Brilliant or Lame? Homework Helpers…

November 8, 2010 at 9:50 pm 44 comments

I am out of town at a work seminar for 2 days, but while wasting time in my hotel room, I found the following article on the NYTimes site about a new thing in (where else?) NYC where parents hire homework helpers.  It’s not necessarily a tutor, but more a responsible adult who gets paid to sit there until the kid gets their homework done.

Given what I’ve learned about the SE high school work load and what I project to be the slackerness of my my son and what I know about the amount of time spent cajoling, heckling, encouraging, and begging him to do his homework (when I could be doing housework, cooking a nice meal, looking at facebook, making his lunch for the next day) I can certainly see the appeal of “subcontracting” this stuff (as the article says.)  The woman in the article has 4 boys.  That is a lot of cajoling time.

Or is it the ultimate in helicopter parenting.  Actually PAYING someone to helicopter for you?  Or is any money spent to help kids learn a worthwhile investment?

Or am I mostly intrigued by the possibility of being paid for something I suffer through 4 nights a week?:

At a recent session with Benji, Ms. Kraglievich dug through his papers for assignments and encouraged him to write more slowly. She uncrumpled work sheets and read the questions to Benji. But mostly, she sat next to him as he pecked away at a writing assignment, urging him along when he got bored.

This is really the ultimate example of how to start a business: finding an unmet need and filling it.

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44 Comments Add your own

  • 1. 2ndtimearound  |  November 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    People I know who sometimes have to use a babysitter during homework time due to a meeting, etc, explain that sometimes their child is more cooperative and gets their homework completed faster and with less whining, complaining, stalling than with the regular homework parent. Is that priceless for my sanity? Maybe.

  • 2. interested parent  |  November 9, 2010 at 8:00 am

    I’m always intrigued when SE high schools and the huge workload the students are under are mentioned. My son is in the second year of one of the top SE high schools and I actually wish that he would spend more time on his work. He definitely has a manageable, if not light, work load at home. On the average, he spends about an hour and a half on school work Sunday to Thursday. Very occaisionally, he has a writing project which requires a bit more time. His marks are in the A/B range and since they are all honors classes, that is not bad. I’m not seeing the rigor and high expectations that others mention. I’m seeing a balanced, safe and somewhat academically challenging environment. I’m happy for that, but let’s call it what it is.

  • 3. cps Mom  |  November 9, 2010 at 10:01 am

    I briefly had a homework helper in 7th grade. This is the point where they start to outgrow the after school programs and they need to hunker down with the school work, not play. It didn’t really work for me. The provider had it in her head that she had to be out of there by 7 and would get frustrated when things were taking too long – sometime doing the work for him. It did not help his grades either. I had to jump in and it lasted 3 months. Another friend swears by it. Her son requires a lot of hand holding and does not work well with either of the parents. Sources for this service are Craigs List and and you could also run your own ad.

  • 4. momof4  |  November 9, 2010 at 11:30 am

    My 14-year-old daughter fell into a well-paid role of homework helper. Like a lot of younger girls, she started out dog sitting and cat sitting. She quickly moved up to babysitting and now added a dimension to her role of caring for children – she works with kids who need that extra push to get homework done. It’s a lot hand holding, she tells me, but in addition she serves as a tutor when a kid has a hard time understanding difficult material.
    Thank God families don’t pay $100/hour in Chicago like they do in NY or she’d drop out of school for the money. But she is very well compensated, about $15/hr. She’s a remarkable kid and a smart business lady.

  • 5. interesting  |  November 9, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    My first reaction was negative but then I realized that for the amount of time I spend organizing, arguing with, following up on my son, it would be a lot easier to pay someone to do it.

    To interested parent: I have a hunch you have a son with excellent time management skills who can get his work done in a minimal amount of time. I do not–and it seems as if there is at least three hours of homework a night.

  • 6. Jeannine Cordero  |  November 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    We have had the same sitter for years and she does homework with our 9 year old. Our oldest daughter does her own homework and needs little assistance. Our sitter is a blessing and is patient. I don’t have the patience to do a lot of handholding and so it is better for her to take on this roll. I think it depends on the parent and their temperment. While she is not with us every evening, I appreciate the break from doing it every day. For me and my husband it is a service worth paying for. She is also paid $15 per hour.

