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We would like you, your staff, teachers, and students to join us at the fundraiser screening of the documentary “Race to Nowhere”. This event will take place on Thursday, January 10th, 2013 at 6:30pm at in the auditorium of the Pioneer Valley Regional School. The film is approximately eighty-five minutes long and we will provide concessions for sale. We would appreciate it if you could advertise this event to your students and staff. Ticket prices are $5.00 for area student & faculty tickets and $10.00 for the general public. Tickets will be available at the door but we highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance as we expect this event to sell out.
You may purchase tickets at http://rtnpioneervalleyregional.eventbrite.com
As you may be aware, we have created a petition to limit the amount of homework and “busy work” so students like us are able to pursue other interests, get the proper amount of sleep and have quality family time as well as a host of other reasons. We have put this fundraiser together to spark a dialogue between students, parents and school administration in the hopes that area schools will at least take a look at the way homework and schoolwork in general is administered.
If you have any questions, feel free to email us at pioneer-rtn@hotmail.com.

Race to Nowhere” is a film that calls us to challenge current thinking about how we prepare our children for success. Named by TakePart.com as one of “10 Education Documentaries You Don’t Want to Miss”, “Race to Nowhere” brings communities together to spark dialogue and galvanize change in America’s schools.

Featuring the heartbreaking stories of students across the country who have been pushed to the brink by over-scheduling, over-testing and the relentless pressure to achieve, “Race to Nowhere” points to a silent epidemic in our schools. Through the testimony of educators, parents and education experts, it reveals an education system in which cheating has become commonplace; students have become disengaged; stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant; and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

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Homework Petition

To Whom It May Concern:

Students, faculty, and parents of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District have come across many experiences, concerns and issues with the homework that is assigned.  There are numerous problems students face every day that have more negative effects than positive benefits. Here are some we have come across.

  • Students are forced to stay up late to complete their assignments or else they will be given a bad grade. By doing this, they are losing sleep which causes them to be tired and not put in a 100% effort in their class assignments.  Studies have shown that chronic sleep loss causes depression, impaired motor function and obesity. It has been found to increase a body’s production of stress hormone cortisol which raises blood pressure, heart rate, weakens the immune system and makes it difficult to concentrate.
  • It is extremely difficult for students to participate in sports and extra-curricular activities with the addition of homework. Kids do not have enough time to participate in sports, pursue personal interests, complete homework and have time to just relax. If they want to do all of these things, they are forced to stay up a lot later than the average teen should be staying awake. The teenage years are the years when people need the most sleep due to the amount they are growing.
  • Child obesity is a big problem in today’s generation and excessive homework just adds to it. Homework causes the student to stay inside and not get the amount of exercise and fresh air an adolescent should be getting. Without homework, students would have more time to exercise and stay healthy.” Parents and Friends Chief Jenny Branch says, as childhood obesity becomes a major problem; homework is forcing children to sit in front of computers instead of exercise.” (1)
  • Class discussion is based on homework more than anything else which is taking away valuable class time where teachers could be giving a lesson.
  • Numerous students are not able to complete their homework because they don’t understand the problem. Not understanding something or having to get extra help also shows to lower a student’s self-esteem. If a student doesn’t know how to do the problem, they can either do it wrong and get a bad grade, or not do it and get a bad grade. It has been years since the students’ parents have been in school and doing the kind of work they do. Chances are they don’t remember that material. And even if they do, things have changed since then and they were taught how to complete problems in different ways. If homework isn’t assigned and all the work is done in class this problem would be eliminated and the students can get help as needed.
  • Homework causes a lot of unneeded stress to students. There are so many other things they have to worry about every day and homework should not have to be one of them. Extra stress put on a child contributes to drug and/or alcohol usage. “A study reported August 4, 2008 reveals that 73% of teens say that school stress is the primary reason for drug use.” (2)
  • Students who are sick or absent are now responsible to complete last week’s classwork, last week’s homework, and now the new assignments for that week. This puts a tremendous amount of stress on the student.
  • In middle and high school many students choose afterschool jobs over homework contributing to poor grades.  Given today’s economy, kids can’t depend on their parents for money and working will give them valuable experience they cannot learn in school.  Homework enables them from doing so.
  • Due to homework, students are forced to come home and spend most of the night in their room. This is limits their family time and many aren’t even able to have dinner as a family. This is a very important part in a child’s life.
  • Weekends revolve around homework and they rarely get to have time to themselves.
  • The weight of a backpack is an enormous load and causes back problems for students at a very early age. “The studies reveal that many pupils’ backpacks were “excessively loaded”, leaving students with back problems which often worsened with age. The authors of the report, which was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, said children should not carry anything weighing more than 10% of their body weight. But the study found nearly two thirds of the 1,403 children surveyed carried bags which broke the 10% rule”. (3)
  • Homework is costing the school and families money they don’t have.  The economy is extremely rough right now and wasting time and money on assignments that are proven to have very few benefits is pointless.  A paid teacher can spend precious time teaching, opposed to correcting papers and children can have time to just be kids.
  • Students do not complete the assignment by themselves. The majority of the students receive the assignment and copy it off a friend or someone they know and the work isn’t even being done by them. If the work isn’t being done by the student themselves, that is not a proper way to assess how a child is doing considering there is no way to stop the child from copying off of someone else after school hours.

