Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Oh my gawd, people, I am back to the homework wars. Last night, DH and I checked Ari’s homework and it was only halfway done. If we hadn’t reminded him, none of it would have been done for this morning. This was after he had been grounded for not turning in homework, after insane lecturing on our part and tears on his end, and after he had an entire week off school. Ugh!!! This homework thing is going to be the bane of our existence.

Once again, we took away the iPad and video games for a week and playdates on school nights. Every day after school this week, I will be closely monitoring to make sure that he completes it. Ay.

A group of moms in Montserrat, Spain, have gone topless for a racy calendar to raise money for their school buses, according to the TODAY Show moms blog. In case you are wondering, they have raised the money needed to keep bus service for 600 elementary school kids, which begs the question, how far would you go to fundraise for your kids’ school?

In other news: a Caucasian mom at BlogHer with an African American daughter wrote about the nuances of travel in this country — finding “friendly” places where non-white people can stay. I understand where she is coming from. I can think of two places, in which I felt uncomfortable being the only brown person that day. One of those places was in the deep south where people around me waved confederate flags and dropped the “n” word quite casually. I learned very quickly to keep my mouth shut — and never returned. It’s sad that in this day and age we still have that in this country. I applaud this mother for recognizing it and protecting her daughter.

In people who are completely off the mark: Keli Goff at the Huffington Post wrote a piece about “why bad parents oppose kid-free flights.” I liked this comment by a self-described 52-year-old gay man with no children:

Here’s the million dollar answer. People of all ages travel by plane for medical reasons. Banning children from flights could be challenged on the basis of the Americans with Disabilities Act if a child with cancer needs to fly to a cancer center for chemotherapy.

Yes, this. I would add that children are still people and it is a slippery slope to start deeming who is “too annoying” to fly. There are plenty of adults who arguably belong in this category, too. Unlike a private beach or club, air is public. Flying is just one of those things we all suck up because we have to — a funeral, an illness, visiting family, going on vacation, etc..

And that’s all I got. What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Review: Race to Nowhere

The other night I trekked down to Cupertino, California, to watch the documentary Race to Nowhere.

As you may recall, I blasted it in an open thread for being a movie about “high-achieving parents and their kin.” I want to apologize for being way off base and just dead WRONG. This is a movie all parents, teachers, administrators and anyone who remotely cares about education should go see. ASAP!

My expectations for this movie were low, yet I found myself blown away by the research in the movie and saddened by some of the stories of the families featured in it. Ultimately, I left the theater convinced that we need to re-think education in this country.

For example, even as test scores related to “No Child Left Behind” have gone up, more students are showing up to college campuses unprepared for even the most basic work. These college campuses, by the way, include prestigious ones like Stanford.

The students have been trained to memorize facts and spit them out on a test that they don’t know how to think for themselves. College professors in the film commented on the “entitlement” by students who demand to know exactly what is on a test, otherwise they know no other way to retain the material.

The other information that blew me away was surrounding homework. There is no correlation between homework in the elementary school grades and academic achievement. In junior high school, there is a slight correlation, but this disappears after an hour of homework a night. In high school, there is a correlation, but again, this disappears after two hours of homework a night. An AP biology teacher in the film said one of the first things he did when he started teaching was cut homework in half. Guess what? The AP test scores of this students went up. Yet, just read some of the diaries in this very blog and how many schools have their students swimming in homework?

Of course, this film wasn’t all stats and figures — although that was interesting. There were stories by many different families and teachers — those in the most affluent suburbs to those in the inner city — and they all reported similar experiences in their schools. This makes me think that we need to re-think education in this country by getting away from turning our students into memorizing robots to creating actual thinkers. And we need to make education relevant in the lives of students in the form of projects and inquiry-based curriculums — both which are being cut due to No Child Left Behind because… they aren’t on the test.  

Have any of you seen this film? What did you think? Here is the link for screenings across the country.


The Homework Myth

One would think that I would look forward to my first grader getting off the bus each day, and spending time together. I do and I don’t. Of course, I love to see him, but I also know what the rest of the afternoon has in store for us. Homework.

We are in a school district where homework is given every weeknight as the default. I thought I had the homework situation under control, but recently, the amount has gone up dramatically. Here is the list of what must be done at home each night, four nights a week:

One math or language arts worksheet (15 min)
One spelling book written assignment (15 min)
One sight words written assignment (15 min)
Practice math facts with flashcards (10 min)
Reading for Reading Log (20 min)
TOTAL: One hour and fifteen minutes

So, roughly a total of one hour and fifteen minutes each night. IF it all goes smoothly, without interruption. With interruptions, breaks, we’re looking at a good two-hour slog each night. Oh yeah, and a monthly book report that always involves building something and purchasing odd materials.