  • 7. CPSmama  |  November 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    interested parent: keep in mind that your child is probably the exception. I have one like him and one who is the polar opposite. Both are at a SE HS. One puts forth minimal effort, does HW at last minute, and gets great results and nearly straight As in honors and AP courses. Other child works harder, spends more time and gets lower grades across the board. They are just different. I doubt I’ll go the route of a HW helper, though.

  • 8. RL Julia  |  November 9, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Don’t have a homework helper per se – but homeworks needs to be done right after school M-Th and that means that the long time sitter was mostly responsible for the largess of it getting done. Having her around to “remind” them and to let it slide until a parent got home if they were really getting frustrated was helpful. Now in 5th and 7th grades, they are pretty well trained to do their homework. Still have at least one child per school year who tries to do the homework the morning its due. Ugh.

    As for the homework helper, it depends on the kid, the amount of time it takes them to complete the work and how hard they find the assignment to be. I could see it being completely worth the money if you had an easily frustrated (yet perfectionist) child who took a longer time to do the work yet really didn’t have the attention span to go with the level of perfection desired – or one who truly didn’t care and would answer any old thing just to be done with the task.

    Thank goodness for the contract – which allows everyone to see what is coming. The everyday assignments were killer on our household. Some nights homework cannot really be done due to other commitments (namely religious school).

  • 9. cps Mom  |  November 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    One other potential problem is lining up someone to come on specific days/times and not having homework or very little. If they are the type that don’t want to “babysit” there is a problem of finding work or having too much work.

  • 10. Another mommy  |  November 9, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Anyone that can get a child to understand difficult homework material is worth it in my book. Sometimes parents have a hard time understnading the work they bring home. Everyone has a different teaching strategy. What works for one kid, might not work with another. My husband would get so frustrated that our 6yr old wasn’t getting some math concept. I sat down with him, and in 20 minutes he had it down. (my mom was a teacher, so maybe it’s in my blood) lol!

  • 11. Christine  |  November 9, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    My daughter is in Kindergarten and I am actually considering sending her to the after school program at her school called Homework Onsite. They play outside for 30 min and then all come in and do their homework together. Maybe if it was a social thing that everyone’s doing it wouldn’t be such a struggle.

  • 12. ChicagoGawker  |  November 10, 2010 at 9:51 am

    How do all of you afford to pay $15 an hour for a homework helper? 1 hour per day, 5 days a week =$300 a month. Wow, that figure represents a significant monthly expenditure for us. And I’m sorry, I’m sure the 14 year old is wonderful, as are the other homework helpers, but $15 an hour is an inflated rate. This is 2x the minimum wage for a task that we agree is mostly hand holding. I wouldn’t pay $15 an hour for sitters for my 10 year old, and if this doesn’t involve real instruction, but mostly supervision and encouragement, then this is an outrageous fee. Especially for a 14 year old.

  • 13. momof4  |  November 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

    I do agree with you. And my daughter is aware that she is overpaid and has been gracious enough to bring this up with the families and often times tries to return some of the money. She normally earns $8 an hour for babysitting, which we believe is a fair going rate. She receives much more as a homework helper because she does work with special needs children. When she works at a regular gig (some babysitting and some homework help) she is back to $8/hour or maybe even $10/hour.

  • 14. parent  |  November 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    I think if Momof4’s daughter can get overpaid more power to her. She must be worth it to the families who hire her!

  • 15. mom+3  |  November 10, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    What about teaching kids to be responsible for their own work? My third grader (in a RGC) will sometimes literally tantrum at homework time… My response? It’s your work, not mine. If you don’t want to complete it, then don’t and suffer the consequences (bad grade, staying in at recess to finish it, etc.). When I leave the room, he eventually finishes it on his own — every time. I don’t want to hold my kids’ hands, and I don’t want to pay someone else to hold their hands… I really just want to teach them to do their own work 🙂

  • 16. rgcmom  |  November 11, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I’ve been having some frustrations with homework and my son is only in Kindergarten! I love my dear nanny immensely, but English is not her first language. Since my husband and I are both working full-time, we have asked her to work with him on homework as much as she is able to before we get home from work (as we enter the “bewitching” hour before bedtime). He ends up having to re-do half of his homework because it was done incorrectly due to 1) her inability to correctly translate the instructions and 2) his level of reading comprehension. But starting homework after we get home is also not an option because he is so tired from the day already. I guess I should be happy that about 50% of it is done before we get home, and I also struggle with wanting to be involved too. I can definitely see the value in a homework helper, at least until my son can sit still long enough and fully comprehend the directions given.

