Washington Star Editorial, October 16, 1977
THE GREAT HOMEWORK FLAP
Good Gracious! A stronger exclamation is deserved by this news out of Montgomery County, but a family newspaper precludes it.
The County Board of Education is to vote next month on a proposal, generated by board member Marian Greenblatt, to require that teachers assign daily homework in every subject…What in the name of Horace Mann is going on in a public school system where such a policy, a strong tradition, doesn’t exist? Is there, lurking in this queer matter, a clue to why student test scores have become dismal jokes?
Mrs. Greenblatt said she began considering the proposal after hearing high school students comment that school “was so easy that they had to get part-time jobs to take up some hours because they had nothing to do.” Homework is now assigned at the discretion of the classroom teacher in Montgomery.
Hard to credit is the opposition to the Greenblatt initiative, particularly from the president of the county teacher union, Hank Heller. No doubt there are more attractive ways of spending an evening than grading papers but it has been our impression that such a function was integral to teaching. Mr. Heller said that it is now common practice for teachers to give the students a portion of class time to do their homework or at least start it. “This way,” he said, “the students can get individualized instruction.” Let us know if you figure that one out.
Mrs. Greenblatt also has opposition on the board. Some members, agreeing in principle to the importance of homework, think her proposal is draconian. Board member Verna Fletcher considers daily homework assignments a burden on some children. There is a germ of validity in that; some children do have home situations where little or no help is available but that is hardly the norm, we would think. Then, however, Mrs. Fletcher ventures into the bizarre: “This can also create a family strain if parents who have worked all day have to come home every night and spend time helping the child.” Good Lord, is the home, as schools too often have become, merely a custodial institution?
It is - or used to be - axiomatic that educating the young could not be satisfactorily accomplished during the school day, that rigorous drill and application after school hours was essential if tender minds were to be equipped for less tender days ahead. Students in private schools find their evenings fairly occupied with such old-fashioned exercises as homework.
Both Alexandria and Fairfax County now suggest to teachers schedules of time students at the various levels are to spend on homework, though the District and Prince George’s County, like Montgomery, leave such decisions up to the teachers.
It is scandalous that a proposal such as Mrs. Greenblatt’s needs to be before the school board. But it surely merits approval.