How to Talk to Your Child's Teacher About Too Much Homework

5 ways to start a productive conversation about your student's workload

A second grade teacher in Texas recently sent a note home to her students’ parents. It said: "After much research this summer, I am trying something new. I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside and get your children to bed early."

The note went viral, the teacher has been praised and parent reaction was overwhelmingly positive. But is no homework a good idea and if it is, how should you suggest the idea to your child’s teacher?

Research backs her up

Dr. Harris M. Cooper, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, has been studying and researching the effects of homework for more than 25 years. 

His finding: There’s little to no evidence proving any amount of homework improves academic performance until at least middle school. In fact, too much homework actually has a negative effect on a younger child’s attitude toward school.  

Cooper’s results come from more than 180 studies conducted between 1989 and 2006, and mirrors much of established research. Even the National Education Association recommends limiting after-class homework to 10 to 20 minutes a night for first-graders, adding 10 minutes to the total for each subsequent grade.

Homework doesn’t improve test scores

Many educators over the last 30 years have embraced a common myth: That giving more homework, beginning in elementary school, will help our children better compete internationally. But according to the Center for Public Education, information from international assessments shows little correlation between the amount of homework students do and test score improvement. Students in Japan and Finland, for example, are assigned less homework but still outperform U.S. students on tests.

What really matters: Our kids getting enough rest. That’s the best way to improve memory, focus, creative thinking, test performance and even school behavior. "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," writes childhood research speaker and author Heather Shumaker for Time.

Now, to talk to the teacher

Despite this research, many teachers still send homework home for younger grades. And while you may not be able convince the teacher to completely do away with homework, here are some tips on how to start a conversation.

1. Face-to-face is best.

While it may be easier to communicate via e-mail, this is a conversation you should have in person, if possible. It allows you to discuss your concerns and strategies in real time rather than going back and forth several times digitally.

2. Give it time.

Before you request a meeting, wait a few weeks after school starts so you have time to absorb and reflect upon how the homework is affecting your child and your family. When you do speak to the teacher, tell him or her why specifically (aka you’d like a meeting because your child is having difficulties with homework).

3. Keep the focus on your child.

Rather than putting blame on the teacher, keep the focus on what works best for your child. Statements like “You give way too much homework” are a sure way to make the teacher defensive and your meeting unproductive.

Stick with specific things of concern you’re seeing in your child like, “Alex is having trouble with some of the worksheets you’re sending home. They’re taking him over 45 minutes a night to complete when I know they’re only supposed to take 15. He often ends up in tears.” This will give the teacher a clear idea of what the specific problem is so you can work out an effective plan together.

4. Be solution-oriented.

Rather than just presenting the problem, think of some solutions ahead of time. Some could include: “I’ve found that Sophie responds better to homework when it involves things at home we can all get involved with. How about doing math problems like ‘Count how many eggs are in your refrigerator?’” Or, “Max is so excited about reading right now. We read to him every night for 30 minutes. Is it possible for that to replace his worksheets two days a week?”

5. Let the teacher know what works best for your family.

Explain clearly what your family situation is and what makes an excessive amount of homework stressful. Maybe you’re a single parent or have a spouse or partner who constantly travels for work. Perhaps you’re taking care of a sick parent on top of managing work and family life. Let the teacher know the circumstances so you both can come up with a plan that works for everyone concerned. 

And some homework for you? Be sure to follow up via e-mail and talk about what is working, changes you’ve noticed or whether a new plan needs to be put into place.

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