Sunday, August 21, 2011

Homework and Student Stress

The following was submitted to the San Francisco Chronicle in response to their Sunday opinion piece on student stress and homework on 8/14 and printed in their Sunday paper on 8/21.

Thanks for drawing attention to the issue of student stress and homework. I’ve been teaching in the Bay Area for 14 years and the problem does seem to be getting worse. The main causes, however, are structural and political, not teachers assigning busy work.

The high stakes testing mandated by NCLB, for example, takes class time away from content, increasing pressure on teachers to cram more content into fewer days. Combined with the overwhelming number of standards teachers must cover each year, students often have to pick up some content at home through reading and other assignments. Sadly, some schools now require test preparation and homework for kindergartners, thinking this will prepare them for the ensuing 12 years of testing and standards overload.

School structure can also exacerbate students’ work and stress loads. High schools, for example, typically have six or seven periods, each with daily homework. In contrast, some schools offer block schedules, with classes that meet three or four times each week, with homework only assigned on days classes meet.

Another stressor is the intense competition for admission to top universities. Many now look for students with grade point averages (GPA) that surpass a perfect 4.0. This leads many students to take multiple Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses which are worth more toward GPA than standard college preparatory classes, but which also require considerably more homework and studying. This competition also leads many to add extra-curricular activities like school government, drama, athletics or internships to their already overloaded schedules, adding to their stress and exhaustion.

Students who are reading well below grade level or learning English as a second language might spend two or three times longer on a reading assignment than peers. Some students have poor time management skills or have trouble following directions, thus increasing time on assignments. I have been shocked to hear students complain about spending hours on an assignment that should have taken 15 minutes, only to realize that they had not followed the directions.

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