Letters to the Editor

Homework pays

September 2, 2007


To the editor:

I read Kelly Kelin's letter with great interest. As a teacher at Free State High School, I hear similar concerns from students quite often - that the workload imposed by teachers is impinging on their jobs and leisure time. Kelly's math skills joke flew right over my feeble mathematical mind until she pointed it out to me. Yet, I do have some practical advice from a mathematical perspective.

Kelly, like many high school students, "must" work because she "needs" money. Fair enough, let's talk money. A high school graduate earns roughly $10,000 more annually than a dropout. Doing four hours of homework per night for three years is about 2,160 hours. Earning $10,000 more per year for 40 years gives you $400,000 more in lifetime earnings. Thus, you are earning $185 per hour for that homework (which is, incidentally, about six times the rate I am paid to grade it).

Want a college degree? Take a rigorous, college-prep curriculum (as I know you are). Then, you'll earn about $25,000 more annually than those without a degree. Forty years later, you've earned $1 million in additional salary. And, that college-prep high school curriculum helped prepare you to succeed in college. A million dollars for 2,160 hours of homework means you are earning $463 per hour for that homework. That could buy you a lot of leisure time. What are you earning at your job right now?

David Reber,



kansas778 10 years, 9 months ago

Raging Bear, since when do high school kids need money to survive? Survive what, the next fashion trend? Will they die without the latest purse? Will they starve without money for fast food? Get real, they don't need money to survive, and just admit that you hated your teachers and want to get back at them any way you can. Homework is not punishment! What kind of loony statement is that?

Ragingbear 10 years, 9 months ago

Ahh. The tired explanation justifying teachers using homework as a punishment to their pupils. You may run around yelling and screaming that a high school grad will make more money, or that a college grad will make even more money. But you forgot about one vital aspect. That people have to worry about today, not tomorrow. You can say "Oh. You got to go to school now, because blah blah." but completely neglecting that people need money today in order to survive.

Perhaps if teacher will get off their collective arses and actually communicate with each other, then students wouldn't have the problem with their math teacher assigning them a 20 page assignment on Friday, while their History teacher assigns them to make a diorama by Monday, meanwhile they have to read the first 5 chapters of Hamlet by Tuesday, and they have to go into the woods and collect 50 leaves and identify them by their common and latin names for a project due Wednsday. This is completely neglecting that they were assigned other long term assignments earlier that week that they are working on.

Then at the end of the Semester, you pull out your retarded standardized test and say to your class "All that stuff you broke your backs doing is worthless. This test accounts for 95% of your grade."

Try remembering what it was like to be a kid, if you can. Stop trying to force 12 year olds to act like they are 30, and just try to remember that they are still KIDS. Even though the government and the religious fundies would rather you not think of that.

Aileen Dingus 10 years, 9 months ago

Kansas778- I'm with you. I managed to go through high school without a job during the year, I only worked during summer vacation. Same with college- the priority was school.

Since I was in school (back in the stone age) I have heard kids rationalize their need to work. "I need to work to pay for my car." Well- why do you need the car? "To get to work."

Now- as a parent, I have often felt that my kids brought home too much homework. UNTIL we moved here. When my elementary aged kids were bringing home 2+ hours of homework a night I started talking to other parents. It wasn't just my kids, it was everyone. Yet another reason to get the heck out of where we were. USD 497 teachers assign much less homework than we were used to seeing.

As for homework being a "punishment" for kids- Ragingbear- stow it. You don't have clue #1 as to what teachers do so you'd be better off remaining silent and thought a fool.

Matt Toplikar 10 years, 9 months ago

I have to agree with Raging Bear on this one. We totally overload high school and junior high kids with homework. The worst part of it is, that it's not making them any smarter. Instead of focusing on creative and critical thinking skills, we're spending most of their time training them how to retain and regurgitate useless information, and because most of it is essentially useless and uninteresting to them, they tend to forget it not long after they're tested on it.

