Finishing homework is becoming a family affair

Caroline Magrisso’s daily assignment is to make sure her children complete their homework on time.

“I can help with time management,” said Magrisso, a stay-at-home parent with a fifth- and seventh-grader. “But I can only imagine what it would be like for a working parent.”

At an Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board meeting Sept. 18, Chiquita Holiday-Eason, a parent of a Haven Middle School pupil, described homework as “a working mother’s nightmare.”

Although some Evanston parents are burdened by helping their children finish their homework each night, experts say how much time homework takes is a misdirected question.

“It’s not how much, it’s what kind,” said Karen Fuson, a professor in Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.

“Given the data on how much television kids watch, I don’t think kids have too much homework,” she said.

Candace Hill, the mother of a fourth-grader at Oakton Elementary School, said she restricts the amount of television her family watches to one prime-time program a week, excluding events such as the Olympics.

“We have not found homework too overly difficult or taking too much time,” she said. “But I believe the amount of homework given greatly depends upon a child’s teacher. I know that at Oakton this year, the four fourth-grade teachers have been giving quite different quantities of homework.”

But school board member Betsy Sagan said the amount of time homework takes always is an issue.

“You can talk to ten different parents and get ten different opinions,” Sagan said. “Some parents don’t feel like their kids have enough homework.”

Magrisso said her biggest problem is the inconsistencies in the amount of time homework takes.

“It’s either hours or twenty minutes,” she said. “I don’t mind an hour of homework. What I don’t like is when every subject has one to two hours.”

When long-term projects pile up, it can be tough to squeeze everything in, especially if the child is active in sports and clubs. But Magrisso makes sure school comes first for her children.

“My seventh-grader doesn’t get to go to sports events if his homework isn’t done,” she said.

Time management is an issue even for first-graders. Linda Beckstedt, a first-grade teacher at Lincolnwood Elementary School, says that her “homework house” works best for her students.

The homework house is a picture of a house with four small windows containing various assignments, such as challenge problems for math or 20 minutes of reading. The students and their parents have to complete the house by the end of the week.

“This helps young children be responsible for their schoolwork,” she said.

Beckstedt generally does not assign homework on the weekends, and her assignments only cover what she teaches in class.

“But I only know what I do and what works for me,” she said.

Most Evanston parents said they know their children lead busy lives and that they have to balance their schedules accordingly.

“I know one family that quit the Cub Scouts because they could not get the week’s homework packet done before the Thursday night meeting,” Hill said.

“If Evanston children are in day care until 5 or 6 p.m., taking classes or sports once a week and expect to be able to watch a TV show occasionally, homework is hard to squeeze in,” Hill said.