Reading, Students Left Home Alone, and Homework:
Selected SALT Survey Findings
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What you are looking at:
You’re looking at two sources of SALT survey data: the front three-dimensional bars are students responses from the grades indicated, and the “back wall” flat patterned bars are parent responses from elementary, middle and high school. These data indicate the extent to which the state’s families and communities outside the school stand willing to support the child’s learning. A high percentage of parents at each level report that they are willing to help with homework, but the students report that they do very little, indeed less and less homework as they move through school.
What you are looking for:
You’re looking to see if children are using their out-of-school time profitably and to see if the time out of school is supervised.
On the 2000 SALT survey, fully 47% of the high school seniors reported being home alone at least three days a week, at least three hours or more. The percentage of high school juniors was 41%; sophomores 36% and freshmen 31%. These numbers are state averages, so the numbers mask the fact that in some school communities the percentage left home alone is well over 50%.
Of course, conventional wisdom is that a teenager really ought to be able to take care of him or herself for a few hours in the afternoon, while the parents finish their work day. However, daytime crime spikes during the time period between 3:00 and 6:00, and we know this to be a function of unsupervised youth. Rhode Island also has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in New England, again, at least partly a function of no supervision.
Indisputably, unsupervised teenagers are at greater risk of teen pregnancy, committing a crime, drug and alcohol involvement, and smoking cigarettes. All of these risks, except smoking cigarettes, also contribute to RI’s drop out rate, again the highest in New England. Communities, parents and schools need to work together to generate more safe, enriching, interesting sports, clubs, tutoring opportunities and so on. After school and when parents are still at work, students need to be productively engaged, getting more exercise physically and mentally. Communities who have created before- and after-school programs have often seen dramatic reductions of the incidence of social ills such as daytime crime and teen pregnancy.
Furthermore, while only 8% of the 4th graders report being left home alone three hours a day for three or more days a week, 4th graders are generally nine years old, which is too young to be left alone to this degree. And this percentage keeps creeping up as the children get older. Young children are frequently left home alone because daycare is unaffordable to low-income families. Schools and communities need to work with families to make sure there are programs available to all children.
Reading outside classwork
Clearly, too few children are reading outside of their classroom assignments. Outside reading drops precipitously from 4th grade to 10th grade where it levels off to about 20% of high school students reading beyond assigned classwork. The relatively robust reading habits of RI 4th graders do not persist over time.
The purposes of homework are to:
Reinforce skills learned at school, such as math computation and spelling conventions;
Teach children, with guidance, to complete projects on their own while learning to budget their time, do independent research and assemble reports or undertakings (such as inventions or photographic essays);
Explore the world outside of school for information resources and instructive experiences.
The SALT survey reveals that the overwhelming majority of middle and high school students report spending less than an hour a night doing home work. Indeed, 62% of 6th graders, 61% of 8th graders and fully 70% of 10th graders do an hour or less of homework on school nights. Teachers find it very frustrating when portions of the class do their homework and portions do not.
Schools need to work with the students’ homes to communicate clear homework expectations, provide ways for parents to check to see what is assigned – especially long-range projects – and help parents provide appropriate support for their children. (Parents should never do their children’s homework.) Some schools have begun posting assignments on-line which, even though it presumes computer literacy on the part of the parent, is a step in the right direction. Homework is always a student responsibility first and foremost, but school communities and parents must reinforce the expectation and importance of its completion.
Too much TV and computer games
Over 30% of all of RI’s students, at all levels watch TV three hours or more before or after school every day. Another 18% of 4th graders, dropping to 11% of 10th graders play video or computer games before or after school every school day. Clearly, translating some of this fruitless time into homework and reading time would better support student achievement and the capacity of the teacher to introduce new skills and materials.