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Homework at Berkeley High

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BHS freshman won't do homework

Oct 2010

My son is a freshman this year at BHS. Although he has resisted doing homework in the past, most notably in 8th grade, he has refused to do any homework this year, claiming that his day is too long as it is, the work is a ''waste of time'' and some kids get passing grades without doing their homework. Of course, I want him to work hard in school, get good grades, etc. I'm interested in hearing from parents who have dealt with this problem. Specifically, can a kid pass his subjects at BHS without doing homework? Do kids who resist homework and get failing grades or INC grades have to take summer school? How does the system work? BHS mom

My son attended the AHA School last year at BHS. First, let me say that the program was great and I really wish it would have worked out for my son. Your son's reasons for not doing homework are the same reasons my son gave. Between taking the bus to school, the longer school day (on the day he had a Science lab) it was just too long of a day and he didn't ''feel'' like doing homework when he got home. Like your son, my son started resisting doing homework in the 8th grade. We tried everything last year - taking away cell phone, laptop, ipod, grounding and pulling out the list of assignments and double checking that the homework was completed. Unfortunately, none of this helped us, but it may work with your son. It was a very stressful year. All kids are different and these types of consequences will work with many teens (it did with our older son) who went on to college.

I would like to caution you to be careful at BHS - for my son it went from not doing homework to not going to class. Cutting is a BIG problem at BHS. Especially for a 9th grader who is not used to having the freedom to leave school whenever he/she choses. We decided to move our son to Oakland Tech this year for that reason. He's doing much better. He claims he learned his lesson at BHS.

Some kids need to make mistakes and suffer the consequences (summer school,etc...) in order to learn. The teachers, counselor at BHS were very helpful and supportive.If your son doesn't do the homework his grades will suffer - we saw this happen. My son thought he just because he got A's & B's on the classwork he could skip out on the homework. I was constantly pointing out how all of the 0's on the homework assignments lowered his grade. One thing that we always point out is that he has to this for himself, as ultimately this type of work ethic (getting by) will hurt him at school or on the job.

My advice is to get in touch with his teachers right away, and put him on a weekly progress report. This is a good first step - your son would have his teachers fill out the progress report each Friday. If he his progress report is not satisfactory, or if he has missing assignments ground him for the weekend or until you can verify that the assignments have been completed. Completed schoolwork = freedom. Hopefully, this will work for your family.

Former BHS parent

I am also a former BHS parent and want to add that my advise is to be very careful with Berkeley High-my older son attended for 2 years to graduate in the first IB class. He was and is a great student/uninterested in drugs and takes sports seriously. My younger son spiraled down so quickly it was breath-taking. Any teen with self esteem issues and/or attention issues is in my opinion-not meant for this high school. The result for our family has been emotionally devastating and had an enormous financial impact. Looking back-I don't know what I was thinking in placing him there. also former BHS parent

Homework angst for freshman at BHS

Sept 2008

Help! My child is a freshman at BHS. He has homework everynight which keeps him up until 11 pm. He also has one afterschool sport. How do parents/kids manage such a big load of homework/studying for tests? It is hard to see your child doing school work for hours in the evening knowing they have already had 6 hrs of school as well. I can see burnout coming on if this pace continues. Any suggestions are welcome. Also, Edline has no information, no homework posted, no grades. I have not found it helpful as yet. need advice