Recently I've been reading about a sort of learning experiment going on in Europe and in parts of New England. Apparently for the last ten or so years institutions called "democratic schools" have been on the rise. The basic premise of these schools is that, inherently, children want to learn, and, up until kindergarten, they basically teach themselves most of what they know out of necessity and curiosity (talking, walking, etc.) So, instead of children being forced to learn things they don't want to know, these "democratic schools", allow them to learn what they want, when they want, while the teachers act as merely a helping hand in the learning process.

I have to say I'm still somewhat skeptical about this, but I recently watched a news program where they interviewed some of the kids, and I was pretty surprised about how smart and articulate they seemed. According to the pieces I've seen and read, the kids generally learn most of the things that the rest of us learned in school, but because they learn it out of curiosity instead of by force, they are generally less stressed and happier at school. Not to mention that they tend to understand the topics better, due to the fact that they want to understand them in the first place.

As far as high school students "needing" money to survive... my best friend in high school contributed his paycheck to his family, who needed it just to get by. This might not be the norm, but it does happen. While, working in high school, I saved for two years so that I could have a car and a computer for college. I might not have "needed" them the same way I need food and water to survive, but the reality is that, in our society today, these things are almost necessities if you want to make it through college and a get professional job.

When it comes to "fashion trends" and "the latest purse", we shouldn't pretend that spending money to assimilate into established social norms is something only high school students do. I've always found it hypocritical that so many people talk condescendingly towards students on this subject, as if the kids created vanity. Most women wear make-up and perfume at some point in their lives and I'm sure it has nothing to do with surviving. The same goes with men and shaving, but that's only the beginning of a huge list.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 9 months ago

My granddaughter who is taking AP classes and, is involved in countless clubs, debate and choir, and babysits, housesits and does other odd jobs to earn money keeps up with her homework easily. She does a large part of it in class when teachers give students time to work on it and during seminar. She also doesn't play video games. I think we should shadow some of these students to see what actual on-task time is being spent on homework.

Ragingbear 10 years, 9 months ago

~~She does a large part of it in class when teachers give students time to work on it and during seminar.~~

Anyone else smell BS here? Classroom free time and study hall are mythological beast from a bygone era.

Kookamooka 10 years, 9 months ago

Sorry Reber,

You're using the OLD paradigm relating education and income. That paradigm worked for the baby boomers but not for these newer generations of students. Times change and every year more Americans slip into the poverty level regardless of the amount of education they have. Ask a Doctoral Student at KU how much he and his family live on a year then ask him how much homework he's done in his lifetime.

Where do teachers get these statistics? Please Mr. Reber, cite your source!

kansas778 10 years, 9 months ago

Raging, while it's been ten years since I went to LHS, that was the norm then, and I know for sure that they still have "seminar" which is basically a study hall. Also, students may be taking 6 classes a day, but some of those classes are going to be things like PE, shop class and other classes that don't have any homework at all. You don't have to take 6 substantive classes each semester to graduate on time, smart students can spread them out so it's not so difficult.

Ragingbear 10 years, 9 months ago

Kansas, you have little grip on the situation. PE is almost completely outmoded anymore. Shop class went the way of the dodo almost everywhere 15 years ago. Music and Arts are only found in private schools.

And ten years ago was exactly that. They don't have study hall anymore. They just extend some classes from an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.

Aileen Dingus 10 years, 9 months ago

Ragingbear- if music and arts are only found in private schools then I'd better find out what my son is doing when he says he's in band at LHS! Wow! Thanks for the tip.

penguin 10 years, 9 months ago

Wow I do not know where you are getting your information on the elimination of all these programs. I have been out of high school 8 years or so. However, my old school still has an 1 1/2 hr seminar (or study hall...they are the same thing) every other day. Also the still have flourishing music, arts and industrial tech programs...and this is a school in Western Kansas. They also have numerous PE offerings. However, students are not required to take it all 4 years. The instruction and offerings might be different in Lawrence schools, but I doubt it.