  • 17. kindergarten homework  |  November 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    It makes me really sad that kindergarteners are doing homework that isn’t a picture or teling a story about their family or something. What a waste of childhood.

  • 18. Chicago Gawker  |  November 11, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    17, the RGCs are not real swift, to say the least, about giving developmentally appropriate homework. No, its let’s cram as much info as we can into the kids’ heads so we stand out as the RGC with the highest test scores.

  • 19. SEteacher  |  November 12, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    @#2Interested Parent: I found your comment interesting, as today, at our professional development, we discussed the top (2) SE highschools not being challenging enough for students that they have recruited. They work hard to maintain the great Plan/Explore scores, but do little to push the kids . We were told today to up the homework, up the rigour and really push our kids.

    As a parent, when I was concerned about the minimal homework my own kids had, I always called the school and spoke to the teachers.

  • 20. Momof2  |  November 12, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Dear Mom+3: My thoughts exactly. No one EVER ‘helped’ me with my homework. My mother had a ‘do what you need to do or suffer the consequences mentality’. No one will hold their hand in the real world. They are in for a rude awakening one day. All these worksheets they are sending home with my 1st grader everyday are making him dislike school and are boring – which is why the kids don’t want to sit there and do them. I don’t blame them. They are simply training our children to perform well on standardized tests.

  • 21. Interested parent  |  November 13, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for the comment SE teacher. After I wrote the comment a few days ago, I had a conversation with my son, who attends the SE school. He explained to me that as much as he likes his school, it really isn’t very difficult and in fact it is very easy to maintain high grades because both the work requirements in school and at home are relatively minimal. He talked about teachers not being very good and who, in his eyes, took the easy way out in many instances. I asked about test prep and he said that he didn’t think that the school was doing much of that. I looked at his assignments and projects a bit more carefully and noticed a pattern – there are very few projects being assigned and a great deal of the homework/classwork seems to be worksheet or short assignment driven. In sum, I got less of an impression of high rigor than I had before my brief investigation. I sighed and again reached the same conclusion as I had when my son attended elementary school. He has many good interests of his own and apparently has time to pursue them. He is smart and likes to read and research what he is interested in. He has resources available to him for enrichment and a family that supports (and practices, through attainment) higher education. As a growing teenage boy, he likes to sleep a lot and apparently has the time to do so. Does he have the potential to be successful, given this combination? Yes. Is he in the exception? Again, yes.

  • 22. another SE mom  |  November 13, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Interested Parent:
    Has your son joined a sports team or club, or several? That may fill his time nicely and allow him to find something new that he can pursue.
    I too have a sophomore son at a SE high school. And contrary to what you find, my kid is working his butt off. He is involved in sports and club activities. He has AP classes too. And he is achieving straight-As, no Bs. I don’t feel bad for my kid. He is having the time of his life. The busier the better for him, and for all of us.

  • 23. Interested parent  |  November 13, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Yes, my son is in one club after school. Neither of us are worried about finding new things to pursue or filling time. My point, and small concern at this time, is the misguided perception that the SE High Schools are such high rigour, challenging places. I don’t think that they are anywhere near where they could and possibly should be. Have you looked at where the USA stands academically in relationship to other countries? It is frightening in many aspects. Your son might be having “the time of his life”, but is he really being prepared to flourish in the global economy that is increasingly more and more competetive. The value of an A or a B when it is given without substance to back it is not a very high value. I completed my own high school education in Europe. I was in classes until six daily and until one on Saturdays. In between, I was assigned homework that took up the majority of my waking life. I remember spending hours on one math problem and reading tons of literature from many nations. My son has read two school assigned novels this quarter and spends maybe fifteen minutes on math homework a night. Like I stated before, my son is happy, healthy and developing just fine, but let’s refrain from twisting reality and call things what they really are.