Depending where your kid has been before, and the classes they chose, the amount of homework they need to do can differ a lot. You've probably been to Back to school night by now and have talked with the teachers. the amount of time it takes is probably at least partly an organization problem. My daughter tended to spend a lot of time on things that were not essential, or even completely unnecessary like decorating the borders of an English paper, for example. Get your child to do their homework where you can keep an eye on what they're doing, go through their priorities with them, look at their folder and see if they're just spending a lot of time finding stuff and so on. A non-family member can help - we employed someone to work with her on some study skills. There are free study skills workshops at the school which every kid should go to. FH
To the parent agonizing over your child's homework load at BHS, know that you are not alone, and that this is not unique to BHS. It is a big problem across the board, in public and private schools alike, from grade school (even kindergarten!) through High School. As a parent, educator and activist around public education issues, I would like to direct you to a wonderful book, recently piublished, by known author and speaker on education, Alfie Kohn. The book is called The Homework Myth, and it basically debunks all the unproven theories about what homework is suppoed to produce (especially in the lower grades). Kohn shows that the data just isn't there. Not only that, but the imposition of loads of homework has had serious deleterious affects on families, children and their parents alike. For further info., check out Kohn's website. . Parents need to unite and insist that this madness of pushing our kids beyond all limits must stop! Colleges are already seeing the negative affect the AP classes are having on incoming Freshmen (they're terribly stressed out!). When is this craziness going to end??? Also check out, a grassroots organization of parents and teachers opposed to all this testing madness (which is driving all the curriculum and homework overload). Calcare will provide speakers for local parent groups trying to educate themselves on this and related matters. Good luck! Fellow distressed parent
The key to getting homework done is organization and study skills. This has to be part of what everyone is working on as well as the content that needs to be mastered in class.

Check and see if there is assistance for these topics at BHS.

Sit down with your student and look at their schedule. Do they have 20 min in the morning before class to read a chapter? What is lunch like? Do they have a study hall?

Find time, and a good place to do some studying throughout the day. Some suggestions:

Study Hall School Library Berkeley Public Library on Shattuck Coffee Shops on Shattuck The classroom - get to class early and use times provided by the teacher

If your student is leaving things to the end of the day or just before they are due - at least they are doing them - but if they can learn to anticipate, spread things out AND pinpoint the areas they need help they will be on their way to a highly successful academic and possibly future professional life.

Also check and see if your student needs to increase their reading speed. Fast readers with accurate retention skills can cut their study time in half. I am not speaking of remediation for a non reader but really exceptional skills - I find that many adults today can barely get thru a page. This is a great program:

Make sure your home has a place to study without a lot of noise and commotion.

Reward your student for getting things done. Praise goes a long way. If you ''feel sorry'' for your student's work load - how will that affect how they feel about it? Keep family commitments flexible because your students' homework needs to be done. Curtail weekend movies and other social life if reading assignments, papers, exam study isn't completed. Keep up the sport if it is a good involvement - it creates a balanced life, but if your student will not put the effort into organizing time it goes before school requirements.

Also make sure there are healthy snacks around like fresh finger veggies, fruit, nuts and other high energy foods. If you use fast foods, too many junk snacks it will not support the kind of energy that is needed. Homework just gets deeper and more demanding as the student advances. college mom

I read with interest the letter from the parent about homework angst at BHS. My daughter is in 9th grade at Berkeley High and also has ''homework angst''. She is relatively well organized and an ''A'' student. She works straight through from 4:30 in the afternoon until 10:30 at night with an hour break for dinner and at least 8 hours on weekends. She's beginning to really dislike school.

At first I thought she was being perfectionistic, but when I sat down with her and checked out what she was doing, I was surprised. She was basically spending 30-40 minutes per subject and utilizing her time well, except in Math, which averaged over 2 hours. The extra time was spent on big projects.

In my opinion, her Geometry teacher is focused on quantity not quality in regard to homework. Once, I actually sat down and did the homework assignment, which I think would be difficult to do in less than 2 hours. For example, ''Draw the following 3 dimensional shape: A house in the shape of a cylinder, with a cone roof, with a porch in the shape of a hexagonal prism. It's harder than it sounds, because the measurements have to be exact. There were 22 of these problems assigned for 1 nights homework. If each problem took 5 minutes, that's 110 min. Many problems took 10-15 min.

MY QUESTIONS to experienced parents at BHS : How do I help my daughter stay motivated with academics and still have a life? How do you deal with a teacher with a bad rep? At Back to School Night, the math teacher was absent, and apparently some of the angry parents met and are taking their complaints to the administration. Will the administration respond positively to parental input--does anything useful come from this type of involvement or does it tend to be a waste of time?