It’s. Just. Too. Much.

After my child spends 6 hours a day in school, plus another hour of bus time, I really don’t want him to have to do more homework. I want him to hang out, go to the park, paint, draw, play outside, or read for fun. Even the reading, which is part of the assignment, often gets cut down in our chase to get all of the written assignments done!.

I don’t like the mother I become when I am supervising homework. On the outside, I look like I am calmly supervising. But on the inside, I feel antsy and impatient. I’m watching the clock. I’m plotting how I, I mean WE,  can cut corners. I’m trying to think ahead about how I can speed the process up without leaving my mark too obviously on the assignment. Sometimes I even feel anger at the assignments that come home, if I think they aren’t worthy of my child’s time (or mine). I feel disempowered and my home life imposed upon. If I could get away with it, I would fill it out myself.

So what to do? Well, I pulled out my copy of Alfie Kohn’s, The Homework Myth, to see what he suggests.

The Issue

Many districts with default homework policies will vaguely claim that “studies show” that homework is correlated with school success. Kohn challenges this, saying that, at best, such studies only show a correlation, not a causation. Kohn also notes that such studies “confuse grades and test scores with learning.” And even where positive effects exist, they are very small. Finally, there is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school, other than free reading.

So why is homework the default policy of many schools and school districts, even at the elementary level? Kohn suggests that the most troubling reason is that we, as parents, are too averse to asking questions:

One reason we don’t ask challenging questions about homework is that we don’t ask challenging questions about most things. Homework continues to be championed by policy makers, assigned by teachers, and accepted by parents, in part because of our cultural aversion to digging out hidden premises, pressing for justification and opposing practices for which justification is lacking…

Even if we do regard something as objectionable, that doesn’t mean we will object to it.

OUCH. I’m not sure about this part. Sure, I think our culture can be lazy at times, but I think the main reason parents don’t raise objections is because such objections can be met with defensiveness by the district. Sometimes you can cause more trouble for yourself and for your children by challenging the status quo. You know, pick your battles and all that. In other words, it’s quite rational, in my opinion, to just try to go along.

The Solutions

Ok, so are there any solutions in this book, for homework-weary moms like me?

Kohn suggests that homework should not be the default, but should only be given when it’s an activity that is suited to home as opposed to the classroom. He also supports reading books of the child’s choice. However, even on free-choice reading, he counsels caution on reading logs. He quotes Jim DeLuca, a middle school language arts teacher:

“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read. Some teachers use log sheets….other teachers use book reports or other projects….in many cases, such assignments make the students hate the book they have just read, no matter how they felt about it before the project.”

In general, Kohn suggests that at minimum, homework should be individualized to the student, designed by the teacher (as opposed to canned worksheets), and not graded. However, Kohn admits that parents have an uphill climb if they are in a district where homework is the default policy.

In the end, The Homework Myth is a fascinating read, but leaves an individual parent with little actionable advice.

And so, here I am, right where I started. Do I speak up that this homework situation is not working for our family? Or do I keep quiet?

What is your child’s homework experience like? What is your opinion on homework? Have you even spoken out about homework you thought had no value or was too much? What was the outcome?


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

What’s up all?

My family is in the thick of the holiday season, which means back-to-back birthday parties for kids with November and December birthdays plus holiday parties. I am already burned out and we are not even in Thanksgiving! Ayayay!

Anyways, some girlfriends and I are treating ourselves to the 10 a.m. showing of A New Moon today. I know, it is utterly shameless that moms in their 30s are cramming in a theater with teenagers — if they are up that early — to see this movie. LOL! Oh, by the way, there was also a lot on the news front this week, too.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, a co-founder at, wrote an essay on the real reasons women are not happy — as gleefully reported by media outlets.

In case you aren’t bidding for Leggo waffles online, Kellogg’s has reported that there is a Leggo waffle shortage in the country that will last until the middle of 2010, according to MSN Money. One of its bakeries was flooded.

A Canadian couple won a legal battle to exclude their three children from completing homework assignments, according to the Guardian in the UK. The couple, Sherri and Tom Milley of Calgary, Alberta, filed their lawsuit after years of struggling to make their children complete homework assignments, especially since there is no evidence it actually improves school performance. Do you agree or disagree with the Milleys’s actions?

We had a helpful thread on the best parenting advice we have received. What would you add to the list?

The Washington Post had a fascinating feature on how Arizona is the “wild west” of charter schools. Stanford researchers have found that while some charter schools are fantastic, others woefully lag behind traditional public schools.

Probably nothing garnered more discussion this week than our suggestions for People’s Sexiest Man Alive. Johnny Depp won the honor, but this Twilight fan was disappointed it wasn’t Robert Pattinson. (Hey, he is 23. That is still legal!) We also had a popular thread on our favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Thank you, “Thank God for Air America,” for putting that up!

