Thursday, October 06, 2016

My letter to Zari's teacher about homework

I just sent Zari's 4th grade teacher this letter about homework, recess, and sleep:

Dear Mrs. _____,

Hi, I’m Zari’s mom, Rixa. I wanted to share some concerns with you before our parent-teacher conference next week.

I’m concerned with the amount of homework Zari is being assigned. Her bedtime is normally 8 pm, but this year she often stays up until 9:30 or 10 pm finishing her homework. Because she’s riding the bus for the first time this year, she is also waking up a half-hour earlier, leading to her missing up to 2 hours of sleep every night. Because of homework, Zari is unable to get the 9-12 hours of sleep recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for children her age.

I am also concerned that Zari has had to miss recess for incomplete homework. The American Academy of Pediatrics has written about the crucial role of recess in school and strongly discourages withholding recess: “recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”

On top of causing Zari to lose sleep and recess, homework is also affecting our family life. Zari is the oldest of 4 siblings, 3 of whom are in school. This means a lot of homework for me to supervise and not much time to cook dinner, read with my kids, or just spend time with them. I want to be a parent, not a surrogate teacher, when my children come home from school.

I also want my children to have unstructured play time after school: time to run around outside and dig tunnels in the dirt and make bows and arrows out of parts from the recycling bin (all activities my kids did this past week).

We are also a family of readers; I often have to pry books from Zari’s hands when it’s dinnertime or bedtime! Some of the series she’s read recently include Fablehaven, Narnia, The Golden Compass, Silverwing, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. She is currently halfway through Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching (Discworld) series.

As you know, Zari is a very conscientious and meticulous student. She likes things to be perfect—sometimes to my great frustration when I’m trying to hurry her along with her homework!

Because of all of these concerns, I wanted to talk with you about opting out of homework. We did this last year after having similar struggles with lack of sleep and family time. Zari continued to perform just as well, and our whole family was much less stressed in the evenings.

I know opting out of homework might seem like an unorthodox request. But in light of the strong evidence that homework does not improve outcomes for elementary and middle-school aged children, I feel opting out would be in Zari’s best interest.

I recently asked researcher and author Alfie Kohn about the benefits of homework, and he wrote to me: “no reputable study has ever found any benefit to assigning homework of any kind in elementary school.” Other leading researchers agree with Kohn: “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.” (Harris Cooper, Duke University). “The research is very clear. There’s no benefit at the elementary school level.” (Etta Kralovec, U of Arizona.)

Based on this new research, both individual parents and schools in the US and Canada are starting to opt out of homework. Principals are writing about their positive experiences with no-homework policies.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter. I admire the work you do, and I hope you understand that my concerns are not meant as a criticism of you as a teacher. I just want what’s best for Zari’s health and what’s best for our family’s well-being. I am confident that making homework optional for Zari and keeping her recess time intact is a win-win situation for all of us.

I look forward to talking with you next week.


Rixa Freeze


  1. Oh my goodness, I agree completely, and I could go on an entire rant about this, and I have several times to friends! Last year, my kindergartner received 20-30 minutes of homework, after spending SEVEN hours in school (these kids are 5, not adults who work an 8-hour day). I spoke to the teacher about it, citing the same points you did, and she agreed that we could "modify it" which we did. I spoke to her again a few months later, still uncomfortable with the situation. Apparently some parents from the year before were requesting homework (really??), so the teachers responded by assigning it to everyone. I requested that it be optional for those parents who might want it, and the rest of us not have to worry about it. I later called the school and they referred me to the school counselor, and I spoke to her about it. She (briefly) summarized my concerns in a short email to some admin people, and I never heard anything more. This year, I am joining the "advisory committee" that apparently discusses this (because our PTA only really does activities, and doesn't seem to address these concerns). When my next child starts kindergarten, I am planning to tell them flat out that we will not do homework. Right now my first-grader only has about 5 min of homework a week, (plus daily reading, which I am perfectly happy to do), so I'm okay with that. My third-grader has about 20-30 min, and I don't even love that much. I am starting to consider home school, so that we can learn for a few hours in the day, and then my kids can spend the rest of the time being kids! I'm curious to hear how your conference goes, and how the teacher responds at your school.

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  3. I'm bookmarking this in case I need it in the future. Right now, my second grader's homework is still managable. She gets a homework packet that she can do at her own pace and turn in at the end of the week. It would be about 5 minutes of work each day, plus 20 minutes of reading three times a week, but I worry about how this will increase as she gets older.

    I'm 38 and I don't remember having any homework before 4th grade, and then it was only a book report or history diorama once a year until middle school. Homework and increased testing aren't helping our kids.

  4. I am REALLY looking firward to hearing about the the conference next week! Please do share how it goes!

    Your letter is beautifully and respectfully written! The supporting links are super to include, strengthening your request.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. I, too, have sat down with a child's teacher to discuss this same thing, but did not say it nearly as well as you. I would love to hear the outcome of the conference.


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