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The Overachievers?


Hair loss, nail biting, bad backs, anxiety attacks—just a few of the symptoms often cited in a growing public outcry against overburdened schoolchildren in the United States. While recently published books argue against outrageous homework loads and pushy parents, some researchers are finding that all the fretting may be unfounded. Instead of being overextended, students may not be pressured enough, according to the results of a recent Pew Research Center poll.

This picture of overachieving super-students has been created and perpetuated by a small section of society, a high-powered elite who's experiences and concerns are reflected by members of the media, say some researchers. Not only do most U.S. students have lighter homework burdens, but their schools also are easier than those in other industrialized nations, they say. It's not high pressure, but low expectations that are bringing American students down.

What do you think? Are American students overextended, or underchallenged?


"It's not high pressure, but low expectations that are bringing American students down."

AMEN! I've seen many of the high achieving students in our local high school--many of them from Asian immigrant families--and their effort far surpasses most "average" American students. Yet most have a joy of learning that they accept as compensation for their hard work.

They certainly won't send their children to any school that is listening to Alfie Kohn.

Parents are often problem -- too much homework means that they have to weigh-in and help, something with their busy schedules or hands-off parenting attitude is much too much for them to bear. They are often afraid to help with the homework fearful they will not know the answers and be seen by thier children as less than perfect. Every Parent-Teacher conference I sit in my room greeting the parents I do not ned to see -- the parents who are involved in their students education and are almost always the parent of a solid student. The parents I need to see are "too busy" or intimidated by school so they complain from the cheap seats.

It is not the hard work the burden students feel, but the competitive environment. One thing is to study to excel, to know more and become a better student aiming for a better professional; another very different goal is to study to be at the top, better than everybody else.

As a parent of a junior student in the top 5% of his class, I have to admit that I am dismayed by more than half of the homework I see. Even in some of the advanced classes, many assignments do not have a high relevance to my son or myself. When it's a task that has to be done, rather than "increased learning," homework is a chore. The emphasis is on Rigor and Relevance in high schools in our area, so the teachers talk about raising grade point cut offs for grades. That's not rigor nor relevance. Some of the teachers need to consider that their own lack of ability to communicate expectations orally or in writing, have created a communication gap with both students and parents.

Being a teacher AND a parent of high school students... I think many students are over achievers and very stressed by the volume of homework. I have a son that fits that description. The quaility of homework he expects from himself is far above what 90% of my students do. But he doesn't have time for a job and often times social activities due to homework.

I also think MANY parents don't push their children to to their best & challenge themselves. Teachers can attempt many things in the classroom, but it is the family style that will really make a difference.

I have 50% of my students who never do their homework & get NO support from parents to help their children OR who even care how the students are doing in school.

The quality of the education a student gets is often dependent on how much a student challenges themselves. How do we raise self driven children?

If we taught them to enjoy learning it would not be a problem.

>> If we taught them to enjoy learning it would not be a problem.

Here here! Better yet, don't UNteach them! Kids
are born with a love of learning. Making them WAIT for the the administration to decide it's ok to LET them learn, teaches them to WAIT. Rephrase that - teaches them to UNDERACHEIVE.


On the whole, we equate "education" with "school," and we expect school to do far more than one societal institution can handle. If we made the distinction between "upbringing" or personal/emotional education on the one hand, and "instruction," the education of the intellect through studying information about what the world is, on the other hand we could then more clearly define the responsibilities of the parents (upbringing) and of the school (instruction). As it is, we have mixed the two together and everybody has a different viewpoint on what to expect. So, as I have already said, we expect everything! In the meantime, we discuss ineffectively.

Jim/HS Teacher comments:
"The parents I need to see are "too busy" or intimidated by school so they complain from the cheap seats."

I had the opportunity to visit Cuba once, on a tour of their health care system. As a part of their goal of seeing that rural areas received good care, each community had a doctor/nurse team. As each newborn baby returned home from the hospital, parents were instructed to see the doctor within 10 days. If the parents did not follow through, it was the doctor's responsibility to visit--to ensure appropriate care.

