You Gotta See the Race to Nowhere Movie

After 4 previous attempts, I finally saw the movie Race to Nowhere last night and I later posted a comment on a Race to Nowhere share on Facebook:

Sonya L. Sigler I have been an advocate for no homework for so long – I wanted our school to volunteer to be a test bed for a “no homework policy.” I would prefer that my kids play sports or take music or do nothing or explore the park down the hill from us… and I was lucky enough to see the movie tonight in San Carlos, CA.

By this morning, I had been attacked for my opinion that supported a “no homework policy” that our elementary school district had merely discussed 4-5 years ago.

Susi Crowe OK Sonya, no homework for high school students, really!?? Explore the park down the hill with the girlfriend, a case of beer and country music playing…or let’s make sure kids have time to play, which nowadays means playing on the computer, the Iphone, the Xbox. Great productive plan that you have, let’s you off the hook from being involved w/ your kids homework and spending the time as a parent taking them to activities they are interested in, so YOU have more free time……

It was interesting to me to see that 1) all kinds of judgments had been made (I don’t do homework with my kids; I don’t take them to activities they are interested in; I hold this opinion about homework so I can have more free time; my kids listen to country music..I could go on) and 2) leaps to certain conclusions had been made without even asking for more information or an explanation of why I want my kids to do things other than homework or why I would think that volunteering our school to test the policy was a good idea. I had one comment of support:

Sarasota Homes ‎@Sonya – I LOVE your attitude and thoughts toward education. I was a high school teacher/coach for 16 years. I don’t want my kids “racing to nowhere” and that’s exactly where politicians (on both sides) demand they go…. Kids NEED to be kids. Great support here!

This “no homework policy” that I mentioned was merely a discussion that the school board had 4-5 years ago (three superintendents ago) and it hadn’t even been implemented.  As far as I know, not one of our district schools has tested a “no homework policy.” What I do know is that schools in our elementary school district (San Carlos) and high school district (Sequoia Union) have made strides to coordinate homework assignments and work loads. I posted a further explanation:

Sonya L. Sigler I have a little bit longer explanation about what no homework means in our family and with the school my kids go to AND what the “no homework policy” was that was discussed in our school district about 4-5 years ago. We, as a family, focus on music, sports, scouting, and visiting National Parks. So, it is different homework than busy work sheets and homework given because the teacher couldn’t get to the info in class. Then there are chores on top of that. My kids also go to a project based school so there isn’t a lot of busywork homework; most of the homework assigned is related to a project unit. The “no homework policy” that was discussed in our school district 4-5 years ago that I wanted to volunteer our school for would have looked at a few things: 1) coordinated homework among the teachers so that not every subject had an hours worth of homework every evening; 2) the homework time (targeted time to complete it) would vary by grade level; and 3) the homework was related to reinforcing concepts in the curriculum as opposed to busy work. Thankfully we do most of these at our school already. But I am sure there are improvements that we can make related to homework. My kids are in a K-8 school so we haven’t gotten to the heavy work loads in high school – however my philosophy remains the same for that and the high schools in our area are trying to coordinate the homework assigned among the classes.

I think there is enough work for our children to do in school and in class without giving them more than an hour or two of homework each night. One of the main points of the movie was that after a certain amount of time the point of doing the homework becomes ineffective — I think it was an hour for middle school and two hours for high school students. The high schools in our area ARE trying to coordinate the type and amount of homework given across the subjects. At SCCLC, we have targeted homework by grade level and I think that the time expected to be spent on homework is not excessive as it relates to each grade level at our school.

From a family perspective, it all comes down to managing priorities and choices. Everything is a choice. Spending 4 hours on homework instead of playing baseball is a choice. Spending time playing an instrument instead of doing busy worksheets is a choice. Spending time exploring National Parks is a choice. Spending time with Boy Scouts is a choice. It’s all a choice. We choose to have our kids play sports, play an instrument, participate in scouting, and explore national parks. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework, or as suggested in the snarky facebook comment, playing video games. BTW – We do limit screen time of all types – we don’t ban it, we just limit it to 2 hours on the weekends. And, even with a full time job, I do squire my kids around to activities that they are interested in…currently, for my three boys that list includes baseball, basketball, flag football, bowling, rifles, archery, 4H, Scouts, soccer, dance, and music lessons – I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of not being involved with my kids – some would say they are over scheduled and that I’m too involved. But, truth be told they are doing the activities that they choose to do.

Our family has chosen to concentrate our time on the activities that are important to us – sometimes that doesn’t include homework. The consequence of these choices will vary – sometimes my son has to wake up earlier to do homework or stay up later than usual to finish it. Sometimes he may have to spend lunch or recess time finishing up something. Sometimes he may not turn it in at all – this has led to an interesting discussion about doing extra credit work to cover times when he can’t finish his work or turn it in. But, at least we know what the choice is that we are making as opposed to blindly trying to do it all.

Re high school, my thoughts on homework are the same. Don’t kill yourself trying to do it all just because someone has assigned homework. Talk to the teachers, advocate for your child – or better yet, have your child advocate for themselves (or in a group of students)  when it comes to managing homework loads.