  • 24. SEteacher  |  November 13, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Interested Mom: I know the SE schools put on great shows for students and families each year. Everyone wants the best. What I learned this week is that parents need to look at what gains the school is making on EPAS. If a student scores well enough to get into a good SE school, then consequential exams should be increasing year after year. Data is showing that the top schools are not increasing according to national norms. They get kids, maintian those numbers, but are not pushing them harder. The numbers stay high so the school maintains a great reputation as “high scoring” schools.

    It is difficult to teach smart kids. They are more challenging, get bored more quickly and need to be taught differently. My job at an SE school has been the most intense I have experienced in my 17 years of teaching. I would look into your child’s various curricula to see that he is being challenged. Four years is too long to waste on so-so instruction.

  • 25. another SE mom  |  November 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Clearly, parents have a different sense of reality. My reality is that my kid will be extremely well prepared for life – and yes, well prepared to embrace the world beyond the city of Chicago – and that is in great part to a very rigorous and demanding education from his SE high school.

    Interested parent: You have a huge chip on your shoulder. If you truly believe that it is greener on the other side, you need to continue your journey to find a wholly different approach to educating your son.

  • 26. Interested parent  |  November 13, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    SE teacher, I appreciate your honesty. It seems rare in CPS.

    His math program is called Integrated Math, which is said to be a very challenging and innovative program. Several disciplines of math are taught simultaneously and there also appears to be a literary component interwoven. When I asked questions about it at a parent meeting, I was guided to the website developed by the program which used its own research to support its success. (Always a red flag!) My son dislikes the program and expresses that he wishes he could just solve math problems. He has already taken physics and is now in chemistry. I’m not sure that I will find a more rigorous curriculum elsewhere. His personal interests are very broad and he has the ability to follow them. Are there any schools you would suggest for increased rigor?

  • 27. Interested parent  |  November 13, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    to another SE mom –

    I think that I have a “chip on my shoulder” also. It is from seeing a generation of children lost to inadequate teaching and misperception of what academic quality is. The future of this country is precarious, at best. (witness Obama’s recent overseas trip) We have to do everything we can to change the tide. As parents, I think we need to question the curriculum more and not take things so much for granted. While I am very glad that my child is happy, I worry about the future – not only his, but the entire generation.

  • 28. another se mom2  |  November 13, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Interested parent – great observations. My child also has integrated math which I find to promote qualitative thinking. I like it. Looks easy from appearances but is not for all – you need to think outside of the box. Sounds like your son is great at higher level thinking. I was under the impression that the benefit of IM was the ability to customize the students ability to various aspects of math – algebra, calculus etc. I know that all SE schools have the option of placing out of lower level classes and taking AP courses. Sounds like you need to get your kid on the Math team!

    We find the math and other classes challenging. I’m thankful that the workload seems to be more manageable and the ability to have a social and school life exist at the high school level. The elementary school experience was overburdened with homework and test prep.

    Thank you SE teacher for participating in the discussion. The teachers at our school are all very qualified and truly interested in bringing all their students along.

  • 29. seteacher  |  November 13, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    I certainly would not say a parent has a chip on their shoulder for being concerned about the education of their child. Just because your child is in a SE school, doesn’t mean their educational needs are being met. Chicago has great schools and great teachers. Getting all A’s doesn’t mean your child is being challenged and learning. Isn’t that the purpose of school? I recently told a mother of a student that is getting a B in one of my honors classes that she is doing great and really excelling. The mother did not understand why then, wasn’t she getting the “A?” I told her the learning far exceeded the grade.

    I personally am NOT a fan of Integrated Math. I have a graduate degree in mathematics as well as an undergraduate degree in math and education. I believe in oldfashioned math classes.

    This is an interesting website to research various math programs throughout the area:

    I have my own children in schools that do not utilize any type of integrated programs. I don’t think teachers are trained well enough to teach these programs at elementary school levels, and at the high school levels, I want my kids to be on track for calculus and statistics. I do not think the IM programs prepare them for these courses.

