K-5 teachers: Homework = 2.9 hours per week

Elementary teachers assign an average of 2.9 hours of homework per week, middle school teachers assign 3.2 hours and high school teachers expect 3.5 hours, according to a Harris poll for University of Phoenix.

A high school student taking five courses could have 17.5 hours of homework per week. (When my daughter was in high school, she averaged three hours a night.)

Teachers say homework  helps them see how well their students understand the lessons (60 percent); helps students develop problem-solving skills (46 percent); gives parents a chance to see what is being learned in school (45 percent); helps students develop time management skills (39 percent); encourages students to relate classroom learning to outside activities (37 percent) and allows teachers to cover more content in class (30 percent).

Top students may not be ready for college

Even some top students with high grades and test scores aren’t ready for college, writes Elaine Tuttle Hansen in a Chronicle of Higher Education commentary. Now executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, Hansen was president of Bates College and a professor of English at Haverford College.

It’s a problem even at Johns Hopkins, which  is highly selective, says the  director of undergraduate studies in math.

“What they don’t have is a deep understanding of why the techniques they’ve been taught work, the actual underlying mathematical relationships. They walk into to my classroom in September and don’t have the study habits or proper foundation to do the work.”

“Not all of the smartest kids who have jumped through the hoops required for selective college admissions are ready for the demands of college-level work,” writes Hansen. Bright students can earn good grades without working very hard.

Take David, a college student I heard from recently, who loved the summer program he took at the Center for Talented Youth a few years ago. But it wasn’t enough to save him from being so bored in school that he “coasted” through elementary, middle, and high school and his first two years of college. “By the time I found academic work that challenged me, … I realized my work ethic and study skills were atrocious, in large part, I believe, because I had never been forced to use them,” he said. “I would like to know the person I would have become had I been engaged as a young learner.”

Sometimes excellent students have parents who’ve been directing their education from baby play group on up. They don’t have the maturity, self-discipline and time management skills that college demands.  However, you’d think they’d have a solid academic foundation.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Time and what to do with it is the theme of this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted by  Janice Campbell.

‘Success courses’ succeed in boosting retention

“Success courses” that teach study skills, time management, career planning and use of college resources are boosting retention rates for low-skilled community college students. But some professors think they’re crowding out academic courses.

Occupy MoCo!,” a summer-school class for high school students at Montgomery College in Maryland, asks “are you ready to join the movement for justice?”  The two-week class “does not take a stance on the Occupy movement,” claims a community college official.

Extra boost from extra-curriculars?

Extra-curriculars are valuable, but how valuable? June Kronholz looks at the debate on Education Next.

With school districts struggling to keep their noses above choppy budget waters and voters howling about taxes, should schools really be funding ping-pong and trading-card clubs? Swim teams, swing dancing, moot court, powder-puff football? Latino unions, gay-straight alliances, the Future Business Leaders of America, the French Honors Society, the jazz band, the knitting club?

. . . There’s not a straight line between the crochet club and the Ivy League. But a growing body of research says there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from high school, going to college, and becoming a responsible citizen.

Most high school students participate in sports, band, theater, clubs or other activities.  Active students do considerably better academically than the disengaged. But is it cause or effect?

Some researchers argue that involvement helps students succeed by increasing their time with adult role models and making school more engaging, Kronholz writes.

When college students look back on high school, they remember extracurriculars and sports, not academics, says Tony Wagner, codirector of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

The takeaway, Wagner said, is that extracurriculars “teach a lot of the skills you need as an adult: time management, leadership, self-discipline, and persistence for doing work that isn’t extrinsically motivated.” That dovetails with Wagner’s academic work, which defines the “skills of the future” as including adaptability, leading by influence, and initiative.

“Kids who have a significant involvement in an extracurricular activity have a capacity for focus, self-discipline, and time management that I see lacking in kids who just went through school focused on their GPA,” he told me.

I was as managing editor of the school newspaper, editor of the literary magazine and copy writer for the yearbook. (You may sense a pattern.)

Many dropouts never really started

Many college dropouts never started a program of study.

Also on Community College Spotlight“Squeezing in” homework.

The 'highly effective' trap

Don’t tell new teachers to emulate the “highly effective,” advises Teach for America veteran Gary Rubenstein, reviewing Steven Farr’s new TFA book, Teaching As Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap. It’s too much for a first-year teacher.

Chapters one and two seem to say, “Here are some practices we’ve found in highly effective teachers. You should try them too.” Though some of the practices are pretty risky (like telling your class that they’re going to have two years of gains or having your students call you every night to talk about homework and share stories about your lives), the potential problems with some of these practices is ignored.

There is a middle ground between ineffective and “highly effective” superhero, Rubenstein writes. Tell beginners to aim for “moderately effective” in their first years of teaching.

My concern is that the beginning teacher, by trying to emulate the ‘highly effective’ teachers will spread themselves too thin and become ineffective by trying to do too much.

The book gets a lot better after the first two chapters, Rubenstein writes. One of its central themes is that effective teachers know how to use time wisely. But TFA doesn’t tell its new corps members how to prioritize. While the book stresses investing students and their families and setting “big goals,” Rubenstein offers his priorities for teachers’ limited time and energy:

Plan Purposefully 35%
Execute Effectively 35%
Continuously Increase Effectiveness 15%
Work Relentlessly 5%
Invest Students and Their Families 5%
Set Big Goals 5%

TFA’s summer training program gives novices about 19 hours of teaching time, which is not enough to learn how to “execute effectively,” Rubenstein writes. Corps members pull all-nighters preparing for a one-hour lesson. That’s not going to work when they’re teaching full-time.

Farr and his teacher preparation ideas get a huge plug in Amanda Ripley’s Atlantic artice, What Makes a Great Teacher?