An end of homework?

With school about to start, two Star Tribune op-eds on different educational realities in Minnesota are well worth reading today.

Substitute teacher Anne Holzman, of Bloomington, tackles the “achievement gap” which hasn’t budged much no matter what the experts try. She suggests cutting the amount of homework students are required to do.

Cutting homework?

She calls the parent assisted “10 minutes per grade per night” prescription “hogwash.”

Also on her cutting block: The insistence on organization and early start times.

All of these wrongheaded obsessions contribute to our achievement gaps by race, class or other divisions, because all of them require added resources at home. A family that can pay for tutors and other supporting adults can meet these obsessions and get their kids through the hoops at school; a family that struggles with multiple jobs at inadequate pay has a much harder time doing so.

The first two obsessions would be easy to drop, and we should do so sooner rather than later. The third one would require significant public investment, but maybe if we all stopped buying so many school supplies, and backpacks to haul them around in, we could afford some added paraprofessional staff members and bus drivers to meet our children’s needs for sleep, nourishment and healthy recreation.

About that school supplies thing…

In her op-ed, Ann Ness, who runs a project to raise funds for school supplies, thinks it’s time teachers shouldn’t have to spend their own money.

Consider Samsam Warsame, a Somali-American teacher in Minneapolis who teaches math and science to Somali-American and Ethiopian first-graders, many of whom once lived in refugee camps. To provide an enriching learning experience, she spent $300 of her own money on math and science supplies in the first few months of school — money her students’ parents didn’t have. But she worried about how much money she would have to spend the rest of the year to continue providing for her students.

When teachers are able to provide their students — particularly those from low-income backgrounds — with adequate supplies, their learning experience is transformed. Becca Hanson, an elementary school art teacher in St. Louis Park, found that giving her students a “limitless classroom” is a huge deal, especially in her low-income school. “When I am able to give them opportunities through different supplies, they see that they are not limited,” she said. “They see that they can do more and be more. It gives them a lot of self-assurance.”

Of course, reality is different than what’s on the op-ed page. Kids are still going to get homework, classes will start at sun up, and teachers will still have to spend their own money, if they want the supplies they think their students need.