“I’ve never overseen homework in my house. My kids know to settle down and get it done.” — A KCS parent
I’ve long envied that mother, as I know first-hand that homework doesn’t always work like that. In fact, based on everything I’ve heard and read over many years, it’s clear that the homework experience can range from the sublime to the ridiculous. While a common element in schools throughout the world, there’s little that’s common about how it plays out at home.
If there were a one-size-fits-all solution to homework, rest assured, we would have embraced it. In its absence, KCS offers what we believe is the next best thing – a balanced approach that respects individual students and families; that has value, while also respecting the value of free time, particularly in childhood; and that directly asks students and parents to let us know when homework gets out of hand. Every October, KCS teachers ask parents how homework is going. Every May, we ask parents in our annual Family Satisfaction Survey if they agree with our guidelines of approximately ten minutes per grade (e.g. grade 3 x 10 minutes = 30 minutes) and with minimal need for adult support. We also ask if parents are satisfied with their child’s ability to complete homework within these guidelines.
What do they tell us? Year after year, and for every grade, the majority of parents are satisfied with our guidelines. Overall, 81% of parents in last year’s survey stated they support our guidelines. Among those who don’t, 8% said the guidelines represent too much homework and 13% said they represent too little homework. Regarding the homework experience, 75% of parents are satisfied with their child’s ability to complete homework within the guidelines and with minimal adult assistance. Homework can be a difficult habit to establish for many children. While it’s clear a number of students are still working on becoming efficient and independent, it’s encouraging to see that the majority of our students are managing homework well.
A telling trend emerges when looking at the results from year-to-year. In fact, what’s ‘telling’ is the lack of a trend. Since we started asking about homework a number of years ago, there is considerable variability within grades year over year. Where one year the parents with children in a given grade may be close to 100% in support of our guidelines, the next year’s results may reveal that only 70% of parents support the guidelines for that grade. The following year, it may be high again. Consistent consensus on homework is nowhere to be found.
What’s a school to do? First, schools need to do their own homework on how to best design, assign and support it. A few years ago, KCS undertook this challenge and you can find the results in the report “Homework at KCS”. Second, schools need to reach out to parents. Parents know best how homework is going in their household. The same homework assigned to a class may take one child five minutes and another 50. The same assignment may be readily done by some children without parents’ help, while other students may be entirely unable to begin without an adult by their side. Finally, schools need to be prepared to make individual adjustments to homework where needed. Multiple hours of homework each night is as unhealthy as it is unwise. While we can’t promise it will always be sublime, it should never be ridiculous.
Hopefully, homework isn’t a bad word in your home. Because we know it has the potential, we’re doing our best to make it the best it can be. For that, we need your help. In this one way, we step away from our guidelines. For us to do our homework, we need you by our side.
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.