SAY NO TO SUMMER HOMEWORK by Julia Saccente
It’s that time of the year when well-intentioned teachers are either asked by parents, or told by administrators, to put together summer work packets. Is there a value to these suggestions, or sometimes requirements?
Most of the data about the so-called “summer slide” is based loosely on data collected in the seventies. And even that research shakily suggested that it was low-income students who are the most at-risk. If the conclusions from this old data are true, certain students are at a potential risk of losing up to one year of progress in reading and possibly losing up to two years of math proficiency.
If the summer slide is real.
Which it may not be. However, the limited value of summer packets is not unclear. Practicing skills at home through worksheets has marginal, if any, utility. Alfie Kohn wrote an entire book called "The Homework Myth," which boldly dismantles the value of homework: If a student actually knows the material, homework is at best busy work. And if the student hasn’t learned the material in school yet, it is unlikely that the student will have anything but frustration working at home alone. Homework is an excellent example of a lose-lose scenario.
By extension, summer work packets, while sometimes disguised as "fun" —- word puzzles, writing prompts, scavenger hunts -- or, worse, an actual workbook or collection of worksheets, are of dubious value.
Armed with this information, how can parents dial back or decline summer work?
● One mom simply told the administration during the school year; “our children don’t do
homework over the weekend.” At the end of the school year she simply noted that her
kids don’t do school work over the summer. A direct approach, but perhaps not
● Another approach may be to have a quiet conversation with your child’s teacher asking
about the goals behind the packet and brainstorm alternate ways of achieving those
● If the packet is tied to a reward, have a brief conversation with the teacher about how
rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. Here too Alfie Kohn astutely writes in, "Punished by Rewards" that offering up an incentive implies that the task is of little value, so completing the task is merely a means to the ice pop. This stance applies to library-based competitive summer reading programs too, which incentivize reading.
Public schools are generally allotted about 180 days to accomplish grade-level goals. From there, the next year's teacher picks up from where the child begins. This is a teacher’s job.
Children need to play during the summer. Hopefully there will be books around the pool, paper and crayons for writing lemonade signs or birthday invitations, and cool places to visit that have engaging signs to read, think and talk about Either way, just gently say no to summer work.
Let. Them. Play.
Help debunk the myth. The summer slide may not really be a thing. Please question it.
This comes to us from Julia Saccente, a recently retired elementary teacher from New York who is an educational writer. She felt compelled to write this piece because she knew it was “that time of the year!”