivity, high-tech density and percentage of researchers. The U.S. is third, but look at who’s number one.

  1. South Korea (score: 92.10)
  2. Sweden (score: 90.80)
  3. United States (score: 90.69)
  4. Japan (score: 90.41)
  5. Germany (score: 88.23)

Yes, it’s those cram-schooled, stress-crazed Koreans who’ve built a thriving economy out of the ruins of war.

South Korea — often ridiculed for working its students too hard and robbing them of creative, independent thought — might be the most innovative country in the world. Japan, subject to similar derision, slides in comfortably at number four.

“Rigid” Germany – one of only three countries whose PISA math and equity scores have improved since 2003 — is number five on Bloomberg’s list.

“No trade-offs between academic performance and innovation are obvious,” Wright concludes.

Training kids to be workaholics

Upper-middle-class parents are training our kids to be workaholics, writes Laura in Apt. 11d.

In the past six weeks, Jonah has been swamped with homework. He had five huge cumulative midterm exams and one huge project for an elective class that was supposed to be fun, but wasn’t. After he puts in a full day at school, he goes up to his room and works until 11 or so.

He’s not alone. A father told her husband “that his son, who goes to a magnet high school for smart kids, does homework until 1 am every evening.”

This is crazy, writes Laura. Children need time to “discover their interests and daydream.”

The key job market skill that kids will need in the future is adaptability. And the key life skill that all kids should acquire is how to have fun.

Sometimes I think that all this homework is a plot to train kids to work some soul-crushing, 80-hour per week UMC (upper middle class) job. It’s not teaching them knowledge. It’s training them to sit at a desk for hours and hours.

Parents should push back, writes Laura. “It’s better to be a B student and have a life, than to be an A student who has never had the time to develop.”

For students aspiring to elite colleges, high school is far more demanding than it used to be. But few upper-middle-class parents tell their children the key life skill is how to have fun.

AP overload?

“Some parents, educators and even university admissions officers are rethinking the role of AP classes,” reports the Baltimore Sun. Achievers are overloaded, while poorly prepared students at low-performing schools often “flounder and fail” when pushed into AP, writes the Sun.

“The relentless marketing effort by many principals to place a greater number of kids into a greater number of AP classes — all in a single semester, as early in a student’s career as possible — is backfiring,” said Mary Ellen Pease, a co-founder of Advocates for Better Course Choices in Baltimore County Public Schools and the parent of two recent county graduates.

Dulaney High offers 25 AP courses, but fewer honors classes. The remaining honors classes “often are too easy and are taken by students who are struggling to pass,” say AP students. 

Sixty percent of applicants to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have taken 10 to 12 AP classes. Freshmen-year grades go up for each AP course up to five, then level off, the university found. It’s telling applicants they’ll get no advantage from taking more than five APs.

(Admissions director Steve) Farmer hopes the new policy will encourage students to be more thoughtful about their high school education, taking advanced courses they care about while leaving time for “reading the newspaper or learning to play the banjo or becoming a healthier or more interesting person.”

The top reason for taking AP classes is to raise admission odds, not to save on college tuition, said students in a College Board survey. 

 

 

Coddled kids vs. high standards

Common Core’s critics — “right-wing alarmists” and “left-wing paranoiacs” — have been joined by parents who think higher standards are too stressful, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Are Kids Too Coddled? he asks.

Stress is “an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper,” writes Bruni. And school isn’t going to be fun all the time.

Higher standards are traumatizing children, according to New Yorkers at the state’s Common Core hearings.

One father said that while his 8-year-old son was “not the most book-smart kid,” he was nonetheless “extremely bright.” With the new instruction, however, too many kids were “being made to feel dumb.” There was “no room for imagination or play,” the father groused. “All the kids are stressed out.”

A social worker testified that she’d been receiving calls and referrals regarding elementary-school students on the psychological skids. “They said they felt ‘stupid’ and school was ‘too hard,’ ” she related. “They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home and upset even to the point of vomiting.” Additional cases included insomnia, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation, she said, and she wondered aloud if this could all be attributed to the Common Core.

A teacher on Long Island did more than wonder, speaking out at a forum two weeks ago about what she called the Common Core Syndrome, a darkly blooming anxiety among students that’s “directly related to work that they do in the classroom.”

“If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is,” she thundered, to wild applause.

If children really are falling apart, writes Bruno, maybe it’s because they’ve been protected from blows to their egos. They’ve won trophies for participation. They’ve made “bloated honor rolls.”

“Our students have an inflated sense of their academic prowess,” wrote Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in Education Week. “They don’t expect to spend much time studying, but they confidently expect good grades and marketable degrees.” Our global competitors are tougher.  “While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better.”

It’s those white suburban moms.

Teaching the traumatized child

“A great many students come to school with emotional and behavioral difficulties that pose serious barriers to their learning,” writes David Bornstein in the New York Times. More than 20 percent of Spokane elementary students had two or more “adverse childhood experiences,” such as homelessness, witnessing domestic violence or having a parent on drugs or in jail, according to a Washington State study.

Some schools are trying to help students deal with stress. Angelo Elementary School in Brockton, Massachusetts is training teachers and reorganizing classrooms.

“We created choices in the classroom for kids if they felt their emotions were starting to get the best of them,” (Principal Ryan) Powers said. “They could put on headphones, listen to some classical music, sit on a bean bag chair, take a break, go for a walk.”

Teachers started paying more attention to the way they spoke to children. They began the day by greeting every child — by name or a handshake or a touch on the shoulder. They made the first morning session to be about about community building. They made efforts to reduce the number of transitions and communicate clearly, so changes would be predictable.

Stress is very bad for learning. “When you come from a home that is very disorganized, sequence and cause and effect can be thrown off,” explained  Susan Cole, a former special education teacher who directs the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. “This affects language development, memory and concentration.”

Why teachers quit (and stay)

How can schools attract and retain good teachers? asks Liz Riggs in The AtlanticForty to 50 percent of teachers quit within the first five years, including nearly 10 percent who quit before the end of their first year says Richard Ingersoll, a high school teacher (for “nearly six years”) turned education professor.

“One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible,” Ingersoll says. “But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect,” he says.

Other teachers — and former teachers — tell Riggs about the exhaustion, the stress and the inadequate pay.

Working conditions are more important than pay, says Thomas Smith, a Vanderbilt education professor.

  He pointed to a study by the Benwood Foundation that offered teachers in Chattanooga large bonuses to go teach in lower-performing schools. The study found that few teachers were willing to move for this kind of offer. (In fact, according to Smith, the initiative had to be reengineered to offer bonuses to teachers already in those schools.)

To improve the quality of teaching, “improve the quality of the teaching job,” says Ingersoll.“If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”

‘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.