P.S. I tend to agree with Alfie Kohn, and went to hear him speak last year when he was here in Berkeley. I don't, however, see a practical way to implement his ideas and research.

A Concerned Mom

Ah, the ''no child left untortured'' act comes to bite again. Yes, you are correct in noting that the homework is irrelevant and absurd, especially the mathematics. My daughter took a 3-unit geometry course last summer at Ohlone College (all math courses require a placement exam, and she passed algebra 1), an intense six week half-day curriculum. Comparing it to my son's year-long course at Los Gatos High School with a (really) very good teacher, we found she did far more proofs and came out with a much better grasp of the subject. She's now in 9th grade and doing UC-credit calculus, with a straight-A record at Ohlone in all her math courses.

The problem is that high school is a cookie-cutter manufacturing line, and the annoying busy-work is invented to avoid tracking students into honors and regular courses, which would entail greater expense to the school. Your good student is not learning more - she is just spinning her wheels on art projects and other such nonsense to *slow* the course down. My son rebelled at this completely, and only would do the minimum, so he'd do ''B'' work, but then compensated for this by doing independent science project research which brought him a lot of medals and awards, internships, a scholarship and admission to UCLA (which he dearly wanted to attend) when much higher GPA students were rejected.

My daughter saw the writing on the wall and literally begged us to find a better solution, which Ohlone College provided, but this requires a very mature and focused student since attendance establishes a permanent college transfer record. So this is not a solution one should undertake lightly, and it should be instigated by the student, not the parent, because the student must be the one who deals with professors, schedules, homework and office / study hours directly.

How do you deal with this at your school? I found absolutely no way to communicate this issue to anyone at Los Gatos High School, because it was the lousy teachers who were most prone to do this and the administration doesn't care to do their job. If it is any comfort, my son found that AP and honors courses required just as much time as your daughter's current load of lower-level courses but were more focused, on-topic and interesting. So a ''happy medium'' might be to accelerate your daughter in math by taking a summer course in algebra 2 - once she's past the ''required'' math sequence (see the high school for required versus advanced courses), she might find a precalc or trig class to be much more suited to her study skills and interests. As an extra benefit, usually the best teachers teach advanced topics like physics, AP chem, precalc/trig, calculus, AP Bio and so forth, and you can get college credit for the AP exams. Good luck. L.

To the second parent voicing similar concerns about HW at BH being a source of angst, extremely time-consuming and full of busy work, I would like to say there is indeed a practical way to resist this illogical and counter- intuative trend in schools to rachet up the homework and curricular demands. First, as parents we must recognize that schools are doing it in our names. They are claiming to serve us, as families, by being ''rigorous'' for our and our children's sake. It's a bunch of malarkey that was instigated years ago by the business round-table of the Reagan era. You can read all about the reactionary roots of the ''standards movement'' in Kathy Emory's book, ''Why is Corporate America Bashing our Public Schools?'' a publication of her PhD. thesis. The second point is to recognize that this craze will only stop when parents put their foot down and say enough is enough. Parents who are attuned to what their kids are going through, as you surely are, must stand up and state ''not in our names.'' Not is our names will you turn my child into an automaton who will end up hating education instead of loving it. As a parent who has been through this, and now as a teacher, I can assure you that this disease has caught hold in every education sector, public and private. The only option is for parents to get together and organize. As I said in my last posting, check into We are blessed to have the headquarters of this wonderful grassroots organization right in the Bay Area standing by to supply speakers, films and written materials so parents can find out what teachers have known for a long time but have been powerless to fight on their own. (Hear the stirring testimony of teachers in the films.) There seems to already be an organized group of parents at BH mainly around this math teacher, so I would call a meeting and build on that. Realize that parents have the power here. Contact Calcare, use Alfie Kohn's book and organize yourselves. Feel free to email me as well. N_K
I am also reading with interest the posts about the heavy homework load at BHS. I'm wondering which small school at BHS these kids are in, because my 9th grader at BHS has surprisingly little homework, and much less than he had at King Middle School. He's in the SSJE program, which was his second choice, after Academic Choice, which he vastly preferred. Since the beginning of the school year, he has finished ALL of his math (geometry) homework, every day in class, and also the homework for some other classes. He has maybe an hour or two of homework a night and hardly any on the weekends. Thinking it could be a bit more rigorous....
My daughter is in 9th grade at BHS (AC), and she is also struggling with a huge homework load. She is up late every night and spends much of the weekends working. Not only is there a very heavy load in geometry and Latin (which she expected), but also in English, social studies, science, and even art! And yes, much of the homework seems to be busy work. Wishing for lighter homework load at BHS