If your child received a scholarship to attend a state school and was also accepted to an Ivy League school, which one would you choose? In light of escalating costs at all schools, we had a long discussion on this. Was your college worth the costs?

In case you missed it, our Erika is having a BOY and not the girl an earlier ultrasound showed. Felicades mujer!

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Canadian Parents Negotiate “No Homework” Agreement

We have discussed the mounting piles of homework and debated their value several times here at MotherTalkers. One Canadian family – lawyers, unsuprisingly – have taken their objections to homework to a new level and negotiated an agreement with their children’s school and teachers, agreeing that homework won’t be used as a basis of grade evaluation so long as the children keep up with classwork and perform well on tests.

a Canadian couple have just won a legal battle to exempt their offspring from homework after successfully arguing there is no clear evidence it improves academic performance.

Sherri and Tom Milley, two lawyers from Calgary, Alberta, launched their highly unusual case after years of struggling to make their three reluctant children do school work out of the classroom.

After waging a long war with their eldest son, Jay, now 18, over his homework, they decided to do things differently with their youngest two, Spencer, 11, and Brittany, 10. And being lawyers, they decided to make it official.

It took two years to negotiate the Milleys’ Differentiated Homework Plan, which ensures their youngest two children will never have to do homework again at their current school. The two-page plan, signed by the children, parents and teachers, stipulates that “homework will not be used as a form of evaluation for the children”. In return, the pupils promise to get their work done in class, to come to school prepared, and to revise for tests. They must also read daily and practise their musical instruments at home.

This is a very interesting outcome and I wonder how it’ll work and whether other parents at the school will take up the same cause. What do you think? Would you attempt a similar path with your child(ren)’s school(s)?


Stupid Homework

My kids’ school just switched to the Everyday Math program.  Normally, I don’t get really involved in curricular matters even though I’m and educator.  I’ve always taken the position that the teachers in the classrooms have the best angle on what’s best for all of their students.  I try to be supportive of both the kids and their teachers ’cause I know how hard it is in the classroom- even though I’m not in the classroom anymore.

But I think that’s fixing to change.

I’m mostly of a mind that homework has its place.  It teaches responsibility.  It can reinforce concepts learned in school, if it’s well designed.  I also think the amount has to be developmentally appropriate and I don’t think there are many teachers out there who disagree with me- at least in theory.

But man oh man- Everyday Math requires homework every stinkin’ night.  And the homework itself?  Euphemistically, I’d call it not so great.  Honestly?  It sucks ass.  Harry’s third grade homework was to find numbers around the house.  Molly’s first grade homework?  More of the same- find this or that in the newspaper or whatever  It’s not that it’s hard- in fact, it’s not even challenging- and it’s really not interesting.

It’s freakin’ busy work!  And my kids have decided to present a universal front in their belief that they would prefer to opt out.  To say a respectful “No thanks” to whole lame thing.  So that means that I’m in the nightly position of insisting they do the stupid-ass homework that I don’t even agree with.

You can imagine how it goes down, but just in case…

Me: Kiddos- homework in 5 minutes.
Kids:  Okay.
:::5 minutes later:::
Me: Time to do your homework.
H:  In a minute.
M:  Okay. (She makes no movement towards homework.)
Me:  Come on, do it now and then it will be done and we can watch Fetch (or play outside or eat cake or go buy a Ferrari)
H & M:  Whining noise that cannot be reproduced phonetically.
Me:  Here we go!  Pencils?  Check. (I produce freshly sharpened pencils)  Homework?  Check (I get papers out of their home folders).  Other related materials (newspaper, cans from the pantry, etc)?  Check.
H & M:  Continuation of whining noises, now supplemented with hysterical tears.
Me:  If you don’t do your homework, I’m taking away your video games/ toys/ birthday.  (On really good days I go down the “If you don’t do your homework you’ll end up on the streets or flipping burgers and don’t think for one minute I’ll give you cash for concert tickets or Lego money, buster” road.  I’m particularly proud of those days.)
H & M:  More tears, more shrieking- but movement towards the homework.
Me:  Incoherent grumbles and mutters
:::2 minutes later:::
H & M:  Done.  Can we watch Fetch?

So tell me…how do you make your kids do homework?  Particularly when you’re absolutely certain it’s a total waste of time and energy?


Back-To-School Corner

Anne Fitten Glenn — aka “Edgy Mama” — wrote about kids’ back-to-school nightmares. As a kid, I used to have the one that I did not do my homework and failed the class. (Yes, I was a nerd.)

In college, my nightmare was forgetting to attend class all semester and then having to take an exam. I definitely do not miss the pressures of school!

