No Homework Overload

American students aren't overworked, says a report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings . The typical student spends an hour a day -- or less -- on homework, about the same as in the 1980s. Researcher Tom Loveless cites a UCLA study that asked college freshmen how much they worked in high school the year before.

In 1987, the first year the question was asked, 47 percent of kids said they spent more than five hours a week on homework as high school seniors. But the figure has shrunk every year since, and hit a record low of 34 percent in 2002.

"These are our top students, and two-thirds say they spent no more than five hours a week on homework in high school,'' Loveless said. "I think that's troubling. ... It leads me to question if they are being adequately prepared for college.''

In an international study, U.S. 12th graders tied for second-to-last in study time among 20 countries. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 39 percent of 17-year-olds said they’d done no homework the previous night; another 26 percent did less than an hour of homework. A study called "A Nation at Rest,'' concludes that only about 10 percent of high school students spend more than two hours a day on homework.

In this story, a fourth grade math teacher  doesn't assign homework for fear parents will encourage children to memorize the multiplication table.

June Shoemaker, a fourth-grade teacher in Twin Lakes, Wis., tries not to assign any homework. She'd rather contain her math lessons to class, where she can teach students to think about the concepts, than assign work at home, where memorization drills may be encouraged by parents.

"Many of our families have two people working, and the kids go home to empty homes or to day care, so there's just not a lot of support for homework," Shoemaker said. "That's not fair to the kids."

If it's bad to have parents drilling the kids on 6 x 7, why is it unfair that some kids don't have such parents? Aren't they the lucky ones?

Self-centered Social Studies

Social studies curricula shouldn't be about me, me, me, writes Brendan Miniter in Opinion Journal.

The new social studies often rests on "student-centered instruction," which allows students to be their own learning guides. The starting premise is that students can learn only what is familiar and directly relevant to them. Thus social studies in kindergarten through the third grade teaches students first about family, then local public servants like firemen and policemen. It also holds that members of a racial minority aren't immediately capable of learning about people who are of a different race, so black kids read about the Great Zimbabwe kingdom, not Columbus. This concentric-circle approach leaves students unprepared for serious analysis. But mostly, students find it boring.

Students learn that facts are a matter of opinion, so why bother to learn any? Yet, many young people don't have strongly held opinions either. They just don't care.

The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who voted fell to 32 percent in 1996 and 2000, from 50 percent in 1972. A study in 2000 found that only 28.1 percent of college freshman kept up to date with politics, a record low and down from 60.3 percent in 1966.

Students do well with a knowledge-based curriculum, advises the Fordham Foundation, which is focusing on  history and civics curricula.

The Boy Code

What do schoolboys need ? Across the developed world, boys are doing much worse in school than girls, writes Ted Byfield in the Edmonton Sun. As a former teacher in a boys' school, he doesn't think boys should be encouraged to abandon the stoic "boy code" and have a good cry.

(The boy code) requires boys to be brave, show little emotion, not to tattletale, never to cry. It has other stipulations -- that they shouldn't pick on little kids, never hit girls, never kick a guy when he's down, help people who aren't able to help themselves, that kind of thing.

It also has higher, more distant requirements -- that they be prepared to die for their country, and that they have a responsibility to their family. (Meaning, that if anybody picks a fight with your brother, he has picked a fight with you.) And (if they're Christian) that they never "deny Christ."

Instead of feminizing boys, Byfield suggests giving boys schools with mostly male teachers, "a highly structured environment with objective examinations and a clear pass-fail grading system in every subject and at frequent intervals."


A British headmaster is on trial, charged with assaulting an 11-year-old student with a fish. The Telegraph  reports:

David Watkins allegedly put an ill-behaved pupil in a headlock and tried to stuff a 10-inch cod into his mouth.

The incident occurred in the playground of a middle school in Norwich last November after the boy, who has since been expelled and excluded from another school, brought the fish to the playground.

Watkins, 51, who denies assault, went into the playground to investigate after pupils had complained about the boy's behaviour because he had been chasing girls, brandishing the fish.

I sympathize with the headmaster. The boy was a flagrant fish brandisher; he was asking for a codding.

College 101: Don't Jump Out of Your Bunk Bed

With no guard rails to keep them safe, University of Buffalo students are  jumping or falling out of upper bunks, and Kimberly Swygert is laughing at them. Read the comments for classic falling-out-of-bed stories. Warning: Some involve alcohol.


Wess Safford, Woodland, Wash., writes:

I don't know about Texas, but when I lived in California in 1995 a number of California school districts had standing policies of reporting “recalcitrant” parents to Child Protective Services (CPS). Specifically, in the San Francisco Bay area, there were a number of cases where CPS threatened parents with neglect charges and/or removal of custody if they did not medicate their children. I think the Texas law is an excellent idea.

Mike Ostaffe, Schaumburg, Ill., says:

School employees are trained in educating, not medicating, our students. Unless they are licensed to prescribe medicine then they should not, under the color of school authority, be suggesting medications for our children. In most law books this is called practicing medicine without a license and is illegal.

However, they could suggest that "there may be other treatments available for your son/daughter and I recommend that you speak to a trained physician."

Dale Busacker, Olympia, Wash., writes:

Letter writer Keith Weiner writes that "a parent is forced to turn his child over to the control of a bad teacher for six hours a day, five days a week, all year!" The same thinking can be applied to the reverse of the situation. That is, a teacher is forced to assume control of a student who is the product of lazy and incompetent parenting. That fact that there are children of competent and caring parents in the classroom doesn't help.

Tony Zito, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., writes:

In response to “Classroom classics,” I agree that short and sexless help. (If I were a middle school teacher, the last thing I'd want to kill time on is fighting parents over sex in the reading list.) But I recall that we also read "Shane" and "To Kill A Mockingbird" in the same year (8th grade) that we read "Lord of the Flies", and there is something else these three have in common: The story is told from the point of view of young characters. It was immensely appealing to me to hear the story of a trial or a range war from the point of view of the kids, and just as riveting, if a little scarier, to see kids in the role of warriors.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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