Mom Talk: I Wrote An Open Letter About Revamping Homework, And It Seriously Worked

Mom Talk: I Wrote an Open Letter About Revamping Homework, and It Seriously Worked

This letter was specifically written for Ms. Case, the first-grade teacher of my daughter (whose name has been changed for privacy), as per her request. The purpose of this letter is to provide Ms. Case with a written record of my concerns regarding a particular issue and to present these concerns to higher authorities. I am grateful for Ms. Case’s unwavering kindness in handling parents and effectively guiding the children under her care. She has successfully instilled in my daughter a love for both school and learning, which is an invaluable gift.

However, I feel compelled to address an issue that has been weighing on our family: homework. Every night, you assign 20 minutes of reading, either independently or with parental assistance. My daughter easily fulfills this flexible requirement by cozying up on the couch with a Magic Treehouse book, requesting that I read aloud from library books like "A Cricket in Times Square," or listening to picture books chosen by her siblings. We even consider the minutes she spends perusing a magazine, toy instructions, or the side of a cereal box as part of her reading time.

Nevertheless, there is the additional expectation of completing a page of math problems every night. My daughter displays no interest in doing this task and often struggles to complete it without assistance. Sometimes, even I, with my advanced education, find it challenging to understand the instructions and expectations of the math problems.

I find myself with two options. One, I can continuously nag my daughter about her math homework, reminding her every evening to complete it, and guiding her through the process. As we do not own a TV or an iPad, this would require taking her away from reading or engaging in creative imaginary play with her younger brother and sister. Furthermore, this approach would inadvertently teach her that she cannot handle her schoolwork independently, possibly setting her up for a lifetime of academic dependence, as criticized in Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success" and Jessica Lahey’s book "The Gift of Failure."

Alternatively, I can continue with my current approach, which involves telling my daughter that her homework is her responsibility and it is up to her to figure out how and when to complete it. My intention is for her to learn time management skills and experience frustration, followed by persistence, so she can develop her problem-solving abilities. I strongly believe that this approach, described as the most effective method for fostering perseverance, self-control, and other indicators of success in Paul Tough’s book "How Children Succeed," is the best way to instill resilience in my daughter.

However, following this path means that if my daughter lacks interest in the homework or finds it too difficult or confusing, she simply chooses not to do it. Consequently, she may face consequences for not completing the assigned work or, even worse, come to the false belief that all work is optional.

In this situation, my husband and I find ourselves at a loss, suppressing our concerns and anxieties while allowing our daughter to navigate these challenges herself. We intervene only when we observe an entire week’s worth of untouched workbook pages have piled up.

Fortunately, recent research indicates that elementary school homework serves little to no purpose and may even be counterproductive. A meta-analysis of almost 200 studies on homework, including math assignments, reveals no evidence that homework reinforces academic lessons at the elementary level. Furthermore, assigning homework can have negative effects, such as impacting children’s attitudes towards school and straining family relationships (when parents are involved in checking or supervising homework, power struggles and resentment may arise). Moreover, the time spent on homework replaces activities known to contribute to brain development, such as cooking with a parent, playing outdoors, or engaging in boredom, which can be surprisingly beneficial.

Many people assume that homework teaches study skills and responsible habits, but research proves otherwise. In fact, homework often reinforces the opposite lesson, as demonstrated by the experience of my daughter and many others. They learn that responsibilities may be disregarded or hastily completed.

Additionally, there are issues of equity involved. Some students have access to technology, books, quiet spaces, and adult guidance after school, while others do not. Mandatory homework further exacerbates existing inequalities, as some students receive additional instructional time while others do not.

The articles listed below provide comprehensive summaries of the relevant social science research on this topic:

1. Salon — Homework is negatively impacting our children.

2. The Washington Post — Homework: Is it really necessary?

3. The Washington Post — Should our children have homework at all?

Based on our personal experiences and the information presented in these articles, I kindly request that you consider eliminating homework entirely or, at the very least, discuss this issue with your teaching team and school administration. If possible, please consider transitioning to more flexible assignments similar to the current practice of assigning reading.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message and for your invaluable contribution to the happiness of our hearts and the future of our nation.

I would like to highlight the initiative taken by Rooftop School in San Francisco last year. They introduced an optional homework policy called "We Provide, You Decide" for students in grades K-4. While teachers still prepare traditional homework packets as a resource, families now have the freedom to choose whether they would prefer to engage in activities such as reading, playing, or socializing. This decision aligns with a growing nationwide movement to eliminate mandatory homework. By sharing these arguments with your Parent-Teacher Association or school administrators, you can contribute to the momentum of this movement.

Gail Cornwall, a former public school teacher and lawyer, currently resides in San Francisco where she works as a stay-at-home mother and freelance writer.

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  • cameronmarshall

    I'm an educational bloger and teacher. I've been writing for about a year, and I'm currently working on my first book. I'm a self-taught teacher and blogger, and I love helping others learn how to be successful in life.

cameronmarshall Written by:

I'm an educational bloger and teacher. I've been writing for about a year, and I'm currently working on my first book. I'm a self-taught teacher and blogger, and I love helping others learn how to be successful in life.

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