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Stressed Out: According to researchers at the University of Michigan, 6- to 9-year-olds spent 44 minutes a week on homework in 1981. By 1997, they were doing two hours' worth. And that's just too much, maintains Romesh Ratnesar in the cover story of the January 25 issue of Time.

"The sheer quantity of nightly homework," he writes, "and the difficulty of the assignments can turn ordinary weeknights into four-hour library-research excursions, leave kids in tears and parents with migraines, and generally transform the placid refuge of home life into a tense war zone." In some affluent areas, parents now regularly do their children's homework. Elsewhere, angry parents are fighting back. One father, Ratnesar writes, "was so incensed about his three grade-schoolers' homework load that he exacted a pledge from their teachers not to lower his kids' grades if they didn't do assignments." Though the father reluctantly allowed the kids to do the work when his kids found themselves lost in class discussions, Ratnesar reports, "He is planning to sue the school district for violating his civil rights."

Meanwhile, students in many low-income districts rarely bother to do any homework at all. In public high schools in Boston, students who work after school consider it too much of an imposition. "I have too many other responsibilities, and I can't focus on my homework," says 10th grader Shante Bodley, who has a $6.25-an-hour job cooking at a convention center. Consequently, a number of frustrated teachers in Boston have simply stopped assigning homework.

Ratnesar concludes: "The need for a more rational approach to homework may be one argument for establishing national standards for what all U.S. students should know. If such standards existed, teachers might assign homework with a more precise goal in mind, and parents might spend fewer nights agonizing about whether their children were overburdened or understimulated by homework."

The Numbers Game: What does the SAT really measure when, more than ever, students are taking prep courses to boost their scores? That's the question Tony Schwartz raises in "The Test Under Stress," an article in the January 10 New York Times Magazine about the increasing popularity of such high-cost courses. Don Powers, a research scientist with the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, answers, "If we were to find that the test were highly coachable in a relatively short period of time, it would undermine the validity claims about what these tests measure."

The two largest SAT-preparation companies, Kaplan Educational Centers and the Princeton Review, claim their courses will boost scores by 120 and 140 points, respectively. But the College Board, while acknowledging that coaching has some effect, says those numbers are too high. The board's most recent study found that coached students gained 21 to 34 points more than their uncoached peers, Schwartz reports.

"But if the College Board doesn't believe coaching helps," he writes, "one might wonder why it, too, is in the test-prep business and markets its materials partly through testimonials from students about their point gains."

--David Hill

Vol. 10, Issue 6, Pages 10-11

Published in Print: March 1, 1999, as Clippings
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