Also many teachers allow class time to work on assignments and some even take pride in their ability to provide work without it being too much. However, there is a quick solution to some of these problems. The students who do not like homework should confine themselves to the most basic offerings. So no AP or College Prep. For that matter, nothing that goes above the minimum standards. Then they will escape some of that troublesome homework and learning.

kansas778 10 years, 9 months ago

RagingBear, sorry, but you're completely wrong. I actually know some students who graduated this past May and and some others who graduated in 2006. They do have seminar (study hall), PE, shop class, music and arts at LHS and at LFSHS. So you are a liar and a fraud.

kansas778 10 years, 9 months ago

Ragingbear, it does exist, ask any high school student. Where on earth are you getting this crazy idea that you are smart? Because clearly you're an idiot with a grudge.

RightinLawrence 10 years, 9 months ago

And I would love to know how quickly Mr. Reber grades papers and returns them to the students. My son attends LHS...Teachers slack with the best of them! It is days and weeks before things are graded and returned. I have begged for weekly updates to know if work was completed and to get a current grade.

After two years of getting next to no response after repeated requests, phone calls, and e-mails....after trying to work through a counselor...I was finally told by a division principal that many times the teachers don't even have the grades for daily work and even tests. Apparently, it gets done for progress reports and times when they HAVE to turn them in....other than that...forget it! I guess that meetings, collaboration time, getting out of the building by 3:30pm, etc. take priority grading students' work.

So, maybe teachers should think about how their time is spent, as well.

Tychoman 10 years, 9 months ago

You idiots don't have the slightest idea of what a high school teacher goes through, especially Ragingbear. I call BS on RightinLawrence's claim that LHS teachers don't return work in a timely manner. The only scores that I never got back in a timely manner were government standardized tests. I couldn't name a single time in my high school career that I didn't get homework back or at least scores within a decent amount of time. You guys don't know what you're talking about.

Terry Jacobsen 10 years, 9 months ago

Lawrence High School does have fine arts programs, and seminar which is an hour and a half study hall every other day. I admit that my student does bring home a lot of homework sometimes, but he also spends a lot of time playing video games and fooling around with his friends. High School is supposed to be preparation for life and guess what? I've had jobs with deadlines and pressure and the boss never gave me a study hall to complete them in. I guess it's a good thing that my teachers required me to budget my time and prioritize multiple homework assignments. Put on your big person panties and get over it.

Ragingbear 10 years, 9 months ago

You people can keep on believing the lies about whatever you want to call study hall. It does not exist.

And music class is a far cry from band. Only rich kids that have parents willing to dole out a nice wad of change for the privilege of having their precious little angel regale us with a totally slaughtered version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" are so entitled.

When I went to school, we were actually required to purchase our instruments at the start of the year with a buy back contract saying that they would evaluate the instrument at the end of the year and pay what it was worth. This usually entailed a cost of $400-$600 per instrument, with a buy back in the negative numbers. That's right, it would actually cost US for the school to buy them back. Of course, if you violated the contract then you were required to purchase a brand new instrument for the school from a dealer of their choice.

Aileen Dingus 10 years, 9 months ago

Excellent. I'm rich now!

Ragingbear- I think you just went to a crappy school.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 9 months ago

I don't know where Ragingbear went to school, but yes they do have seminar at LHS, which can or cannot be used as a study hall if the student so desires, some students read or sleep, but then they can't complain about carrying all the books home. Actually it's on Weds, and Thurs. They also have wonderful art programs, and obviously he has never attended a school concert here. Our son started orchestra in the 5th grade (violin bought at local store with very reasonable payments). The first concert was painful, but by the time they reached Jr. High, it sounded close to professional. He also took many art classes, including digital art and filmaking, for which he won awards in regional competitions. Ragingbear needs to stop commenting on things he knows nothing about. Oh by the way, our son used to say he didn't have time to do homework or housework, but that's because he was always playing video games. You're a fool to believe otherwise, and I hope you don't have and never have children. If you do, please do us a favor and homeschool them. If they have your surly (get a dictionary) attitude, I don't want them around my kids.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 9 months ago