There appears to be many more negative effects of homework than positive. There have been no quality studies to prove homework improves test scores and grades. Here are some other opinions we have found.

  • “Have you ever heard of a child getting sick because of homework? According to William Crain, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at City College of New York and the author of Reclaiming Childhood, “Kids are developing more school-related stomachaches, headaches, sleep problems, and depression than ever before. The average student is glued to his or her desk for almost seven hours a day. Add two to four hours of homework each night, and they are working a 45 to 55 hour week.” This does not include time spent riding the bus, sports and after school jobs.” Ironic considering the child labor laws! (4)
  • “In addition, a student who receives excessive homework “will miss out on active playtime, essential for learning social skills, proper brain development, and warding off childhood obesity,” according to Harris Cooper, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.  Although some teachers and parents believe assigning a lot of homework is beneficial, a Duke University review of a number of studies found almost no correlation between homework and long-term achievements in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school. “More is not better,” concluded Cooper, who conducted the review.” (5)
  • “Is homework really necessary? Most teachers assign homework as a drill to improve memorization of material. While drills and repetitive exercises have their place in schools, homework may not be that place. If a student does a math worksheet with 50 problems but completes them incorrectly, he will likely fail the test. According to the U.S. Department of Education, most math teachers can tell after checking five algebraic equations whether a student understood the necessary concepts. Practicing dozens of homework problems incorrectly only cements the wrong method.” (6)
  • “Some teachers believe that assigning more homework will help improve standardized test scores. However, in countries like the Czech Republic, Japan, and Denmark, which have higher-scoring students, teachers give little homework.  At the other end of the spectrum, “countries with very low average test scores—Thailand, Greece and Iran—have teachers who assign a great deal of homework,” David Baker noted. The United States is among the most homework-intensive countries in the world for seventh and eighth grade, so more homework clearly does not mean higher test scores.” (7)
  • “Do students in the United States receive too much homework? If schools assign less homework, it would benefit teachers, parents, and students alike. Teachers who assign large amounts of homework are often unable to do more than spot-check answers. This means that many errors are missed. Teachers who assign less homework will be able to check it thoroughly. In addition, it allows a teacher time to focus on more important things. “I had more time for planning when I wasn’t grading thousands of problems a night,” says math teacher Joel Wazac at a middle school in Missouri. “And when a student didn’t understand something, instead of a parent trying to puzzle it out, I was there to help them.” The result of assigning fewer math problems: grades went up and the school’s standardized math scores are the highest they’ve ever been. A student who is assigned less homework will live a healthy and happy life. The family can look forward to stress-free, carefree nights and, finally, the teachers can too.” (8)
  • “According to the authors of “National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling,” too much homework can demoralize students and lead to lower test scores. In particular, David Baker and Gerald LeTendre noted that students from countries where less homework is assigned, such as Japan and Denmark, score better on tests than students from countries that assign a lot of homework. They also pointed out that though American students do more homework than many of their international competitors, their overall test scores are average.” (9)
  • “The truth, according to Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, is that there is almost no evidence that homework helps elementary school students achieve academic success and little evidence that it helps older students. Yet the nightly burden is taking a serious toll on America’s families. It robs children of the sleep, play, and exercise time they need for proper physical, emotional, and neurological development. And it is a hidden cause of the childhood obesity epidemic, creating a nation of “homework potatoes.” (10)
  • ““The value of homework is overrated,” says Pope, author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Mis-educated Students. Based on her studies, Pope believes overburdened students are more prone to cheating, depression, unhealthy study habits, and a distorted view of success.” (11)
  • “The campaign against homework is gaining popularity. Administrators in wealthy communities with high-achieving students appear to be the first to heed the message. Recently, David Ackerman, principal at Oak Knoll Elementary School in Menlo Park, California, made national news when he advised his staff to limit homework to reading assignments only.” (12)

