Many elite schools in the New York area are easing up on the Race to Nowhere by decreasing the homework requirements. Dalton School in particular has sent out a letter to parents to make sure that exams and assignments would be staggered so that students would not be overwhelmed. And January midterms would be pushed back two weeks so students would not have to study over vacation.
This change of heart comes from documentaries examining the crush on students, the neuroscience of learning, some simple common sense, and analysis of the meltdowns of students.
Homework debates have been around for decades with a whole contingent arguing “enough already” and the other cadre called the “Tiger Mom Camp” who suggest that hard work is a rite of passage that makes their kids competitive.
Trinity School across town in New York City has formed a task force to look at the same issues. Other schools have opened tutoring centers, and offered Homework Holidays on days like Halloween, the Chinese New Year (Jan. 23) and a day nearer spring, March 14.
“We have incredibly talented high-achieving kids who need to be appropriately taken care of,” said Jessica Bagby, the head of Trinity’s upper school. “We realize the pressures on them, and to the degree that we’re complicit, we need to own that.”
At Horace Mann, an article in the student newspaper last year showed that the average upper-school student slept 6.5 hours a night. Trinity began the 2010-11 school year with a sleep expert who made clear that losing sleep meant losing productivity. “I think the students thought it was a little ironic,” Ms. Bagby noted wryly.
“There’s very little evidence that doing homework makes kids smarter,” said Adam Gopnik, an author and parent of two Dalton students. “Even if it did, there are values other than achievement. For example, let’s be curious.”
Indeed many technology companies agree with him, arguing that they want both achievers and the curious. The creative engineer is in high demand, primarily because creativity has been pounded out of most engineering programs in academia. Indeed, in many high achieving high schools, creativity is frowned upon, and rote learning in homework is valued. Further, research shows what logic determines: it is counterproductive for children to be up at 2 a.m. studying.
So how much is too much? Many studies suggest between three to four hours a night. Not all administrators agree and point to the histories and traditions of their schools as drawing in parental approval and more students. Some parents see tough schoolwork as a serious way to provide academic value for their child.
Mr. Gopnik, the Dalton parent, said: “The wind is blowing in the direction of sanity. There’s no value in stressing kids out. You are robbing them of their childhood.”
Photo credit: Marco Nedermeijer