As of Friday, homework can account for no more than 10 percent of a student’s grade in the Los Angeles Unified School District–a change that drew national media attention. “The phones have been ringing off the hook,” district spokeswoman Judy Elliott said.
She sounded surprised, but many parents won’t be. Homework is a hot-button topic, and though the new policy doesn’t limit how much can be assigned, some students and parents hope that the change will reduce what they see as homework overload.
The policy is meant to help low-income kids who don’t have access to the internet or who come from chaotic, crowded homes with no quiet place to study. But the shift is cause for celebration among some middle-and upper-middle-income families too. For parents, particularly those of overachieving kids in highly competitive schools, the sheer volume of homework can have detrimental effects on family life: the missed meals, the weekends not spent together, the vacations spoiled. Think of the parents of the kindergartener sent home with a backpack full of papers, or the eighth-grader given college-level work, or the high school student loaded with 25 hours of summer studying for an Advanced Placement history class.
One mother said she found her 6-year-old’s homework so stressful–timing his reading, helping him to memorize “sight words” and searching his backpack to make sure he completed all the assignments–that she stopped eating dinner and started losing weight. Emily Dupree, a college student who tutors an eighth-grader, said that her student spent three hours a night on homework and that he’s not even in high school yet. Vicki Rank, a grandmother who works in Silver Lake, Calif., said she has noticed the professional-level science projects that fifth-graders are carrying into Ivanhoe Elementary School.
“I know what fifth-graders can draw like,” she said conspiratorially, implying that some projects look like they were done by someone who’s 40, not 11.
Of course it’s not all bad. Laura Arrowsmith, who teaches high school history in Santa Clarita, Calif., said one of the keys to assigning good homework is to offer kids choice. She has been impressed with the homework that her own seventh-grade son has been assigned and said he has learned time management.
“He likes coming home before us and getting his homework done to show he can do it himself,” Arrowsmith said.
Ramin Fayazi, the father of a gifted seventh-grader, said the hours of homework his son gets are necessary to keep him stimulated and interested in school.
But other parents said homework can intrude on family life.