This Much is Too Much

After a year of thinking, reporting and writing about homework, Opinion editors offer proposals to alleviate stress

In a small town in California, in 1995, school board member Garrett Redmond proposed abolishing homework. Although little change occurred in the district or country, Redmond’s proposal sparked conversation and was widely publicized throughout the news. Since then, the problem of homework has only grown more urgent, and now, it is time to change.

Over the past year, we have reviewed and analyzed homework. This is the conclusion to our investigation. We’ve looked at the history of homework loads. We’ve weighed in on the emerging debate about homework patterns. We’ve examined how summer homework overtakes students’ vacations. We’ve assessed the toll homework takes on sleep habits. We’ve dug through the mental and physical taxation homework imposes upon students. We’ve considered the effectiveness of homework itself. All of these efforts leave us with compelling questions. Should teachers continue to assign ever-increasing amounts of homework? Should homework be abandoned altogether, as suggested 20 years ago? Or should schools reconsider the nature and volume as well as assignment practices in hopes of salvaging the benefits of at-home learning?

After a year of thinking, reporting and writing about homework, we offer some proposals to alleviate stress and liberate students’ — and teachers’ — time. We acknowledge that our ideas may seem implausible at first, but we think these small changes, together, could help ensure that homework helps rather than hinders student growth. While “practice makes perfect,” as the saying goes, we have found that too much practice — otherwise known as homework — consistently interferes with teenagers’ lives, health and happiness. In order for our proposal to work, we need the cooperation of teachers, students and administrators in making small changes that can have a huge impact.

First and most important is the acknowledgment and proper use of flex night. Shaker has bothered to set aside one specific weeknight to relieve students of homework in one subject. However, some teachers seem to think the word “flex” stands for “flexible.” It does for them, but it doesn’t for us. What they forget while striving to deliver their curricula is that they are each one of seven teachers we see daily, each of whom assigns homework most nights. High school students are crushed underneath piles of homework from each of their seven demanding classes, and when teachers disregard their subject’s flex night, students are left to drown in unnecessary work. If teachers honored their departmental flex nights and relieved their students of homework for one night every week, our load would become much more bearable.

If teachers assign four nights of homework, they should make themselves available for at least four out of the five conference periods scheduled throughout the week. Nothing is worse than not understanding a concept in the classroom and being unable to seek help from your teacher after school. If teachers assign mounds of complex homework, they should understand that not all of their students will grasp it immediately and if students don’t, teachers should be available for help. This problem also rests with the administration, because teachers should not be stuck in meetings every day after school instead of aiding their students. Shaker prides itself on conference periods; if we want to continue boasting about them, we should make them accessible to both students and teachers.issue 4 hw artErin Setser

Although communication between teacher and student is important, communication between teacher and teacher is even more vital. This is where we return to our earlier mantra: one of seven. Teachers need to be more aware of how much work they’re assigning in relation to the work their colleagues give the same students. For example, if a history teacher plans to give a big test on Thursday, he may not know that an English teacher of the same grade and level scheduled an essay due that same day. If he did, that history teacher might move the test to Friday — or that English teacher might move the essay to Friday — to enable students to perform better and endure less stress. If the student has to finish his essay and study for his test the same night, he will struggle to demonstrate mastery of either.

Teachers should take into account the work students do in all classes if they want their students to succeed. And once teachers begin that cooperation, they should not have to worry about being the one teacher who moderates her schedule and is not taken seriously. This is where communication among teachers becomes incredibly important, because if the staff works together to create a more manageable amount across classes, everybody wins, and no teacher is singled out as less demanding.

Nevertheless, as much as students like to complain about teachers, they must keep in mind that communication is a two-way street. Teachers are much more understanding than you’d think. If you’re worried about a due date on a certain assignment, talk to your teacher about it. At Shaker, most of our incredible teachers understand. Believe it or not, teachers are people, too, and many know that you have other commitments in your life, whether it seems that way or not. So do not be afraid to talk to your teachers — politely: they can and will appreciate your initiative.
These changes may seem minor, but if they are implemented across the board, we believe we will see a decline in homework-related stress and anxiety.

Our year of homework study showed us that all in all, there is simply too much. The amounts of both summer homework and regular homework are excessive. Our health and our happiness hang in the balance. Teenagers’ stress levels during the school year are at an all-time high and are reaching unhealthy levels, according to the American Psychological Association.

Teachers must struggle, too, to gather, evaluate, record and return the volume of homework they assign, especially as class sizes have increased and planning time has increasingly been earmarked for staff development and meetings. The solution seems clear: the district should encourage teachers to scrutinize their homework assignments with the aim of limiting the number of problems, exercises and other repetitious work that those assignments require; teachers might be surprised to know that students divide to conquer long assignments, sharing answers in group chats and cutting corners to save time. If all teachers revised the volume within individual assignments, no teachers could be singled out for sacrificing rigor compared to their peers.

Today, our biggest day-to-day challenge is managing homework and tests, and if we continue at our current pace, the future will not be nearly as pretty as the U.S. is trying to make it. We are not machines. It is impossible for us to go, go, go without end; we will eventually burn out, either now or later.

Although our school system’s intention is to create an educated workforce who will lead our country and our world into a better and brighter future, we cannot propel ourselves forward if homework constantly bogs us down. How can we find the time to discover and pursue the interests that will define our generation if school limitations stunt us in these crucial years?

Twenty years after a school board member in California called for the abolition of homework, we have made no progress. This man, Garrett Redmond, spearheaded the anti-homework campaign from the beginning. We found Redmond, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, through a web search. He now lives in Kentucky, but still argues that teachers should not assign homework.

“[The proposal] was that we ban the assigning of homework, but there was nothing to stop a student from voluntarily doing homework,” Redmond explained.  “However, in most circumstances, it was to be used [to determine] grades, because we found the kids that were doing the homework got the high grades, and the kids who were in no position to do homework got low grades.”

Redmond, who said he grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Dublin, experienced the disparity between himself and his classmates.

“Now, we knew that a lot of the other kids lived in tenement apartments with maybe just two rooms, no facility to do homework, and parents who were under educated themselves. It was an unfair stage, and yet, we got graded — including the results on your homework from the night before. Grossly unfair,” said Redmond.

“I don’t think any of it [homework] is right. It should all be voluntary. Why should anybody stop you from studying at home on your own? Or why should anybody force you to study at home, again, on your own? It’s a huge difference.”

According to Redmond, at the school board meeting in Half Moon Bay when he proposed this idea, a boy stood up and testified against the notion, saying he loved doing his homework. Redmond proceeded to identify him in front of the audience as the son of two school teachers.

“I said, ‘Don’t you think you have an unfair advantage over the other kids?’ He never said another word, he just sat down,” Redmond recalled. “That’s a classic example about how wrong it is.”
Redmond’s peers and the media called him crazy for expressing concern, but as students’ sleep levels drop and their stress levels rise, his ideas no longer seem so far fetched. Eliminating homework altogether may be extreme, but our nation’s homework insanity has to stop somewhere; if it continues at this rate, it is terrifying to think of what school will be like for our children, and their children, and the many generations after that.

So if the change has to start somewhere, why not start with us? If we continue to see homework as the irrevocable status quo, nothing will ever change. A precedent needs to be set for the students of today and tomorrow, and that precedent can be ours. The choice is in your hands. We urge you, teachers and administrators, to cut back on homework –for our health, for our happiness and for America’s future.

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