Too much homework for BHS freshman

Sept 1999

I would like to open a discussion of the amount of homework assigned. My daughter (a BHS freshman) struggles with quite a bit of homework each night and is already falling behind and feeling overwhelmed. Mostly because of her own poor study habits, but partly because I work and she isn't able to get to a "disciplined" place to do her homework until 6:00 pm or so, she ends up being up until 11:00 or later almost every night and each morning it is harder to get up and she still doesn't have the work done. She routinely has homework in Math, Spanish, English, History, Intro to Comm Tech and Drama, almost every night. Weekends are a drag because we have so many errands to run and other things to do and we never get to plan any fun days because the homework is always hanging over us. I'm tired of seeing my kids having bags under their eyes and being as stressed out as I am. They work a pretty long day at school and then devote almost all evening to more work. Anyone else think it is too much? At least in Junior High, the classes were staggered so they had homework every other night in each class. I'd love to hear your opinions.

I would like to reply to the mother who thought that too much homework was being assigned. I feel that my daughter has just about the right amount (English, world history, honors geometry, Latin, drama). But she comes right home and does it throughout the afternoon with a few breaks. Then in the evening, when she's tired, she gets to relax if everything's all done.

You say that your daughter can't get to a "disciplined" place until 6:00. I'm not sure exactly what you mean. Is she coming home by herself or is she hanging out somewhere? Could she go to the Berkeley Public Library? If she is waiting until she's tired to do her homework, no wonder she's having problems. I don't have any suggestions. I just want to say that I don't want to see less homework. I hope you find a solution.

There are various "homework clubs" that I have seen mentioned around the city. Is there any such thing at BHS? Perhaps one could be started if lack of a place to do homework is a wide-spread problem.


I was told by Ms. Saunders that she has no control over how much homework the teachers assign their students, just as she has no control over what they choose to teach (she cited the "ed code" to me). My experience with teachers is that they won't even listen if you suggest they are assigning too many hours-worth of homework. My daughter had one history teacher who assigned at least an hour of homework every night "because I know the kids are spending that on their science homework and I think history should be just as important" and, believe me, most of that history homework was pointless. My advice would be to find a way for your daughter to get started earlier (maybe at the library) and to get used to a different rhythm at home. My daughter, too, spent hours and hours on homework, but now she's at a really great college. Helen
Your own words captured the problem: poor study habits. You and your daughter have to realize that YOUR DAUGHTER has to accept responsibility for her actions. Her fulltime job, while she is under your auspices, is to attend school and get an education. Your job, while she is on school, is to help her to realize that her choices create consequences.
I have the opposite problem. My son is a freshman and he has, or rather claims to have, only about 15 minutes of homework every night. There are all kinds of reasons like "the teacher didn't have time to assign any" and "we did it in class" and "we had a test today so there isn't any". I am pretty sure, based on previous experience, that he is blowing it off. But what can I do? He already isn't allowed to go to friends' after school, only gets 2 hours of TV for the week, can't play video games during the week, etc. So he does his 10 minutes of math homework and 5 minutes of reading and then he just sits around reading comic books for a few hours. Options for me: call his friends, call the teachers, sign him up for afterschool tutoring ... I kind of feel like he's in high school now and I'm kind of tired of doing this kind of monitoring, which never has been very effective in the past anyhow. Sigh.
Toooooo much homework! I agree and disagree with your concerns. First, I am in the same situation--don't get home until after 6, but my daughter is a junior and has been on the varsity soccer and softball teams since her freshman year, so discipline and time management have always been a must in order to keep her grades up. Nevertheless, she wants a social life, and suffers for it by partying with friends on weekends leaving Sunday from about 4pm to 1am for homework. I supervise UCB students. Here's a tip from one of my Cal students, a senior with great study habits, great grades, with a job working at least 12 hours a week: does his "hard" stuff first (the writing, calculating, labored work); leaves reading for last which he says takes hours. So, first, divide up the homework and get it started right after school (may have to give up some time hanging out with friends after school). Homework is a reality in college, high school, and even elementary school where my son is in 3rd grade and gets homework every night. My daughter does her homework in the car, on the ski slopes (not literally), on a soccer field (literally), etc. Freshman year is a really tough adjustment, but believe me it will get easier and academically harder (a "two-edged sword"). Give guidelines (e.g., splitting up homework by doing the easiest or hardest first; go to the library every day, a very "disciplined" place to do homework, with you picking her up from there in the evenings), and adjust your lifestyle by making academics the top priority.

