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Who needs homework, anyway?

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Kralovec: I taught a philosophy class to college-bound kids, and I gave no homework. I had an opportunity to structure a class, top-level, and to work with kids on how to do it. We read less, but everyone actually did the reading. Let's be honest: Kids read in front of TV, they get CliffsNotes, whatever. In our case, we read one Platonic dialogue, not three, for example. We did it in class. It meant thinking differently about class time, which became work time.

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On better classroom learning:

Kralovec: [A recent] Rand Corporation study found three things were important for learning: prekindergarten, lower class sizes, and more resources for teachers. We may not like what we know about how to improve schools because it's very expensive. Homework is school reform on the cheap. Homework disempowers teachers and deprofessionalizes them. Your kid isn't doing well in reading? Well, you can help him at home. But you really can't because teaching those kinds of things is complex.

Buell: When we ratchet up homework, we're really relying on unpaid labor of parents. I don't think it's fair or equitable. There are other things parents would like to be doing with children that make substantial contributions to a child's long-range development.

On good homework:

Buell: In social studies, you might have students read some op-eds from newspapers, in a setting where a trained adult is available to talk. There are all kinds of projects that could be done in a short amount of time within school settings that would enhance students' abilities, and wouldn't systematically privilege some kids [with more resources] at the expense of others.

Kralovec: A really good example is the science fair. Usually, there's a paper that comes home with the steps. Due in a month and a half. If this is such an important thing, and it is, why should it be done at home at night? That class should be turned into a lab. The fair should be done all day long with the kids working in groups and functioning like scientists in their classroom.

How homework discriminates against the poor:

Buell: Students come home to very different [situations]. Ten percent of housing in California is substandard. What about kids [in] those homes? Forget about whether they have access to a computer. The notion that they'll have a quiet and safe place to do their work is absurd. Then you have different educational backgrounds of parents. Those are the kinds of things that ought to be looked at if homework is key to getting people left out of the global economy back into it.

On pressure in school:

Kralovec: With Columbine, for a few moments, we actually listened to kids talk about their experiences in school. It was terrifying to hear them talk about the pressure to succeed and excel that they feel they're being pushed into. Kids never escape their student role. They're in school all day, then they go home and they have to continue to be students. Schools work really well for about 10 percent of kids. The other 90 percent sort of muddle by. So when there's no escape from a role you're not very good at, I think kids are snapping.

On parents speaking up:

Kralovec: Individual teachers don't set school policy. The teacher has to assign X amount of homework. The parent has to become educated about how schools operate, they need to become politicized, go to school board meetings, and find out where they can intervene effectively - and it's not with your child's teacher. Also, if you go in with a group of five or six parents, they can't victimize you. it changes the tone of the discussion.

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