Part of what the movie was shedding light on is – take a step back and evaluate the situation. What is right for your child (and why)? The sky isn’t going to fall if your child doesn’t get into “a good” college. Taking AP classes just to get into “a good” college is a prime example of doing something for the wrong reason. Doing well in an AP course is a choice; does it mean that you have to read the entire textbook? No, it means you need to be able to understand concepts and understand the bigger picture – that is what is tested on AP tests. The point of an AP class is that it IS accelerated learning. It requires you to digest an enormous amount of information. If all of your child’s courses are AP courses – you are really saying that they should be in college – becuase those AP test scores translate into college credit. The point made in the movie is – look at what your child is doing and why they are doing it. If your child  is only taking an AP course because they think it will get them into the right college – rethink the situation and make a change, if necessary.

There is one scene in the movie that was particular poignant for me – it was the scene where a boy says that he wanted to quit school altogether because he didn’t get the grade he wanted and now probably won’t get into the college he wanted. In retrospect, I did a lot of things in high school because it would look good when I applied to college. I didn’t get into Harvard or Stanfurd, which were my top 2 choices, and those rejection letters were very hard to take. My mom didn’t even believe me when I called her at work to tell her I didn’t get in to Stanfurd. Ironically, I got into my back up school, UC Berkeley, on early admission, which was based upon my grades and test scores alone.  Granted this was in the 80’s and now admission to the schools in the UC system works slightly differently, but my point is that I survived and I went to a great college anyway even though it wasn’t my first choice. (As a side note – I really loved that there was a clip of the Cal Band in the movie – I spent a lot of time in the Cal Band when I was in college). Did I go to a school that matched what I needed (as the movie suggests)? No, I probably would have done much better at a school like Colorado College that does block learning on one subject per month, not 6 or 7 classes per 15 week semester. I think one of the most important points in the movie was to focus on finding what works for your child!

Many thanks to our San Carlos PTA Coordinating Council who sponsored the evening last night and worked hard to bring the Race to Nowhere movie to our District. I urge you to bring it to your school district! Have a panel discussion. Have schools explain what their homework policy is. Have kids explain how it is affecting them or how they are coping with the work loads. Proactively work at finding a solution for you and your child(ren). I urge you to see the movie if you have a chance.

If you have thoughts on this post or what can make the situation described in the Race to Nowhere better, please leave a comment.

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6 responses to “You Gotta See the Race to Nowhere Movie

  1. I completely agree with this analysis. This is where school choice is crucial. I would like to see charter schools take the lead on this and offer the “no homework” guidelines for schools–certainly K-8 and would love to see it for high school. And, make no mistake, “Race to Nowhere” applies as much to places like San Carlos as it does in every community in this country.

    I am grateful to be part of a school community that at least puts homework in a proper perspective. Keep it up, Sonya!!

  2. I haven’t seen the movie but I will definitely check it out. I remember when my sister was in middle school and many times she would come home with hours of homework. She would literally start working on it the minute she got home and be up until 11 or so at night only breaking to eat. Often she would have to finish up during lunch the next day. My dad would get so angry. He would ask her what the heck she was doing all day in school if she was doing all her school work at home. I remember my parents discussing it with the teachers and the teachers basically saying they agreed but they had rules they had to follow. She said they were trying to prepare them for high school and that my sister would have much more homework when she started high school. (She actually had much less homework in high school.) It was frustrating. Talk about burn out. It seems to me things have only gotten worse with all the pressure preschoolers are now under.

    • As I went through high school the work load varied and I spent most of my time practicing trombone (because I wanted to be a professional musician — how many professional trombone players do you know?). But when I entered my Junior year I spent about 2 hours a night on home work. And I did all of the homework and reading too. I think part of it is efficiency. When I got to college, I didn’t have the same level of efficiency as I did in high school so it took so much longer to do the homework in college. I am wondering if that happens at the middle school or high school level for kids who are reaching their maximum potential topic/subject wise.
      I don’t mind the stair-step approach for home work ramp up in terms of time and difficulty level but it isn’t good if the homework level surpasses the next grade level.

  3. I have not seen the movie, but would be very interested in it. I think you are right on the money with your ideas. You are one very busy mom! That is great that you are so involved. That is what children need, involved parents. That is how they stay out of trouble in the first place!

    I have never like the load of homework that came home with my children. They would spend all afternoon doing homework and never get time to just be kids and play. This last year I took my older two out of the local elementary and they are enrolled in CAVA (California Virtual Academy http://www.cava.org ). It is a public charter school through K12. There is no homework, because everything is done at home. When lessons are done, they are done. No extra! We take time to go on field trips and do things that are interesting to them. If my kids really concentrate, they can be done with school by lunch time. My kids are also able to work ahead if they want. My son is over 80% done with the school year and we aren’t even at the 75% mark. He is able to get involved in other educational pursuits because of this.

    • That’s interesting about being home-schooled to a charter curriculum. I just learned tonight that the Danville boy who earned an Intel award (of $100,000) won the National Spelling Bee and is home schooled. My friend Deborah home schools her children (for different reasons) and she is done ahead of time!
      I think kids can concentrate better with little/minimal distraction.

  4. I have been wanting to see this movie for a while, but have not been able to attend any of the local screenings here. I have heard great things about it though. I have been talking a lot about how I don’t believe in homework (necessarily) either. There is something fundamentally wrong with our education system right now. I hope that we can begin to change the system so our children are not only doing worksheets and tests to learn with the hope they will get into a good college.

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