The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 17, 2003


Carlisle parents have love/hate relationship with homework

Homework is a hot topic in Carlisle. According to some parents, it brings their family together, but to others it causes overwhelming stress. On October 30 at 7:30 p.m. in the Carlisle School Library, the Carlisle School Association will welcome Barbara Meltz, a longtime columnist with the Boston Globe, who will be offering a talk on homework. Titled "It's Never Too Late to Change Your Strategy," Meltz will discuss homework techniques: ways parents can set up homework routines, how to tackle different types of homework, troubleshooting ideas · all based on the child's age and development level.

"Homework is the strongest concern of parents," she said in a phone interview. She said she has given talks on a variety of subjects, but has found homework one of the most popular subjects. "All of a sudden, everyone is asking for the homework talk," she said.

Meltz has been a writer with the Globe since 1979. After having her son, she switched to part-time and began the Child Care column, which is printed in over forty papers around the country. "I've been writing it for fifteen years, and my son will be sixteen this year," she said. "My son said I should get an honorary degree, because every column is like writing a thesis."

In the October 2 issue of the Globe, in an article titled "Homework woes discounted," Brookings Institution researchers found no difference in the amount of homework students are receiving today versus twenty years ago. "I read it, it's a bogus article," responded Meltz, when asked about the Brookings research. "The trend is more homework. Perhaps there are pockets here and there where kids are having less homework, or having homework-free nights."

An informal survey taken by the Mosquito of a group of Carlisle parents asked them whether they felt their children were receiving more or less homework than ten years ago (most parents did not want to be identified by name). The group was not evenly split: two-thirds thought their children were receiving more homework than ten or twenty years ago, and certainly more than when they were children. About half the group felt overwhelmed with homework. One parent noticed that her younger child consistently had more homework than her older child had had in the same grade. She noted that the middle school teachers said homework shouldn't take more than two hours each night, yet she and other parents "agreed that their children could not consistently complete all their homework within those timeframes."

Another parent spoke of homework stress, saying each night was a battle. "I think my child has too much homework, too little direction from the teacher regarding that homework, and no time to be just a kid."

Meltz agreed on giving kids a break. "I think that's great if the schools have a homework-free night."

"Yes, there's more homework," responded a parent of two children. "I think I have become a better parent because of homework," she continued. "It forces me to pay attention to the details."

"The intensity and the depth of what they are learning are so much greater," added another parent.

Though feeling the amount of homework was about the same, one parent expressed concern about balance. She said she is in favor of the concept of homework, but "my hope is that teachers will seriously weigh the amount and type of homework they assign, to be sure that it is something that clearly reinforces and/or enhances what the child is learning at school." She said that homework battles interfere with quality family time.

Another parent agreed, saying that instead of homework emphasizing what was done in class, some is new material and so challenging that it can't be done independently, a goal that she and other parents would like to accomplish.

Sylvia Feinburg of the Department of Child Development at Tufts University, responding to an e-mail about the amount of homework children receive, said, "Today it seems that parents feel they must monitor the [home]work that is going on, and help considerably with it. It makes me wonder how parents with more than one child feel about all this. I also wonder how parents who work full time are able to handle these demands, along with everything else that is asked of them."

Meltz feels the increase in homework has to do with the push for standardized testing, pressure to teach more material in the lower grades, and teaching to perform on the MCAS. "Material has been pushed down," Meltz explained. "Third graders are learning some of what fourth graders used to learn." Parents are pushing also, she continued. They want to give their children all the advantages possible. One teacher, in response to the homework question, said she has had parents request additional homework for their children. Homework is a way for parents to engage in educational activities with their children, she pointed out.

Meltz was clear on her support of homework, however. "Homework comes first," she explained. "Some parents think it is okay to get excused from homework" because of after-school activities, trips, or sports. "Homework is a priority, and everything else is extra," she said. "The smartest thing a parent of a young child can do," said Meltz, "is start early on a plan to get organized for homework before the child starts bringing it home. It's very important in the lower elementary grades to deal with it, before it becomes an issue," she said.

Feelings about homework are as varied as the people who live in Carlisle. "In the lower grades my children are in," one parent responded, "they are definitely receiving more homework. Is it a good idea? Yes, the small amount that they have to do only prepares them for years to come!" Whatever the opinion on homework, Meltz's talk on October 30 promises to be timely and lively.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito