The family nights, now official policy for the Katy Independent School District (ISD) in suburban Houston, Texas, designate “days during which teachers will be dissuaded from assigning homework,” the Houston Chronicle reported in July.
“The goal of that night is to encourage family gatherings, family dinners, or going to a football game—anything geared around family,” Katy ISD District Spokeswoman Maria DiPetta told the Chronicle.
The district designated the days in response to parents and students lobbying the superintendent after the no-homework policy of a teacher in a different Texas district went viral on social media.
‘A Breath of Fresh Air’
Vicki Alger, a research fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, says the Katy ISD policy restores some power to parents, where it belongs.
“Katy ISD’s family night initiative acknowledging the primacy of families is a breath of fresh air,” Alger said. “It helps counter the decades-long trend of relegating parents to the periphery of their children’s education as distant ‘experts’ dictate curricula and testing. Parents are rightfully frustrated that increasingly the homework assigned to their children, particularly younger children, is time-consuming, not age-appropriate, and often incomprehensible.”
‘A Beginning, Not an End’
Alger says family night is merely a good start toward important reforms.
“Family nights are a step toward making education truly local again, and let’s face it, there’s nothing more local than parents directing their children’s education and upbringing,” Alger said. “But occasional family nights granted by public school districts are a beginning, not an end. When parents are fully empowered, including the freedom to choose their children’s schools, every night is family night—as it should be.”
Terry Schilling, executive director of American Principles Project (APP), says the overwhelming homework load is a result of excessive testing and pressure on teachers from federal regulations and the Common Core State Standards.
“I think the rise in homework every night is because of education fads like the Common Core, where it’s all about the numbers, it’s all about the standardized testing,” Schilling said. “Teachers spend the entire year preparing kids for these standardized tests, which really don’t help them learn. It’s focusing on making them score, but not actually making sure that they’re learning this material.”
‘More and More Bureaucratic’
Schilling says federal overreach forces local districts to comply with decrees from Washington, DC and distances them from local input.
“What we’ve discovered at APP through fighting the Common Core is that the [U.S.] Department of Education has been leapfrogging legislatures and parents and working hand-in-hand with state boards of education,” Schilling said. “So you’ve got big-time bureaucracy working with little-time bureaucracy, and they’re both getting more and more bureaucratic and putting more and more expectations and demands onto schools and teachers and students.
“Each individual parent contributes through their property tax dollars, but what’s happening is that these parents can’t compete with the millions and millions of dollars that the federal government is putting into the system,” Schilling said. “These schools end up answering more to the federal government and the state government than they do to the parents and teachers.”
‘Too Much Pressure’
Schilling says mandates from huge, out-of-touch government entities do not help children learn.
“The more demands and the more stringent standards you have on these kids at the earlier ages, you’re actually discouraging them from learning more,” Schilling said. “At that age, they’re very active and have tons of energy. So when you try to teach them math at four years old, all they want to do is play with blocks and throw a ball. But we’re trying to force them into these boxes and trying to create these prodigies, but we’re putting too much pressure on them and they’re not learning as much.”
Schilling says the more other districts imitate Katy ISD’s family night program, the better off kids will be.
“The big thing for us is that we need more of this type of program, where school districts are working hand-in-hand to make sure parents are more involved with their kids’ education,” Schilling said. “This is a good example of it. Is it going to be effective? We don’t know, but this is why we should have two-thousand school districts across the country helping to try out new things and being laboratories of democracy, so to speak, in education policy.”
Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.