It was such a simple solution. I can't imagine it working here.

My experience that always troubled me is that I only got calls for misbehavior issues (thankfully there were only a few), but I always had to call if there was a learning issue. It always seemed to me that a teacher who spends 7 hours a day with my child academically should have more insight into the child's learning difficulties than myself. Thank heavens for homework because if there were none, it would have been even more difficult for me to learn where my children were having learning difficulties. Parents need to be seen as partners in the child's education, not as adversaries as so many teachers seem to view them. We need to be called in to help with learning problems not just behavior problems, and both are equally important.

Once again I am reminded of how difficult it is to talk about education. The topic is vast and as tangled as a yarn bag invaded by kittens. In this discussion the topic is whether students are overextended or underchallenged, and responses vary from parents to teachers and include homework, stress, competition, self-challenges, Cuban health care, and more. Each remark can open a whole valid discussion on its own.

One of the remarks that I find challenging as a teacher is, "If we taught them to enjoy learning it would not be a problem." When I was teaching this was a central goal of teachers who did not need administrators to push it (although they did), because my colleagues believed in the value of enjoying learning and wanted to provide it for their students. They worked on projects and games and sought inspiration at professional meetings, and at best are frustrated when told that they are not doing this.

What does "enjoying learning" mean? What does it take for students to enjoy learning? What kind of teaching can lead students to enjoy learning?

And of course, we want to keep this within the boundaries of the original question: How does enjoying learning address the overextended/underchallenged puzzle?

With the school year only 4 weeks old, my team and I are already receiving comments from the principal that parents are contacting her about the homework load. I personally only assign homework once or twice a week for science and very rarely for social studies. The students have about 15 minutes of math homework each night, and have a novel study due in a month from now (it was assigned the 6th day of school). We compete in a grade wide Science Fair in January that we are slowly working on.

I have been teaching for almost a decade and have never had any complaints about the amount of homework assigned by myself or my teammates. I am at a loss.

I ask you, is this too much homework? If so, how much is enough? How much is too much?

I believe in quality rather than quantity. If the homework is a bunch of drills, I don't see how it can teach much of anything. When I was teaching, I preferred projects that encouraged students to think and explain how they reached their answers, and to check their work. I was in hot water for not giving enough assessments, although I couldn't keep up with grading what I gave. Overall, I found that high school was way too late to teach critical thinking and problem solving skills - and these are the skills I use every day in the "real" world.

Assesments in the previous post includes homework.

As an Adult School teacher(NCLB approvedfor H.S.),I get to teach the high school's failed students as well as other adults, primarily Asian immigrmants. Who does the home work? Certainly not the high school students. As adults, their parents are not responsible for their academic success--the students themselves are. The homework I assign those students is minimal because I have long since given up hope that it will be done. Instead I demand high productivity during class--I only wish I could get it! On the other hand, I have students who are eager to learn and who want homework. What to do? Even though it gives me considerably more work, I now give additional assignments to the eager students. Both groups know they are being treated differently, but I have yet to hear any ojections from either. I'm a former H.S. teacher who got tired of the lack of support for discipline and numerous non-teaching assignments I had to do. Incidentally, unlike H.S., I do not get paid for the many hours I spend on lesson prep. and homework correction.

In my opinion, good study habits need to be laid down well before high school. It is not a question of too much homework; it is a question of knowing how to manage it. How do parents who object to homework assignments expect their child to succeed in college without good study habits?

As for the type of assignment, it may very well be 'boring drills' from the parents' perspective, but that does not necessarily mean drills are useless. Repetition is a well recognized method of reinforcing learning. Just ask a football coach how successful drills are. Football players just don't play games to learn skills--they practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more through repetitive drills. Yes, homework should be more than just drills; it should include tasks that encourage students to seek to improve their knowledge. It sould also include projects that students are able to do on their own--without parental help. Do the parents who 'help' (read 'do') the homework projects really think we teachers are too dumb to notice?

