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Education Reporter

Assigning Students' Lives Away
How much homework is enough?
PISCATAWAY, NJ - Following numerous parent complaints of children burning the midnight oil to complete multiple lengthy assignments, the Piscataway school board voted recently to limit the amount of homework teachers can give. Elementary school teachers may assign no more than 30 minutes of homework on week nights, while high school teachers may dole out as much as two hours' worth. The district has 7,000 mostly middle-class students, 70% of whom go on to college.

According to the New York Times (10-10-00), the Piscataway school board, which unanimously approved the new policy, said homework "was putting too much pressure on students' already overscheduled lives, too often dragging parents into helping finish it and becoming a substitute for good teaching in the classroom."

Some educators agree that excessive homework disrupts family life and puts undue pressure on parents' time. Children consumed by homework, they say, are unable to make room for other beneficial pursuits such as music lessons, dance lessons, or little league.

Studies on the effects of homework vary. Some show no link between homework and high achievement, others show mixed results.

Since the advent of the public school, homework has been a bone of contention for teachers, students and parents. In the 1930s, large cities including New York and Chicago, as well as the American Child Health Association, compared homework to child labor. After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, American parents and pundits lamented that education in the U.S. was failing to keep up with that of other nations. Homework soared in popularity. After the publication of the famous report "A Nation At Risk" in 1983, homework was again perceived by some as a panacea.

As for parents in Piscataway, most are happy with the new limits on homework. The superintendent has become a hero. He's receiving calls at his office and on talk radio from parents all over New Jersey and even from other states asking how to persuade their schools to limit their children's homework.

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