Our proposal is to have the PVRS district not assign extra assignments for homework on a TRIAL basis. This excludes the work students didn’t finish in class, special projects that require some sort of at home work, basic reading assignments that are required, or some sort of quick assignment that is essential to reinforce what the student has learned in class that day. We will see if test scores increase, absentee rates decrease, and overall grades on report cards improve. Based on these studies we strongly believe that unneeded homework assignments are causing more harm than good.  These “busy work” assignments are not proving to provide any benefits to the students and is only causing unneeded stress to students, teachers and parents.  Why assign homework if it is only causing harm to the students? The USA is one of the lowest test scoring countries due in part to the amount of homework that is distributed. Schools across Europe are also experimenting with the “no homework” idea because of all the studies that have proven for homework to be ineffective.  The president of France just recently announced that he is going to pursue the abolition of homework. There has been a documentary written by Vicki Abeles called “Race to Nowhere” that gives several good examples about what homework is doing to students. Alfie Kohn has written a book advocating the abolition of homework called “The Homework Myth” and Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish have written a book called “The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.” These books and documentaries give very well thought out and researched examples of the harmful effects homework is having on kids.

The definition of “Pioneer” is to develop or be the first to apply a new method.   Let’s live up to our name sake and be a “Pioneer” in education. With the facts provided we hope you will take into consideration our ideas and keep our proposal in mind.

Sincerely,

Ameilia Pelletier,

Emily Lanoie,

Logan Anderson,

Amelia Marchand,

Elizabeth Sweeney

End Notes

  1. ABC News. ABC News. March 12th, 2007. 10-21-12. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2007-03-12/homework-contributing-to-childhood-obesity-parents/2214962
  2. Teen Stress and Drug abuse. Treatment solutions. August 18th, 2008.

10-20-12. http://www.treatmentsolutions.com/teen-stress-and-drug-abuse/

  1. Heavy School Bags Causing Children Back Pain. Huffington Posts. 3-15-2012. 10-19-12. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/15/heavy-school-bags-causing-children-back-pain_n_1346974.html
  2. The Homework Revolution. Teen Ink. 10-20-12. www.teenink.com › Opinion › School / College.
  3. The Homework Revolution. Teen Ink. 10-20-12. www.teenink.com › Opinion › School / College.
  4. The Homework Revolution. Teen Ink. 10-20-12. www.teenink.com › Opinion › School / College.
  5. High School Homework: Are American students Overworked? Huffington Posts. 5-11-11. 10-21-2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/high-school-homework-are-_n_1071973.html
  6. High School Homework: Are American students Overworked?. Huffington Posts. 5-11-11. 10-21-2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/high-school-homework-are-_n_1071973.html
  7. Vivex Saxena. Pros and Cons of Homework. Ehow. 10-19-12. http://www.ehow.com/info_8298310_pros-cons-homework.html
  8. 10.  The Case Against Homework. Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. August, 2006. 10-19-12. http://www.thecaseagainsthomework.com/
  9. 11.  No Homework: A Growing Trend?. Education.com. 3-27-2007. 10-18-12. http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Ed_No_Homework_Growing/

No Homework: A Growing Trend?. Education.com. 3-27-2007. 10-18-12. http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Ed_No_Homework_Growing/

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Pioneer teachers welcome students’ homework critique | The Recorder

Pioneer teachers welcome students’ homework critique | The Recorder.

