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Homework: How Much is too Much?

Here's our annual report cards on public and private high schools. To offer your views on homework, find out what top educators say, get tips on handling the homework load, and find homework polices locally and elsewhere, visit Diablo’s Homework Resource Guide. We want to know: How much time do your kids spend on homework? Does your child have a good balance between school, extracurricular, and quality time with family and friends? How is homework affecting your home life? Go to the comments section at the bottomof the page to offer your remarks.


Getty Images/ Rubberball

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Click here for Diablo's Homework Resource Guide

It's the kind of Friday afternoon that Kerry Dickinson loves. Dickinson’s sons, Graham and Sam, race around on in-line skates in the middle of their Danville street. Sam, who is 12, flips a hockey puck to older brother Graham, 14, who slams it into the portable goal, and they both cheer as if they were San Jose Sharks winning the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The flat-topped Dickinson boys, who look as if they just stepped out of a Dick and Jane book, would like to spend every afternoon playing hockey in the street or climbing the backyard apple tree. But, like most boys and girls in high-achieving East Bay schools, their play is often curtailed by one thing—homework.

“There are a lot of quiet streets out here,” says Dickinson, watching her boys and referring to the fact that most other kids in her area are inside. It’s a warm afternoon, and she’s sitting on the stone steps beside her three-car garage, one sporty sandal–clad foot crossed over the other.

Dickinson, a stay-at-home mom with a teaching credential and master’s degree in reading, laments how homework cuts into playtime, which she thinks is vital to her sons’ emotional, creative, and physical well-being. Last fall, instead of stewing quietly, she started talking to other parents. She asked how much time their kids spent on homework each night and whether it helped them better understand what they were learning in school.

Dickinson, who is married to a neurosurgeon, also read more than 20 books and hundreds of articles, talked to local and national experts, and touched off a debate in the 34-school San Ramon Valley Unified School District. All the discussion led to the formation of a homework task force.

Made up of parents, teachers, and administrators, the group worked for months devising a policy—which has been passed at all but the high school level—that they hope represents common ground on the highly charged issue of how schools should use homework to help kids learn.

This same debate is percolating in public and private schools throughout the East Bay suburbs. The Walnut Creek School District will revise its homework policies this year in response to parental concerns. Seven Hills, a preschool through eighth grade private school in Walnut Creek, is considering lengthening the school day in part to keep most schoolwork at school and preserve time at home for family. And, this past spring, Bentley, the elite K–12 private school, hosted a lecture at its Lafayette campus by lightning rod educator Alfie Kohn, who helped to start a debate at the national level by arguing that homework is not good for kids. Bentley headmaster Rick Fitzgerald doesn’t necessarily agree with everything Kohn says, but wanted to spark community discussion about a topic that educators have pondered for a long time and parents are starting to question.

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