President Obama’s pick for Education Secretary, John King, Jr., is headed for confirmation Mar. 9. King’s track record shows he loves standardized testing and quantifying learning. If he loves numbers and research, he should welcome what some teachers and families have known for years: that homework at young ages does more harm than good.
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We’re currently enmeshed in a high-pressure approach to learning that starts with homework being assigned in kindergarten and even preschool. Homework dominates after-school time in many households and has been dubbed the 21st century’s “new family dinner.” Overtired children complain and collapse. Exasperated parents cajole and nag. These family fights often ends in tears, threats, and parents secretly finishing their kid’s homework.
Parents put up with these nightly battles because they want what’s best for their kids. But, surprise, the opposite is more likely to be true. A comprehensive review of 180 research studies by Duke University psychologist and neuroscientist Harris Cooper shows homework’s benefits are highly age dependent: high schoolers benefit if the work is under two hours a night, middle schoolers receive a tiny academic boost, and elementary-aged kids? It’s better to wait.
If you examine the research—not one study, but the full sweep of homework research—it’s clear that homework does have an impact, but it’s not always a good one. Homework given too young increases negative attitudes toward school. That’s bad news, especially for a kindergartener facing 12 more years of assignments.
Read More: Why You Shouldn’t Do Your Child’s Homework
Children rebel against homework because they have other things they need to do. Holler and run. Relax and reboot. Do family chores. Go to bed early. Play, following their own ideas. Children have been told what to do all day long at school—which is mostly sitting still and focusing on the academic side. Academic learning is only one side of a child. When school is out, kids need time for other things.
Some schools are already realizing this. New York City’s P.S. 116 elementary school made news last year when its principal Jane Hsu abolished homework and asked families to read instead. Individual schools and teachers from Maryland to Michigan have done the same, either eliminating homework in the elementary years or making it optional. But schools also report that if teachers don’t give it, some parents will demand it.
Believers in homework say it teaches soft skills like responsibility and good study habits. That’s another problem with homework in elementary school. Young kids can rarely cope with complex time management skills or the strong emotions that accompany assignments, so the responsibility falls on parents. Adults assume the highly undesirable role of Homework Patrol Cop, nagging kids about doing it, and children become experts in procrastination and the habit of complaining until forced to work. Homework overtakes the parents’ evening as well as the child’s. These roles aren’t easy to shake.
Read More: How Hard Is Too Hard to Push Kids?
When homework comes at a stage when it can academically benefit students, it can also be a student’s responsibility. That means a high school student should be expected to do her homework without being reminded. It may take a year or two of practice in middle school, but it doesn’t require years of practice. Before age 11, responsibility can be taught in other ways. For a 6-year-old, that means remembering to feed the cat and bring home her lunchbox.
If we want students to improve memory, focus, creative thinking, test performance and even school behavior, the answer is not more homework, the answer is more sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that our children are suffering sleep deprivation, partly from homework. If we pride ourselves on a rational, research-based approach to education, we must look at the right facts.
Parents often feel stuck with homework because they don’t realize they have a choice. But they do. Schooling may be mandatory, but homework isn’t. Families can opt out. Parents can approach the teacher either about homework load or the simple fact of doing homework at all, especially in elementary school. Many teachers will be more than happy with the change. Opting out, or changing the homework culture of a school brings education control back down to the local level.
That’s another thing the new Education Secretary has promised: to turn more control for education decisions over to states and local school districts. That could spell good news for students – if local teachers and principals do their own homework and read up on what the research says about making kids do school work after school is done.
When your child is at school the teacher is in loco parentis (literally "in the place of parents"): meaning that they should treat each and every child as if they were the parent, nurturing both their educational and more abstract needs (emotional etc.). This is not a role for everyone, and teachers should be held in great esteem for what they do, as it is a calling, not a job.
Now in regards to your particular case: sounds like the teacher needs to leave public interaction to those with their full faculties.
A small comment would have sufficed, along with praise for the neatness of writing (which as stated elsewhere is neater than that which some of us have to deal with from adults); the comment needn't even sound like a negative, phrased as a challenge, striven-for endeavour, or aid for the teacher it can help the child to reach for the goal.
To give an example, one of my kids, when younger wanted to make his grandfather a tool rack (he was 4 at the time, my son, not the grandfather! :^) so he took some scrap wood, cut it to the width of the hut door, and screwed expensive brass screws into it for the tools to hang from (intended for another job) as they looked "nice for his granddad".
He was praised by everyone for what he had made and especially for the thought behind it, and we told him to let us know next time, so we could "help" and learn how to do make it too (i.e. ensure that no needed expensive items suffer in the pursuit of their efforts).
- make the teacher apologise to your child: we cannot tell our children to take responsibility for their actions if they cannot see adults doing the same, my children have received apologies from various teachers over the years when required, some willingly and with great sincerity, some not so much (that would be the difference between a teacher who teaches as a vocation and one who does it as a job with great holidays).
- and then, pursue the school to take formal remedial training steps for the teacher: perhaps they are not suited to teaching a 5 year old, and may be better served by changing roles.
- like all of us I am fiercely protective of my young, and do not tolerate slip-ups well. Sometimes, the mere act of standing up for your child is just what your child needs: that you are unafraid of anything in their defence and back them unequivocally (knowing that you have their back in more slang parlance). At 5 they already thing you are like a god and there's nothing you can't do, and the groundwork now will mean that as they hit the more troublesome ages ahead they will trust you fundamentally.
- Addition to 3rd point: if my children are in the wrong I leave them in no doubt that they have been wrong, however I have also supported them when the repercussions moved from being just to punitive: we want our kids to know right and wrong, even when dealing with how to deal with fault; that shouldn't mean though that being in the wrong means they have to take whatever is dished out to them.
I would keep an eye on the situation though, just in case.
As a parent we can make mistakes, but erasing work done should NEVER be done on such a scale: some adults would find comparable scale erasure of their work soul-crushing, and for a 5 year old it can run the risk of devaluing the whole learning process in their mind.
You say also that it is a pre-school teacher: not sure where you are from, but pre-school "teachers" as a term can include what amounts to glorified babysitters as well as properly trained teachers: I would make a point of finding out which it was that did this to the homework (though in this instance it sounds like the actual teacher).
But no, utterly inexcusable and disgusting behaviour for an adult, let alone a teacher.