But school has been on my mind a lot lately. Today my firstborn child will attend kindergarten. In a way it does not feel any different from last year since he attended preschool. OTOH, his experience is so different from mine.

When I attended kindergarten at a Catholic School in Miami, I only attended half a day in the afternoon. The purpose of kindergarten was to learn my ABCs and play. Ari will be attending school at a Spanish immersion program where he will learn how to read and write in two languages. And he will be in school all day.

I could not help but overhear this very mature conversation between Ari and best buddy Jude the other day. Ari was crying because I refused to give him ice cream since he had not finished his dinner. Jude ate all his food and got an ice cream cone.

Jude: “Ari, you shouldn’t cry in kindergarten because the kids will make fun of you.”

Ari: “Stop saying that to me! Worry about yourself.”

Jude: “I am only saying it because I care about you. I don’t want kids to make fun of you.”

I said to Jude, “Aw, that is so sweet, Jude.” But I thought about it and wondered: Can you imagine having this conversation in kindergarten? How do you all feel about kindergarten being the new first grade?

For those of you whose kids already started school, how did it go?


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

What’s up?

Our Erika had a compelling piece on whether it is okay for someone in public to berate a parent for hitting his or her child. Check out the New York Times story and comments related to an incident in the subway station.

We had an in-depth discussion on whether parents should be allowed to pick their child’s teacher. On this matter, I defer to the faculty and staff. But some parents felt they should at least get to veto bad teachers. We also discussed this Associated Press story on the grassroots effort by parents to decrease the number of homework assignments, or at least make them more relevant.

We had an intense discussion about a mother in Montana who was arrested for leaving her 12-year-old daughter and her friend who was also 12, at the mall with younger siblings aged 8, 7 and 3. Apparently, Macy’s employees spotted the 8, 7 and 3-year-olds alone as the 12-year-old girls went to try out clothes in the fitting room.

Former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jack Welch touched a nerve when he recently said women are often passed up for promotions because they are choosing to take time off for their families. We are disappointed that he chose to aim his comments at only women, when unfortunately for too long, men have been denied a relationship with their children to climb the corporate ladder. How sad.

In related news, we bemoaned the lack of “non-connected” time on vacations, but offered tips on how to stay in touch with work without ruining the fun. How do you balance the two?

In celebrity gossip break, we discussed the Gosselin and Jackson families. Enjoy!

What’s up with you?


Should Parents Be Allowed to Pick Their Children’s Teachers?

I don’t think they should and my feelings were confirmed by this Associated Press story:

After doing some research, including sitting in on classrooms, Valerie Gilbert thought she knew which third-grade teacher would be perfect for her son, Stanley.

Impressed by that teacher’s creative, visually stimulating style, the Berkeley, Calif., mother lobbied on Stanley’s behalf. “I did my best to make my opinion known,” Gilbert said.

The school, however, placed Stanley in a different class. And to his mother’s surprise and delight, the year wound up being so successful for him that Gilbert said she is approaching his pending entry into fourth grade in a new way: by vowing to stay out of the process.

“I’m learning to be more open-minded,” she said.

With parents becoming increasingly involved in their children’s lives and educations, Gilbert’s foray into her son’s classroom placement process is not unique, particularly around this time of year when anxieties about the coming school year run high.

While I am very involved in my son’s school, I have always butted out when it comes to teacher assignment. I understand that the school uses various criteria to make up a class, including age, ability and, in our case since we are a Spanish immersion school, Spanish fluency. If I did not trust the administration on this, then perhaps it is not the right school for us.

But maybe I am missing something. Do you think parents should be able to select their children’s teachers?

In related news, the Associated Press ran a trend story on a grassroots effort by parents calling for less, or at least better, homework. What say you, MotherTalkers?


Study: Teacher, Parental Involvement Trump Peer Pressure

Even if your eye-rolling, back-talking teenagers don’t seem to listen to you, keep communicating with them as your influence is more important than relationships with peers, according to a new study released by researchers in Australia.

From the Opposing Views blog:

A University of Sydney study has found that getting on well with parents and teachers has a strong positive influence on adolescents’ academic outcomes – and a bigger influence than getting on with peers. These findings provide new hope to parents and teachers who too often assume that they cannot compete with the power of the peer group….

The study looked at 3,450 Australian high school students in Years 7 to 12. Quality teacher-student relationships had the most significant impact on students’ academic outcomes, followed by parent-child relationships. Some of the key academic outcomes assessed were motivation, engagement, homework completion, enjoyment of school, attendance, and educational aspirations.

Interestingly, when the study looked at non-academic outcomes (for example physical self-concept, honesty, emotional stability) peers had a bigger influence than teachers and parents.