To be honest, I don't think high school students are in school long enough. What should they be doing, in any event, if they spend less time in school? High school teens are the very best at wasting time doing what they do best--"kicking" it with friends. My feeling here is if they were in school all day (not just hearing lectures but given assignments to work on in class) with the proviso they not get homework except for reading and/or special projects, then they could come home and pretty much leave the classroom behind them. I just saw an interesting story on "60 Minutes" about a public middle school in South Bronx, New York, where they "contract" with parents, teachers and the student to be in school all day (at least 8 hours) and on weekends. The achievement level of these students has skyrocketed, especially impressive is the number of novels/books they read in a school year (over 20, I recall). This idea sounds extreme, but for many minorities who feel Caucasians have an academic edge, it is on target for catching up and going beyond in academics, targeting junior high school age kids whose intellects can be shaped to work hard and absorb knowledge. In Japan, they have always had a tradition of long school hours, but the problem is there are no alternatives to this tradition. I don't like seeing my child stressed, but I feel for her future it's up to me to focus on the long vision and hers to deal with the now and to learn to deal with stress. I keep the long vision in focus by reminding her often that academics is the priority over sports and a social life (she may not see this as helpful, but I enforce this philosophy). There are no easy solutions really, just the knowledge that hard work will eventually bring great results, in anything, including academics. "Fun" is no longer a priority but becomes the reward for working hard.

Too much homework? My son (10th grade) barely has any! He didn't have much last year either. His grades were mostly A's, too. I don't think he's getting much of an education. But there's no way to prove that gut feeling until they come home with those abysmal scores on the SAT 2's.

Here's my question: how do you get kids to get motivated to do more than what's required, extend themselves, when they get such good results (A's) from doing so little? I have never (in the five years I've been a Berkeley High parent) had any success in getting poor or mediocre teachers (and my children have had a few, some with many parent complaints and still teaching) to change ANYTHING about what they were doing in the classroom.

My daughter, who graduated last year, took AP courses, had high test scores, and great grades. However (for an example), she NEVER wrote a research paper at Berkeley High. Most of my conversations with various people about this over the years (teachers, department chair, counselor, vice principal) were unsatisfactory. Research papers (since I'm using this example) are definitely required by the curriculum. Everyone assured me that the kids were doing them (and probably some kids are). I don't know, I figure a research paper is something that is longer than 3 pages, has some footnotes, a bibliography with a number of sources, a topic. My daughter never did one and my son didn't do one last year. (And knowing his current history teacher, he won't do one this year, either.)

On the other hand, my daughter was always a reader and on her own took some outside-of-BHS courses. (The kids do UC Extension concurrent enrollment, Vista and sometimes Laney). My son is not at all interested in doing anything like this. I definitely feel the burden is on the parents to do some of the school's work, but what to do when the kids don't see it that way? (Of course, I believe in parent involvement and, in the long run, and as a committed member of the community, that's the most important thing we can do. However, I'm worried about the education of this particular child at this particular time.) I'll be a BHS parent for another six years so I am really interested in both long term and short term, right now, approaches to poor teaching. Emily

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