Pioneer teachers welcome students’ homework critique

  • Jay DeFuria, 9th grade biology teacher at Pioneer.
  • Ken Mullen, 8th grade social studies teacher at Pioneer.
  • Paula Brault, high school math teacher at Pioneer.

NORTHFIELD — A recent petition asking teachers to re-examine the way they assign homework has started quite the conversation at Pioneer Valley Regional School.

“These students are not the usual complaining crew,” said Ken Mullen, eighth-grade social studies teacher. Mullen has petition co-authors Ameilia Pelletier and Elizabeth Sweeney in his class, along with others who took the initiative to seek signatures on the document. More than 400 students, parents, and other supporters have signed it.

Critics of the petition view it as the work of kids just trying to weasel their way out of homework. The teachers say that’s far from the case.

“They’re amazing students, who put in a real 100 percent effort,” said Mullen. “I can’t remember any time they turned in something that wasn’t exemplary.”

The petition isn’t asking that teachers stop giving homework altogether. Rather, it asks that teachers evaluate the assignments they give, to make sure homework is useful, meaningful, and not over-burdening.

“I think we teachers really need to coordinate our assignments,” said eighth-grade science teacher Denise LaPlante. She said students often have pinch-points throughout the year, when several big projects in different classes are due all at once.

That might work for the middle school grades, where all students follow the same curriculum, but it can be problematic once they reach 9th grade and begin picking their own classes.

“I agree it would help to coordinate assignments,” said Ariel LaReau, 11th-grade English teacher. “But it does prepare kids for college,” when several important assignments may be due at the end of the semester.

As students progress through the high school grades, they become better at time management, said high school math teacher Paula Brault.

“I give students in my functions class their assignments on Monday, and tell them they’re due Friday,” she said. Brault said that technique doesn’t work for pre-calculus, where each day’s lessons build on the last.

Ninth grade science teacher Jay DeFuria said his students are in charge of scheduling their own homework for a project that will culminate in a debate.

“They can spread it out over the week, or scramble on Sunday to prepare,” he said. “It’s our experiment in self-paced homework.”

Teachers agreed self-pacing can work for high school students, who have more experience juggling busy lives, but may not be suited for younger students.

“Weekly assignments wouldn’t work as well with 7th grade kids,” said Mullen. He said, at that age, the support and discipline a student receives from parents or guardians is key to keeping them on track.

Brault runs an eighth-grade study hall, and said she takes charge by making sure students have something to work on. She said she can tell who’s organized and who’s not.

“Some students have assignment books with things crossed off and initialled by their parents,” she said. “Others don’t write a single assignment down, and I have to track down what they should be working on.”

Just as students have different levels of organization, they work at different speeds as well, and some comprehend subject matter better than others.

“I tell my students to stop after they’ve spent 45 minutes on their homework, and have their parents write a note,” said Brault. “If they haven’t got it by then, they need a little extra help.”

LaReau said it’s hard to put time limits on her homework. Often, her classes read novels, and the assigned chapters need to be completed if the students are to gain anything from it.

Though their opinions vary, the teachers agree that it’s a good idea to take a step back and re-examine the way things are done from time to time.

“Kids are significantly different in the digital age,” said Mullen. “The same assignments that worked 10 years ago are not necessarily as effective today.”

The teachers said the petition has spurred a dialogue with their students, and among teachers as well.

They also agreed that Pelletier and Sweeney put a good deal of work into their petition; the two eighth-grade A-students used several sources to back up their arguments. The teachers were also glad to see the students take the initiative to bring change where they felt is was needed.

“Thomas Jefferson said every generation should have a revolution,” said Mullen. “We want kids to become engaged citizens in our democratic society.”

The petition may be viewed online at homeworkpetition.wordpress.com, where its authors encourage readers to offer their comments or criticisms.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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School Poll

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Pioneer students protest | The Recorder

Pioneer students protest | The Recorder.

By DAVID RAINVILLE Recorder Staff

Sunday, November 11, 2012

NORTHFIELD — Some local middle- and high-school students are taking a stand against “excessive” homework.

“A lot of people think we’re trying to get rid of homework, but we’re not,” said Ameilia Pelletier, 14. She and friend Elizabeth Sweeney, 13, co-wrote a petition against homework that’s garnered more than 400 signatures.