Also, I come from a working class family. I chose to go to college, and although I chose to teach, I make about twice the money than anyone in my family. I also have twice the job security. I used to work in a factory and earned pretty good money, but that factory's gone now. My daughter dropped out of school and could only get fast food jobs. She earned her GED, and was able to get a better job. She started taking classes at a JuCo and her job offerings increased. Education opens doors that are closed to others. Everyone knows the college graduate who is waiting tables and the high school dropout who started their own business and became rich, but these are exceptions.

llama726 10 years, 9 months ago

I really resent the commentary above from Kansas778.

"Raging Bear, since when do high school kids need money to survive? Survive what, the next fashion trend? Will they die without the latest purse? Will they starve without money for fast food?"

And also the agreeing comment from Dazie:

"I'm with you. I managed to go through high school without a job during the year, I only worked during summer vacation. Same with college- the priority was school.

Since I was in school (back in the stone age) I have heard kids rationalize their need to work. "I need to work to pay for my car." Well- why do you need the car? "To get to work.""

I'm glad that when you were in school, you did not need to have a job. That is a great thing, to be able to focus on school. You know, most kids would really rather not have a job... Few of us want to go work for barely-above minimum wage when we could be doing more things with our time. Regardless, there are a lot of ridiculous stereotypes and assumptions made here. I received a scholarship to come to KU, but I spent most of my weekends and some school nights working when I was in HS. Why? Well, seriously... Try maintaining your school schedule without a car and with your parents having to work too often to rely on them to get you to school and back from any extracurricular activities you might do.

I worked on both the newspaper and yearbook staffs at my school, and to give you a glimpse into my senior year: I was editor-in-chief of the school's paper, which took up at least 2-3 nights after school each week (staying from 3 to 8:30 pm) (bare min). I was the president of the school's international club, which met every other week and had several activities planned throughout the year. I was in two honors/AP classes, played recreational league basketball, and did a number of off-campus events for coverage for the yearbook (sporting events mostly, as I had stepped down from the sports editor position I held the year before to manage the entire newspaper). I was also a volunteer tutor for a third grade classroom every Monday and Wednesday for an hour after school, working with three kids in particular (and I'm proud to say that one of them went from basically unwilling to work on his school assignments to always going home and taking out his homework, and not usually completing all of it, which took most his other students over 1.5 hours to complete, in about 45 minutes). Also, I volunteered for a number of various activities, including "Race to Planet Cure" a Parkinson's Disease research benefit race....

llama726 10 years, 9 months ago

I think you get the picture. I was a busy guy. I also had a girlfriend through most of high school, did all the "high school kid" stuff (dances, football/basketball games, hanging out in friends' basements playing video games and watching movies, going out to movies and being obnoxious), but I did have a resentment for having to work so hard. But it was worth it, in my mind, to be able to further my abilities in journalism as an example by going on national trips to participate in competitions for my writing, editing, and graphical design abilities. I was recognized by Quill & Scroll for my article on the September 11 attacks and the local angle impact in the community around my school (and in the school itself). I gained a lot of leadership skills and organizational skills. Oh yeah, and I did homework. But the point is, it would have been impossible for me to go to these extracurriculars without my own transportation. With a schedule that busy (in one week, I logged 15 hours at work, 18 hours in the journalism room, 5 hours with the international club, 3 hours tutoring, and the usual ~35 hours in class. That's 76 hours I spent doing school-related activities or working BEFORE you even consider homework) parents cannot always accommodate transporting their children all around the city. So, once again... I needed that to be successful.