As always, education issues come down to who is truly responsible for children's education and upbringing. Parents who are quick to find fault with teachers rather than within themselves, or their children, undermine teachers' efforts. It's about time we drew a clear distinction between educating children and raising them.

After putting two boys through school and sending one off to college I must admit that I rarely saw too much homework come home. Possibly, my boys didn't bring assignments home. That wouldn't shock me either. My youngest puts a lot of pressure on himself to achieve, but I would not say that the schools caused this. That his own learning style. His brother, on the other hand, had little interest in school and spent most of his time trying to get suspended. The he would complain about not being allowed into the school.
There is not too much homework and there is not too much pressure. There are too many standardized tests.
assessment is a teacher's job, not some federal or state agency's. We are wasting valuable school time and millions of dollars on useless testing for so-called accountability.

Are American students overextended, or underchallenged?

I think that students are very challenged, just not academically. My experience in Europe as a military member and subsequent exposure to the European education system made it clear that American students are not being adequately challenged. Also as a teacher of exchange students, it was clear that they were ahead of their American peers.

I agree with earlier commenter who pointed out how much of our education time is going into "upbringing," or things that should be in the parental balliwick not the teacher's. Teachers are being asked to do too much social engineering which takes time away from academics.
How can students be challenged when the teacher is spending so much time "raising" them?

Then there's the apparent taboo subject, not one comment addressed this issue, sports and clubs. In the schools I have worked in, both rural and suburban, the students are spread thin, not by academics but rather by extracurricular issues. Those are the bloated consumers of their time. Students are pressured to excell by coaches who will not let them play without total dedication, and they do want to play. Some kids, if they did not attend summer sports camps, were denied positions on teams. So, one can see how they are pressured by extracurricular activites far more than academics. They also spend hours of precious time raising money for one club after another. To me, if our kids complain about not being able to do their homework, it's because they are spread too thin by extracurricular involvement.

Then of course, there's jobs. In the suburban school I taught at, just about every student had a job and were pulling down more than twenty hours a week, many were working forty hours a week. These students had job pressure competing against academic pressure and when immature minds in a money obsessed culture compare the two, which do you think is chosen? Why the one that has an immediate payoff, the job.

One cannot discuss academic pressure apart from the pressures place on students by extracurricular activities and work. All of them have the common denominator of time, all of them consume large amounts of it. We just need to decide what's most important and lay down guidelines to be followed, like students may only work X number of hours a week and may only participate in X number of activites per semester. Once these are done and some time is freed up, then we can discuss increasing the academic pressure. If the pressure is increased without those changes, the students are going to suffer.

as a student, athlete, and a weekend job holder, i don't have time to do so of anything. i have school and football from a combined 11 hours, teachers who dont let us do homework in class, and when i get home, shower, chores, homework, and im usually a sleep by 12-1 am, then im up at 6:30 to get ready. if students are the answers to the future, will sleep be an option in the future?

I am a parent. The amount of the homework is not the problem...if the child is able to do the homework somewhat on their own, it is the content of the material that seems now to be way above grade level and needs extreme levels of parental involvement to get done satisfactorily. It is unfair to expect parents to get involved too such an extent... we are all not qualified to do so... I am not a teacher... and may not have the tools necessary to be able to explain someting in the way a teacher would. School systems are putting a tremendous amount of emphasis on the parents to "help teach the child". We can assist with the normal activities such as flash cards for math facts and such and quizzing our children on material they need to know for tests however, I should not have to spend hours on homework with my child, teaching them math... when it isn't even taught the way I learned it when I was young. Homework should be work that the child can do on their own with assistance every now and then if they have a question or concern. It is up to the teacher to teach the child academics... it is up to the parents to make sure the homework is done. Example: A child in 3rd grade should not have to build a complex machine. It will absolutely require alot of assistance from the parent or the parent basically doing it for them (which I have found to be the case in my community). A child in first grade who doesn't know how to read yet should not be bring home 9 page packets on the Constitution of the United States and asked questions like.... What is the introduction to the Constitution called? What are the first 0 amendments to the Constitution called... Because we ALL know that the parent is the one answering it for them. We have gone too far.

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