The idea of an anti-homework petition may rouse notions of teens just trying to shirk their studies, but the petition itself is the product of hours upon hours of work by the two eighth-grade A-students at Pioneer Valley Regional School.

“To do all the research took about three hours each night for two weeks,” Sweeney said.

Their principal, William Wehrli, recognized the effort the students put into their petition.

“I think it’s great for students to take the initiative and work on something they feel is important,” he said.

The petition reads like a research paper.

Sweeney and Pelletier back up their arguments with citations from eight different sources.

They explored correlations between school-related stress and teen drug abuse, the relationship between back problems and over-loaded bookbags, and a link between too much homework and student illnesses.

They also make the case that homework takes away from other extracurricular activities. It can get in the way of family time, create conflicts with after-school sports or jobs, and keep students from pursuing personal interests, according to the petition.

Both students lead busy lives. Sweeney plays volleyball and rows, takes piano and flute lessons and plans to participate in the school’s winter musical.

Pelletier runs track and plays softball, baby-sits and has to go to physical therapy sessions twice a week for knee problems.

Both students also spend time volunteering, and would like to seek after-school jobs.

“That doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework,” said Sweeney. “It’s a juggling act.”

PVRSD Superintendent Dayle Doiron said she thinks extracurricular activities are important for students to become well-rounded people, and many PVRS students participate in them.

“It’s important to participate in those things, and not solely focus on one to the detriment of the others,” she said.

Pelletier and Sweeney said they’d have more opportunities to do so with less homework. Though they agree that some homework is essential to reinforce classroom learning, they feel some of it is busywork which could be scaled back or eliminated.

“In one class, we had to color in Bingo cards,” said Pelletier. “That was two weeks ago, and we still haven’t used them.

The two were able to win their parents’ support, after they saw the work they’d put into the petition.

“I was originally a little skeptical,” said Chris Pelletier, Ameilia’s father. “But they made some compelling arguments. After reading the petition, I had a change of heart.”

“It also got us to do our own research,” said Ameila’s mother, Heather Pelletier. “The more we read, the more we agreed that things need to change.”

Though the school does well on standardized tests like MCAS, Wehrli said that’s no reason not to examine or change the way things are done.

“It’s very easy to say ‘Well, this is how things have always been done,’ and keep doing them that way, but that doesn’t make it a good idea,” said Wehrli.

His boss agrees.

“I think this is a legitimate topic to take a look at,” Doiron said.

She, too, recognized the work Pelletier and Sweeney put into the petition.

“I think they’ve taken it as a serious responsibility,” she said. “I’m glad it’s getting some good attention.”

The students conclude their argument with a request.

They’re asking teachers to limit the out-of-school assignments to special projects, reading, and quick assignments meant to reinforce in-class learning.

They propose that this be done on a trial basis, suggesting that test scores before and after the experiment be compared to measure its effect.

“The next step is for them to bring the signed petition to me,” said Wehrli. “Then, together, we can create a plan for the next steps.”

He said that will involve meetings with teachers, students and parents.

The girls also proposed that teachers meet to coordinate assignments, so students don’t wind up with several big projects all due the same week.

Wehrli said that’s a definite possibility. He also suggested that teachers could give assignments on a weekly basis, rather than daily.

“They could say, ‘Here’s the week’s homework, manage your time and have it all done by Monday,’” he said. “That way, they could choose which night to read 100 pages of ‘The Great Gatsby,’ for example.”

Wehrli said the girls’ petition, and the process it starts, teaches a valuable lesson.

“They’re learning how to elicit change in the world,” he said.

The petition may be viewed online, at homeworkpetition.wordpress.com. Its authors said they look forward to online comments on the petition, from both those who agree and those who do not. They’ve also created a Facebook page for the petition, at http://www.facebook.com/HomeworkPetition.

David Rainville can be reached at:

drainville@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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http://www.thecaseagainsthomework.com/

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Race To Nowhere

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Katie Couric interview

Katie Couric interviews Vicki Abeles, director of the documentary “Race
to Nowhere,” about the high levels of stress and fatigue in U.S. schools and  the effects homework has on children.

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