One educational dispute seems to be calming down, while another is heating up.
IS HOMEWORK NECESSARY?
The debate over homework has been heating up amid
the annually renewed battles between
parents and students over getting it completed.
Two new books --
The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad
Thing, by Alfie Kohn, and
The Case Against Homework, by Sara Bennett and Nancy
Kalish â€“ take the students’ side, saying kids get far
too much homework. In fact, the authors argue that the
nightly battles are just one of many reasons that
homework should be abolished.
The books also point to a lack of research supporting
the claim that homework is beneficial. Kohn argues
that homework may squelch kids’ love of learning,
while Bennett and Kalish maintain that increased
homework results in reduced family time, added stress,
and even obesity.
But are the writers correct in blaming homework for so
many problems? As a
review of these two books in the Washington Post
points out, American kids have less homework than
their peers in other countries, and extracurricular
activities and sports take up as much, if not more, of
their time than homework. And, while we at
InsideSchools.org do hear from some families that are
being swamped by homework, just as often we hear from
parents who see their kids’ homework as evidence that
their school is expecting them to learn.
Kalish and Bennett say, “We suspect that these parents
— and lots more — will be up in arms when they learn
the truth: that the overwhelming majority of teachers
have never taken a course in homework, and that,
contrary to popular belief, there is little solid
research demonstrating benefits from the current
homework system.” Likewise, Kohn argues that the lack
of research proving homework’s worth means the age-old
institution should be abolished.
The authors of both books offer tips for parents who
want to reduce the homework load for their children â€“
or even eliminate it. Kohn advises parents to
probing questions” about homework assignments’ value,
and Bennett and Kalish write that “sometimes, all it
takes to reduce the homework load is to
your child's teacher in the right way.”
For more than a decade, parents, teachers and
administrators in the New York City schools have
battled over the best way to
teach mathematics. Now, a new set of guidelines by the
National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics paves the way for a cease-fire
in the math wars based on common sense.
In some respects, the new guidelines state the
obvious: Kids need basic arithmetic skills. They need
to learn multiplication facts by heart. They need to
learn standard "algorithms" or formulas to manipulate
numbers. Still, in a city that has adopted the "new
math," which emphasizes understanding of concepts
rather than memorization and drill, the new guidelines
may have a big impact on classroom practice.
"I think we are definitely going to be instituting
some more traditional elements while maintaining the
environment that has kids working in groups and doing
collaborative work," said Terence Finch, an eighth
grade math teacher at East Side Middle School in
Andres Alonso, the new deputy chancellor for
instruction, said the city had already adopted what he
calls a "middle of the road" approach to math. But he
said that he anticipated a somewhat increased emphasis
on basic skills, just as the school system has seen an
increased emphasis on phonics in the teaching of
reading in recent years.
The first round in the math wars came in 1989, with
the publication of the national council’s
and Principles, which declared that arithmetic drills
and memorization of formulas sapped children's
enthusiasm and left them without an understanding of
the underlying concepts of mathematics. The math
teachers group declared that math instruction should
not consist merely of computation -- addition,
subtraction, multiplication and division -- but should
also introduce even young children to elements of
algebra, geometry, probability and statistics. Several
New York City schools districts adopted new math
programs that followed these standards in the 1990s,
and Chancellor Joel Klein adopted the new math
citywide in 2003.
The new methods provoked controversy.
Critics dubbed the programs
"fuzzy math," and many parents complained their
children reached middle school without knowing how to
multiply or divide large numbers. Now, the math
teachers council, the influential organization that
started the debate, is extending an olive branch to
"If in fact these old documents gave the impression
that knowing basic multiplication facts was
unimportant, then this [new] document says
multiplication is very important," the group’s
president Francis Spinelli said in a telephone
interview. "Probability is nice, it's fun, but it's
not a focal point [in the early grades]. Arithmetic is
really important and guess what? If you don't do it at
the elementary level, when are you going to do it?"
Although Spinelli, with his conciliatory words, seems
to be calling for a truce, critics suggest any pause
in hostilities may be temporary. "A first step is
wonderful," said Elizabeth Carson, founder of NYC
HOLD. "But we need a lot more than this. The struggle
is just barely beginning."
Clara Hemphill, is project director of
author of “New York City's Best Public Elementary
Schools: a Parents' Guide,” “Public Middle Schools:
New York City's Best,” and “New York City's Best
Public High Schools.” Philissa Cramer visits and
reviews schools for InsideSchools. This page has been
adapted from articles that originally appeared on the
pages of our partner, InsideSchools.org
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