Before you open your mouth and say "well you don't need to be so active," try applying for scholarships without much/any extracurricular or volunteer experience. So, yes, in my mind- a car is required, and gas and insurance for that car are required. I rarely ate fast food (my mom is amazing at cooking), I sure as hell didn't care about fashion trends, and I didn't have the luxury of spending most of my money on anything I actually wanted since I needed to save it for college as well.

But in my opinion, high school kids don't have that much homework. I am blessed with the ability to type over 75 wpm with about 95% accuracy, I've always been good at English and writing, and I can usually grind out the stuff I'm not good at, like Math. It's good to have a lot of long-term assignments, because that is how it is in college. There were a couple sleepless or close-to-sleepless nights but I didn't feel cheated due to the homework necessarily. One hour of homework a night is sufficient, if it is legitimate homework and not a repetitive worksheet, but something that encourages critical thinking.

camper 10 years, 9 months ago

Ah the good ole High School days. I wish I could take them all over again. I would have done much better if I got more done while at school. I spent many an hour in class listening to the teacher, but not always focused in, saying to myself "I'll figure this out when I get home". This was fairly easy with history and english, but much more difficult with math and science; once you get behind in geometry, it can be difficult to catch up.

This was no fault of the teachers though. In fact many of them were excellent people whom I looked up to much the same way I did my folks. I do have an idea on this topic, and since I do not work in education please take my comment with a grain of salt:

1) Divide class time between instruction and assignment. Maybe the first half of class could be devoted to instruction while leaving the last half for students to work on the assignment covered. This will allow the student time to get started on homework while the teacher is available to answer individual questions. This is a major step because the student is off to a good start and thus the homework assignment wil seem less daunting.

After all, homework is a lot like washing dishes...not so bad once you get started.

waydownsouth 10 years, 9 months ago

Well the big projects that they have to get done for each class Monday through Friday will show who has organizational skills to prepair them for college then life. As far as the usless information that the schools seem to be teaching college seems to require it to get in plus you never know when you are going to use it in intelligent conversation or just to make you an educated person. Those who only retain the basics are grown people cooking your fries and bleeding the system. There is time to be a kid and prepair for adulthood. As for athletics kids who are involved are less likely to get into trouble and battles the weight problem so many people have. There is a reason for everything. Think before you write.

sourpuss 10 years, 9 months ago


If your entire future hinges on whether you can have a car in high school, many people are just screwed. I didn't have my own car until after graduating college. Lawrence is a small town - I walked or rode my bike in junior high and high school. Perhaps you CHOSE to have a car, but people can succeed, even doing a lot of extra activities and volunteering, without one.

As for homework... kids, just do your homework. In my experience as a college instructor, people spend a lot of time whining, wheedling, and cheating, and if they just spent that time doing their work, then it would get done and they might just learn something. And for those of you going on about things you "don't have to know" let me tell you that if you limit your life just to things of utilitarian value, you will lead an empty life. People who say that are just lazy and boring. Go to a museum, see a non-Hollywood movie, read a book not by John Clancy or Nora Roberts, or read a few encyclopedia entries. People act like learning something is the worst punishment on earth. Perhaps instead of sending criminals to prison, we should just make them go back to high school. Actually, that is probably just what a lot of them need.

llama726 10 years, 9 months ago

I'm not from Lawrence. I lived ten minutes (by car) (roughly 6 miles) from my school. Walking was out of the question unless I got up at 4:30 am (and going to bed at midnight rules that out). Bicycle may have been an option, but still would have required me getting up by 6 or so.

I agree, I chose to have a car, because I also chose to go to college and I needed to have all the extra activities to make a good case for a scholarship since I can't afford it on my own.

But I also agree, doing homework if you actually have the right study habits is so much easier. Don't watch 3 hours of TV a night? Might be easier to do your work. Even with how busy I was, there were never times I missed homework. It's easy. it might be boring, so listen to music while you do it, that's what helped me.

llama726 10 years, 9 months ago

By the way, it was 6 miles of highway straight there, so walking would be more than 6 miles since you can't walk on highways. The only way to have walked there would have entailed me going an alternate route which would have taken approximately 2 hours to walk, so I guess I could get up as late as 5:00 am in that case after not going to bed until midnight. I think you see what I mean.

coneflower 10 years, 9 months ago

Everything this teacher writes is true.


