I rarely feature guest posts from those outside my own school, but when I read my  NAIS & edleader21 colleague Chris Thinnes’ piece about Race to Nowhere and the vexing issue of homework, which I have written about here before, I offered to post it.  Chris articulates very particularly and effectively my similar thoughts about this topic, and I am pleased to be able to share it here. 

Race to Nowhere Has Some Homework to Do

Chris Thinnes is a parent and an educator who lives in Los Angeles. He is the Head of the Upper Elementary School & Academic Dean atCurtis School, a member of the Advisory Group of EdLeader21, and the director of the Center for the Future of Elementary Education at Curtis School (CFEE), which recently brought together educators from 103 schools and districts for “Transforming Elementary Education: An Evening with Sir Ken Robinson.”

In its latest emailed, tweeted, and web-based blitz encouraging schools to ban weekend and holiday homework, an impassioned group of self-styled activists has once again leveraged 21st century tools to provide a 20th century ‘solution’ to a 19th century problem: the overloaded assignment of dull, mechanical, and ineffectively designed homework exercises to millions of our nation’s youth. However, the similarly dull reasoning of their examination, diagnosis, and prescription (a ban, very simply, on weekend and holiday homework) will inevitably provoke irrelevant, unjustified, and blanket contempt for schools’ practices the rest of the year as well.

Race to Nowhere‘s activist arm, EndTheRace.org, swipes any reasonable analysis off the table with its burly forearm, before any of us — educators, parents, and students — have the chance to sit down to talk. In short, this campaign overlooks important dimensions of a complex discussion about the purposes of education and the needs of children, ignores forward-looking strategies about the appropriate design of learning opportunities at school and at home, insinuates a lack of professionalism and responsibility on the part of educators, and threatens further to divide, rather than to unify, educators and parents of children in our nation’s schools.

“The research on homework is clear and unanimous. Most homework does not increase learning, raise scores, or prepare students for the future.” -EndTheRace.org

If this were an accurate assessment of research ‘on homework,’ it would be compelling. However, this statement misrepresents the fact that only research on the overload of homework is ‘clear and unanimous’ in its findings: namely, that homework should be limited to developmentally appropriate workloads of 10 minutes per grade level per day. [http://today.duke.edu/2006/03/homework.html] (more…)

Last Thursday night we hosted a screening of the new film, Race to Nowhere, and a panel afterwards.  I have already shared my own reactions to the film; here I want to share those of our panelists and from our students.

Michelle Berry, Ph.D, History Department Chair, St. Gregory

There is a critique in the film that the educational system is reactionary, comparing us to other countries, like: we are not doing as well as Finland.  I think that one of the things we need to do is figure out what we want education to be. What is the point of education?  I heard the “H word” a lot,  happy– what does it mean to be happy?   That is the point of education: to get students excited about what they are learning even if means working at home.

I am not sure why in this film why reading seems to be such a really  rough thing which nobody wants to do: that they’d rather do skateboarding than reading.

This is partly because we  made it homework instead of home-fun. (more…)

Thursday evening, our school hosted a screening of the documentary film Race to Nowhere and a panel discussion afterwards.  Here I am offering my own first reactions to the film; in subsequent posts I intend to share some of our panelists’ responses and explore the suggestions from the film’s website, End the Race.

The film asks and addresses what are for this parent and educator some of the most central and essential questions about K-12 education and child-raising; it does so in ways stimulating, provocative, compelling, redundant, one-sided, and emotionally manipulative.

The essential questions, then, to my observation, in the film include the following:

  • What is K-12 education’s  ultimate purpose?
  • What is the role of happiness and self-fulfillment (or self-actualization as our panelist Dr. Davis asked) in the priorities of K-12 education? (more…)

The video above comes from a panel presentation which followed a screening of the Race to Nowhere, a film we are screening at St. Gregory March 3 at 7pm, and I am using the blog here to promote that upcoming event.  Ticket information is here.  We too will present, following the film screening, a panel presentation (details below).

In the video, some outstanding thinkers in the field of adolescent development and secondary education share their reactions to the film, including Deborah Stipek, Madeline Levine, and Denise Pope.    Also fascinating in this edited clip are some comments from the audience, including the following:

We have to have measurements, we to be able  tofind out how much progress we are making in whatever we are doing, but what  but what are we measuring, and are we measuring the right things?

The Ivory tower is a name we use for measuring people that memorize useless facts, but in business often we focus too much on money and not solving problems.

If people got together and you talk about project based learning–  I think that’s it.  If we got together and actually work on problems and solve them together, maybe we could do our education around solving real problems and get the satisfaction of solving them as a community.

Of course I think this is exactly right: we do need to measure learning and respond to those measurements, but we need to measure what really matters, especially in authentic, problem-solving tasks, and we need to  promote learning in environments where students develop and acquire these kind of real-world situated problem solving skills.

After the 7pm screening, we will present a six member panel to respond to the film and then to comments and questions from the audience.

Our panel will be moderated by Rachel Villarreal, Ph.D., the Chair of the United Way of Tucson’s Youth Development Coalition and St. Gregory’s Director of Development.


Barry Bedrick, Headmaster, St. Michael’s Parish Day School

Michelle Berry, Ph.D, History Department Chair, St. Gregory

George Davis, Ph.D., former Provost, U. of AZ, former President, University of Vermont

Malika Johnson, Director of College Counseling, St. Gregory

Ann-Eve Pedersen, Board President, Arizona Education Network

Eve Rifkin, Principal, City High School

Looking forward greatly to this event.   As it is said in the video:

The film is just a vehicle to bring people together to talk about these issues and inspire change.

We want, enormously, for our students to be prepared for the challenging world they will be entering, and we know that that preparation will be best when it instills in them a lifelong love of learning, an intrinsic motivation to achieve and accomplish, and a genuine joy in what they are doing and for the future they are pursuing.

The anxiety I have in presenting the film Race to Nowhere, which we are doing at St. Gregory on March 3 at 7:00pm (order tickets here), is that the perception will arise that the message of the film is that kids should work less, study less, try less.  That is not the message of the film, and it is not ever the message of our school or my leadership: we want kids to work harder, smarter, in ways that matter to them and engage and reward them meaningfully.   Here are the critical quotes, from the trailer, about the problems in American education this film is confronting:

Our students are pressured to perform, but they are not necessarily pressured to learn deeply and conceptually.

The things that actually get our kids to think are pushed aside.

What is it going to mean when we have a whole population of doctors and dentists who have been trained from a script.

These kids come to the table with this creativity and this love of learning; let’s just not take it out of them.

What does it take to create a happy, motivated, creative human being?

We are hoping for a great turnout for the film, and we will follow the 80 minute film with a 60 minute panel presentation, welcoming educational experts from within the St. Gregory community and from across Tucson to offer responses to the film and to questions from the audience.