06/19/2012 12:42 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2012

Reconsidering Homework

Homework -- how much, for whom, and to what end -- has long been a focus of discussion and concern among parents, teachers and PTA associations across the country. But since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001 and Obama's more recent Race to the Top incentive program, the homework debate has intensified. Educators are under increasing pressure to meet state standards and churn out high test scores in exchange for federal support. Inundating students with homework in this fraught and numbers-focused climate is often seen as a logical response to anxieties about funding, international competitiveness and performance.

But here's what most of today's typical homework does: It encourages conformity. It diminishes a child's intrinsic motivation to learn. It invites cheating. It turns kids off to learning. It emphasizes getting through the material at the cost of sleep, friendship, family time, play, physical activity and health. It stresses that rote repetition is somehow superior to passion, curiosity, creativity and invention.

How is this possible? Because most homework robs our children and our families of our most precious resource: time. Time to think, time to play, time to connect time to be bored. Time to read, rest, discover, run, fail, fall and learn from it all.

It's time to change! Two weeks ago, on behalf of the Race to Nowhere community, we joined with education and homework experts Alfie Kohn (author, The Homework Myth), Dr. Etta Kralovec (Associate Professor, Univ. of Arizona and co-author, The End of Homework) and Sara Bennett (co-author, The Case Against Homework) in launching a national online petition on, which urges the PTA to adopt a set of homework guidelines that would provide local districts, school boards, administrators and teachers with a national policy framework to use as a reference and model for decision making locally. The initiative seeks to realign homework policy and practice with the best research on student learning, health and engagement.

Among the goals of the guidelines are increased educational equity and a narrowing of the achievement gap between students at well funded and poorly funded schools; enhanced parental and family influence on and engagement with homework practices; and a rebalancing of student's academic lives with their extra-curricular, family and community commitments and their developmental needs as children and adolescents.

The petition has been signed by more than 16,000 educators, parents and policymakers across the country. Thousands have been inspired to share their stories.

The Resolutions Committee of the National PTA will be considering adoption of these guidelines for healthy homework this week at the National PTA's convention in San Jose, California.

Adopting these guidelines will not only give American parents and students relief from the unnecessary burden of homework, it will also help teachers think differently about how to support student learning.