Students get too much homework. It takes some students more time than others to complete the work. No kid should work several hours every evening as my high schooler does.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 9 months ago

coneflower, Have you had your student tested for learning disabilities? If he/she is qualified for an IEP, they can get modified assignments. Has he/she asked for help from a tutor. He/she really seems to be struggling, and you need to seek help, but please don't ask us to lower the standards. They have already been lowered too much. Perhaps you child isn't cut out for college. Not all kids are. Vocational trade schools are important too. I consider going to college a goal for students, but some don't want to, and others don't have the academic abilities needed. Ask a teacher or counselor for help with improving your student's study skills. The help is there, but you and your student need to learn to advocate for yourselves, not ask to have standards lowered for others.

sourpuss 10 years, 9 months ago

Bicycles move pretty quickly. It is all about choices, that is all I am saying. Choices. You make yours, but don't act like you don't have options. Everyone has options unless you are a slave. But, most people enslave themselves when their "wants" become their "needs."

Oh, and do your homework, kids.

kansas778 10 years, 9 months ago

llama, you know what helped me get scholarships for college? Good grades. I never did any extracurricular activities and I got five different scholarships. I never did any activities in college either and I had no problem getting admitted to several law schools. If you are spending 30-40 hours a week between these activities and a job just so you can list them for scholarships you wasted your time. If you wanted scholarships you should have spent those hours studying to get straight A's and to do well on the ACT.

And before you take exception to my post you need to examine the context. I was replying to RagingBear's assertion that high school kids need this to survive, which is ludicrous. My example was hyperbole, but nonetheless truthful: high school kids don't have jobs because they have bills to pay, but because they use the money for discretionary spending. So you buying a car is, in that sense, no different.

kvintage 10 years, 9 months ago

I do agree somewhat with what you wrote Mr. Reber, however, I believe you misunderstood the underlying message of what I was attempting to convey to the public. First off, How many adults out there are making up to $400,000 a year? And as for the, " Want a college degree? Take a rigorous, college-prep curriculum (as I know you are). Then, you'll earn about $25,000 more annually than those without a degree. Forty years later, you've earned $1 million in additional salary." I would like to know what sources you are using to get your statistics . Honestly, I would love to be making up to $1 million in additional salary, who wouldn't? But wouldn't my salary depend on the job I want after college? What about the debt I'll be in with student loans if I do happen to go to a great college thanks to the "college prepatory classes?" Or because I did not have the time to "work" and earn money to save for college because the amount of homework I had to do each night. And honestly, how much of what you learn in 11th grade do you use in real life? Mr. Reber, you yourself are a teacher at Free State, what's your salary like? Its obvious you are content with your job and enjoy teaching. Overall, I think the story is irrelevant to the letter I wrote to the LJW. I understand that by doing homework in the long run will help you ultimately succeed. Stay in school, don't drop out. Fair enough. But I do think the amount of pressure and stress forced upon the kids is extremely unhealthy. For example according to an article written by Lawrence Hardy, Associate Editor of American School Board Journal, who wrote to the National School Boards Association, stated that the academic pressure to succeed has a negative effect among children. http://www.nsba.org/site/doc.asp?TRACKID=&CID=1234&DID=33028 . Ive personally experienced the negative side of what an overbearing education can do to a child's mental health. And I know Im not the only one. The pressure is far too much to handle for kids and the public needs to realize how harmful these negative effects are to the children.

blackwalnut 10 years, 9 months ago

School should not take more time than a 40-hour a week full-time job. Ever.

Kids of all abilities are too busy these days. It's time for parents to say to teachers: STOP.

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