A small public school system in New Jersey, concerned about children being overtaxed, has chosen to limit the amount of homework to no more than two hours per night, and weekend homework is discouraged.
At first glance, this seems to play into the hands of education reform opponents, who are fighting against standards and testing. One argument they use is that students will be pressured by homework, grades and the need to score well on tests.
They claim that high-stakes tests will result in more cheating. That is rather like saying banks cause robberies.
Still, anything can be overdone. In this case, one parent was quoted as saying her son had been spending six hours a night on homework (and getting straight A's).
Students need to have high standards and there is a limit to the material teachers can cover during school hours, so homework is a necessity.
At the same time, children are children. They have family, church, community and recreational activities that have to be balanced with the need for an education.
Whether two hours or six hours of homework is the right amount is not the issue. The time spent on homework should be more than zero and less than the child's physical and mental breaking point.
No matter what limits the school sets, parents who notice their child is struggling always can have him put in extra time on a particular subject, and help him with the material or obtain a tutor. On the other hand, they can grant him leave from homework if they determine that he is competent in the subject and they are not obsessed with grades.
The Associated Press quoted one academic as saying that research has found little relation between the amount of homework and performance on achievement tests anyway.
Steering between extremes is not always easy and in the case of education reform it requires good judgment and common sense. The New Jersey case is an anomaly, not a vanguard.
--The Florida Times Union, Jacksonville
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