Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Homework

When I was a young KidWonk, summers were for vacation from doing homework. Things have changed:
Gone are the days of the short summer reading list. Facing pressure to boost test scores, many public schools now load students up with summer science projects, book reports and even PowerPoint presentations.

The second graders at Alfred E. Zampella Elementary School in Jersey City, N.J., received the bad news today — school ends next week, but the assignments will keep coming, as school administrators try to keep the learning going all summer long.

"Writing is fun and math is fun, but it's too much things to do," said 8-year-old Genesis Torres.

Some educators agree and say sending work home with kids during the summer is burning them out.

"A kid wakes up every single day in the summer with homework hanging over their head and I think there's a lot of questions about whether that level of stress is really healthy for kids," said Etta Kralovec the co-author of "The End of Homework."

She said the added testing required by No Child Left Behind is putting extra pressure on schools, but she thinks piling on the work during the summer may not be the way to produce better results.

"One of the ways people think schools can perform better is by giving kids homework, and that has the appearance of getting serious about learning," Kralovec said. "But that appearance is not necessarily the reality for students."

The stress was too much for Wisconsin high school student Peer Larson. He sued his math teacher, claiming summer calculus homework was interfering with his job as a camp counselor and his relaxation time.

"I was catching up on sleep or just enjoying myself because that's what I should be able to do during the summer," Larson said.

But the judge threw out the case.

Is Learning Lost During Vacation?

The principal at Zampella Elementary in Jersey City said the drive to get kids studying over the summer is more about preparing for the fall and a concern that students just lose too much knowledge during their break.

"I have problems with the fact that two months they're off and they're not learning," principal Sandra Frierson said. "They come back in September and its harder for the teachers to keep abreast of where they are."

Frierson, an educator for 32 years, said she is giving the kids at her school a challenge.

If the students read 20 minutes a day for five days a week and all together read a total of 500,000 books, she'll give herself a unique makeover.

"If everyone accomplishes that, I'm coloring my hair green," said Frierson as an incentive.

While Frierson wants her students to keep reading and studying all summer, Kralovec thinks summer is best used for other types of learning.

"There's a lot of learning that needs to occur in the development of a child and school subject learning is only one part," she said. "They need to learn how to be siblings … how to cook … how to be members of a community, and so the work that kids do in school is important but it's not the only kind of learning they need."

Still, the parents we spoke to at Frierson's school said they feel that the more homework their kids are assigned, the better.

"Some people say kids need time to be kids during the summer. Oh, come on. They have nothing to do but PlayStation, ride bikes, play soccer — they need some little reading and writing, too," parent Maysoon Awad said.

Frierson is hoping to get her students excited about the summer work by naming it "summer reinforcement," instead of calling it by the dreaded word "homework."

But when asked if they were eager for the work, the kids in her assembly hall offered a resounding "no."
I asked our 14-year-old daughter, the TeenWonk, if she had any summer homework. She indicated that the all incoming sophomores at her high school were expected to read The Catcher in the Rye and Oliver Twist. And that was it.

She's already finished Catcher and will tackle the Oliver next week.
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