District curbs homework
  A New Haven Regsiter editorial   October 24, 2000

There's a budding trend toward educational mediocrity that's winning praise in New Jersey, where it started and where we hope it dies.

The school board in Piscataway, N.J., has put a damper on homework. It disapproves of homework on weekends and has prohibited teachers from either grading it or using it as punishment. During the week, it has limited homework to 30 minutes in grade school and two hours in high school. 

This stand against learning is reportedly attracting interest from throughout the country. It is being driven by parental foolishness, not children's needs. Parents who have worked all day don't want to monitor homework at night. Having overscheduled their children's lives with karate, piano and birthday parties, they have decided that the homework has to go. 

American children already spend far less time each week and each year in school than children in Japan and Europe. Homework is one way of closing the gap between the 180-day school year here and the more rigorous school schedules in much of the rest of the world. American schools already fall short in what is taught and expected. 

Parents do have a legitimate gripe if teachers haven't clearly explained a subject before they assign homework. Parents shouldn't be expected to compensate for classroom inadequacies. Further, schools need to have some idea of the overall homework load that is being assigned. There are limits to what can be accomplished even by the most studious while still allowing for a good night's sleep before the next day of classes. 

But parents have more grounds to gripe if a sixth-grader isn't getting any more homework than a first-grader, or if longer research assignments are being curtailed because of homework limits. The homework limits are a guaranteed way to make parents of bright kids put them in private schools with higher expectations. 

Piscataway's homework policy ill serves children's prospects of doing well in college or in the work world. Lowering expectations isn't the key to an exhilarating learning environment. The schoolchildren there need more, not less, homework. Their parents need a set of priorities that dumps the self-indulgence and puts their children's education first.