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BOB EDWARDS, host:
Homework can be stressful for the whole family. Too manynights ending in tears and frustration can leave parents withagonizing questions, like how much is too much? Today NPR's Margot Adler begins a four-part series with a report on what canhappen when homework gets out of control.
MARGOT ADLER reporting:
Thousands of families have had the experience of homework assignments that become family events: that wooden replica of theMayflower that Dad and Mom finished after eight-year-old Johnny gotbored, the science fair project that went over the top, theInternet search that took the whole weekend. These days, kids andfamilies are doing lots of homework, and many of thoseparents are finding that the amount of hands-on help required istotally alien to their own experience growing up, where homework was pretty minimal until high school, and parentsstayed way out of the picture. Steven Oloya, a professor of specialeducation, lives outside of Los Angeles. He has five children whohave been in public schools and Catholic schools. One of hisdaughters, Kaitlyn(ph), attends Chaparral High School, and wants tobe a teacher.
KAITLYN (Student): I usually get home around 5:00, and I'm usuallydoing homework until about 11 or 12 at night.
Professor STEVEN OLOYA: We've had many nights, 1 and 2 in themorning.
KAITLYN: I'll find myself just getting really, really tired doingmy homework. I have to get up and move around to stayawake.
Prof. OLOYA: That's a nightly ritual, because around 11:30 shestarts to conk out in the chair, and I go, 'Kate, Kate, you've gotto wake up.' We go outside, sprint down the street, sprint back upthe street, just to get her to wake up so she can do one more hourof solid, intense reading and studying.
ADLER: Oloya isn't the only parents who talks about sleep and homework. Cecilia Bluer(ph) thinks back to her daughter'sprevious year in the New York City public schools.
Ms. CECILIA BLUER: Last year, when she was in the third grade, shegot four hours of homework a night. She was up until 11 atnight in tears. There were days that I did not take her to schoolthe next day because she was so distraught over not doing homework, and we have gotten up at 5 to complete herassignment. I just had to giver he mental health days. I wasn't theonly mother in that class keeping their children out of school sothey could just get a full night's sleep.
ADLER: The amount of homework that students get hasfluctuated throughout American history, and today it varies fromschool to school. At the beginning of the 20th century, homework was outlawed in the state of California until achild was 15. It was considered child labor. And in the 1920s and'30s there was another movement against homework led byphysicians who said that children needed five hours of fresh airand sunshine every day. After sputnik in 1957, and the report inthe 1980s, A Nation at Risk, which warned that the nation's schoolswere in danger, homework increased, and now many schoolsgive way over the 10 minutes a day per year that is recommended bysome educators. Advocates believe homework teachesresponsibility, keeps kids off the streets, helps refine studyskills and gets parents involved in their kids' schooling. JoyceEpstein, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University's Center onSchools, Families and Communities, says her research over 20 yearsgives support for homework.
Ms. JOYCE EPSTEIN (Sociologist): It is helpful for showing thatyoungsters at any grade level who do their work and complete it dodo better in school than kids just like them, similar youngsters,who don't complete their work.
ADLER: Gary Natriello has also studied homework. He is aprofessor of sociology and education at Teachers College in NewYork. In the 1980s, he was involved in researching the effects of homework in high school.
Professor GARY NATRIELLO (Teachers College): And at that time, weproduced a paper that showed that in fact if you assigned more homework, the kids who received the homework actuallyhad better standardized achievement tests.
ADLER: Years later, Natriello became a parent.
Prof. NATRIELLO: Then I realized that it wasn't just the childrenwho were getting homework. It was also the parents who weregetting homework, and particularly as assignments got morecreative, which might have been something that I might haverecommended in the '80s, and more demanding, which certainly wouldhave been something that I recommended in the '80s, all thoseadditional demands came back to fall on my wife andmyself.
ADLER: It is the impact of homework on family life that hasmany parents hopping mad, particularly in a culture where twoparents often work and home life hours are already truncated bymany social forces. Steven Russo, an administrator at a medicalschool, has two children in the New York City public schools, adaughter in sixth grade and a son in ninth grade.
Mr. STEVEN RUSSO: When you add it all up, you know, your child's inschool for 30 hours a week, they're going to have another 10 hoursof homework, then they're expected to read between a half anhour to an hour a night, and then there are projects and there'sart, you're talking about a 45 to a 50-hour work week for a10-year-old.
ADLER: Russo and several other parents in New York City's District3 decided to purposely choose middle schools with less homework. Cecilia Bluer said when she chose a kindergarten,she chose one with homework because she was nervous andwanted a school with rigor, but now she finds she is constantlyfighting over homework, a battle she no longer believesin.
Ms. BLUER: I mean, I have a 12-year-old son who has never loaded adishwasher, never unloaded a dishwasher. He's never taken thegarbage out. He doesn't do anything, because it's all about homework.
ADLER: Perhaps one of the most fervent anti- homework activists is Etta Kralovec, the co-author, along with John Buell,of "The End of Homework. " Kralovec believes parents have theright to set educational agendas for their families.
Ms. ETTA KRALOVEC (Co-author, "The End of Homework" ): Ifsome parents want their kids to learn three languages and wanttheir kids to be in AP math, they ought to be free to structuretheir family time so the kids can achieve that. But that doesn'tmean that all parents want that for their kids. A lot of parentswant their kids to participate in community activities, inreligious activities.
ADLER: The other problem with homework, she says, is thatyou're never sure who's doing it. Steven Oloya adds class andeducation differences create an inherent unfairness.
Prof. OLOYA: Homework reflects the quality of the home, notthe child. My children have access to a university, because I'm aprofessor. I've had my son bring into his class science fairsliquid nitrogen to demonstrate on show and tell day on science inthe fourth grade. As a parent who's conscientious and concerned,I'm going to make sure they turn in the very best homework there is, and it's unfair because some parents do not have accessto those resources.
ADLER: Oloya will go on and on about the bad content ofassignments, but his main gripe is again the effect on familylife.
Prof. OLOYA: None of my children are involved in scouting. They'renot involved in anything with our church, anything with thecommunity, and they cannot be because homework pre-emptseverything. They already have my children with compulsoryattendance laws, and that's their right. The state does not belongin my home at nighttime.
ADLER: Sociologist Gary Natriello says at the time he did hisresearch in the '80s, he believed more homework would simplymake teachers and students more accountable.
Prof. NATRIELLO: What we weren't counting on was that at the end ofthe day all of that comes home, and so someone has to then supportthe students and monitor the students in getting this work done. Orif nothing else, at least has to allow them to stay up late enoughto finish the work, and that really changes home life in somepretty substantial ways. I don't think we fully appreciated whatthat would mean.
ADLER: Natriello still believes if you want kids to reach higherstandards, homework is necessary, especially in high school.But he says as a parent he now understands homework's hiddencosts. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.
EDWARDS: Tomorrow an inner-city school in Baltimore where homework is a vital communications link between teachers andparents. A PTA guide that encourages good homework habits isat npr. org.
The time is 29 minutes past the hour.