My daughter struggled through much of 4th grade. She was put in Special Learning with a wonderful teacher who helped her catch up. We didn’t want all that progress to disappear over the summer.
While some parents may have gone with a tutor, that wasn’t in our budget. Instead, we asked the school for workbooks and now, every morning, my daughter does twenty minutes of math problems, then spends another half-hour writing an essay. (The rest of the time, she’s free to play as she pleases, as long as it’s away from a screen. We don’t have any other activities, like camp, scheduled. I believe it’s good for kids to be bored. When they complain, I tell them to clean the house. They quickly stop complaining.)
The school did not demand this of us. It was our choice.
I fully realize that it’s summertime and New York City kids should be footloose, fancy-free, and playing (please excuse the mixed musical theater metaphors), according to one 2017 study.
But only if you want to risk the summer slide, ominously warns another. According to The New Yorker, “(S)tudents lost at least a month of learning every summer, with the fall-off of math knowledge and spelling skills being particularly pronounced.”
The NYC Department of Education does host a Summer In the City initiative (what we used to call Summer School before “branding expert” became a job description). When a student doesn’t meet promotion standards for his or her grade, the family will gets letter recommending that the student go to summer school.
But where does that leave parents whose child is not currently behind by DOE standards, but who, all the same, wish to avoid the dreaded slide? Which experts should those parents listen to when making their summer plans?
Here is where school choice once again makes an appearance: All families should be able to decide for themselves.
The same applies to homework during the regular school year.
Multiple reports have come out recently arguing that homework does not benefit children in elementary school, although a 2006 Duke study found multiple benefits for middle and high schoolers. This may be true for some students. It may even be true for the majority.
It is not true for my daughter.
My daughter needs to practice mathematical functions over and over before they finally stick. Also spelling. I know because I was exactly the same way. It used to baffle my own mother how she could show me the right way to do a problem, which I would then dutifully imitate on the subsequent problem. And the next day, it was like the whole thing had been a dream. I needed repetition, and lots of it.
As a result, I make sure my daughter does her homework every night.
That’s my choice as her parent.
In 2016, Chelsea’s PS 11 banned homework for children below the 4th grade. A handful of other schools followed suit, to the cheers of some and the dismay of others. Particularly upset were low-income parents, who argued that they didn’t have the resources to supplement traditional instruction with private tutors, prep books, and online services, like the more affluent families did.
But then Brooklyn School of Inquiry jumped on the bandwagon, albeit only for kindergarten and first grade. “I think people confuse homework with rigor,” their (now retiring) principal Donna Taylor said.
But Brooklyn School of Inquiry isn’t just another General Ed elementary. It’s an accelerated Gifted & Talented Citywide program, the kind that over 2000 children qualify for, but only a few hundred are lucky enough to win a seat at (via lottery). As a result, it attracts some very, very highly motivated and ambitious parents. Its location in Bensonhurst also means it attracts some very, very highly motivated and ambitious immigrant parents. Ones who hail from countries where what America calls “gifted” is standard fare for all kids, and taught in earlier grades, to boot.
Many of them were quite unhappy with the no homework edict. Some of them came to me for help transferring. A few moved to private school, another contingent opted for charters, including the high-performing Success Academy, where homework most definitely is not optional.
In each case, those parents made a choice about what they thought was best for their children. The same way that I did for my daughter, when it came to summer learning.
The same way that all families should be allowed to… whatever the season.