STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

For kids, the consequence of parents' irregular work schedules is "homework inequality"

Young boy doing homework
Eric Cuthbert / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

In recent years there's been a lot of talk about homework. Recently, I told you about my daughter's preschool homework load, and research that suggests education is becoming overly structured -- to the detriment of students.

study published in the Journal of Experimental Education found some students are doing more than three hours of homework a night, and suggests it may be associated with high stress levels, lack of balance in children's lives, and physical health problems like migraines, ulcers, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion. 

As a working mom, by the time I get home in the evening, I find myself stretched for time to do things like cook dinner, tend to my daughters, and help my oldest daughter with her homework. But luckily, my work schedule is pretty much always the same, so I can plan to do those things at the same time each day.

But according to The Atlantic, many working-class parents, especially those with unpredictable on-call or non-traditional schedules, find their kids' homework load hard to manage. And it often negatively impacts their children's grades.

According to a recent study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), socio-economically advantaged students and students who attend socio-economically advantaged schools tend to spend more time doing homework. And kids who were doing more homework tended to get higher test scores. And Harvard researchers found homework to be the way parents often become involved in their children's education.

But what about kids who don't have someone home regularly to help them with their homework? Or those with parents who feel they don't have time to keep tabs on their children's assignments? Nearly half of parents with school-age children say they wish they could be more involved in their kids’ education, but aren’t able to be, according to thePew Research Center.

Many working-class families also cannot afford to have a parent who stays home with the kids, or luxuries like nannies and tutors to be there to assist their children when they cannot be.

Joshua Freeman is a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He told The Atlantic:

Only a tiny number of Americans now have a normal five-day, 40-hour workweek. Many companies ask their employees to make themselves available at the last minute, with little regard for how such scheduling affects their workers’ family lives. As a result, their kids’ science projects are less likely get done properly, and their math worksheets may never be surveyed by parents’ eyes.

Parents' irregular work schedules can negatively shape kid's cognitive development and behavioral outcomes, leaving them at a disadvantage and contributing to achievement gaps.

Legislation in Congress and bills in seven states aim to require employers to stabilize erratic work scheduling. And Seattle's city council recently began drafting scheduling regulations.

Freeman tells The Atlantic:

Last-minute scheduling and extreme hours represent a reversal of gains won decades ago by the labor movement. One of the workers’ central demands back then were shorter and more predictable hours. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 imposed overtime rules and helped regularize hours. Unions built on that success. One of the big changes from the 1970s onward has been the breakdown of the old-fashioned hours and the defined workweek.

Hopefully the fight for a better-defined workweek leads to improved parental involvement in the education of kids who are missing out.

Paulette is a blogger for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously interned as a reporter in the Michigan Radio newsroom.
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