  • 30. Interested parent  |  November 14, 2010 at 8:22 am

    to Se Teacher – Thank you for your continued interest in this thread. I briefly checked the website that you mentioned. This is what I was looking for when I began to ask questions about Integrated Math last year. It appears that the math teachers at my son’s school have at least some concerns, since calculus is now taught in a more traditional way. When I look at my son’s work in math, the problems that I see that he is solving are not my concern. My concern is more towards the direction that it seems as if too many superfluous concepts and ideas are beng simultaneously given in order to “interest” the children. The underlying assumption appears to be that no one will be interested just for the sake of interest in solving math problems. The unneccessary clutter complicates thought. I see math as a language that needs to be learned and I would never assume that I could learn French by having someone thrown in Russian periodically just to keep things interesting. I prefer Saxon Math myself and used this series when I homeschooled another one of my children – a child who just didn’t fit into any schooling situation that I tried for him, but one who excelled beyond wildest expectations when allowed to control his own learning and destiny.

  • 31. cps Mom  |  November 14, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    @26 – schools with increased rigor, global education – did you look at Lincoln Park IB – it’s not SE but might fit your situation. Only because you asked about other schools, transferring around may not be a solution to your needs but I’m sure that your SE teachers along with those on this thread would be able to suggest a course of action for a very bright boy.

  • 32. Stressed Out  |  November 14, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    @29 – After reading your post I went to the link you provided. After getting some information on what my daughter’s school uses I was a little nervous. Her school uses “Everyday Math”. I did a google search and went on You Tube and couldn’t find a favorable thing about this curriculum.

    When we accepted a spot at her classical school (it wasn’t our first choice), I was very hesitant for many reasons. I can honestly say this wasn’t one at the time, but now it is. This has put us over the edge and we will have her tested again this winter and hope we can get her in a different classical program.

    By the way, here is an interesting video regarding “Everyday Math” and “TERC”.

  • 33. RL Julia  |  November 15, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    The math curriculum is only as good as the teacher teaching it. My kids both have had everyday Math and I think its been great for them – but that’s mostly because the have teachers who know how to use the curriculum. I like it because of its applied nature. I checked out of all things math around 3rd grade because I thought doing pages of multiplication problems was really boring and had no use. I agree that math is a language but I don’t think the french/russian analogy really works – its more like dialects. Is germaine and keep student’s interests to teach them idiomatic terms from Mexico, Spain and Argentina (all which are different) -sure why not. What about the “lisp” spoken in some areas v. others. Everyday math is more like that to me.

  • 34. another se mom2  |  November 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    @33 – I’m with you. Also really like the IM math in HS. I am amazed at how well he can conceptualize numbers and has a feel for how they work. His 6th grade teacher who was quite traditional and a skeptic taught Everyday Math along with the traditional workbook – eventually dropped the traditional method because the concepts in Everyday Math were a higher level and they were doing it.

  • 35. to interested mom  |  November 15, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    your boy genius should transfer to Lincoln Park IB if he still can. If he is as smart as you say, he should be able to do so. I think they could give him enough work to keep him busy.

  • 36. Interested parent  |  November 15, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Thanks for the insight! I’ll take the suggestion to keep him busy and possibly hope that he also “has the time of his life” to heart. And I will continue to struggle with the concepts of lack of rigour and misperceptions of academic reality on the side. After all, appearances are everything, aren’t they?

  • 37. to interested mom  |  November 15, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    If he is a scholar, he will have the time of his life at lphs IB.

  • 38. seteacher  |  November 15, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    From the National Mathematics Advisory Council, Final Report 2008, United States Department of Education:
    “An analysis of high school mathematics standards, and one state’s standards in particular, suggests that high school students enrolled in mathematics courses using an integrated approach to mathematics may find it more difficult to take advanced mathematics course work (e.g., calculus or precalculus) in their senior year than high school students who are able to enroll in an Algebra II course in their sophomore or junior year.” (

    It’s an interesting read…for those into this stuff. : )

  • 39. parent  |  November 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Is integrated math the scary math that NSCP uses?

  • 40. Interested parent  |  November 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Yes. Why do you use the word scary?

  • 41. cpsobsessed  |  November 16, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Interseting video about Everday Math and TERC (which I’ve never heard of.) I guess the key argument is whether everyone learns math the same way and whether the “old fashioned” way of learning was so great.
    I’m not sure at all. I’m a big math person, but I did have a turning point in middle school where I went from hating it to loving it, based on a good teacher who sat down an helped me see the light. If not for her, I might think the old-fashioned way was pretty crummy.

    I get the concept that different kids learn different ways. However my son recently had a homework page (Everyday Math) that I think referenced 5 different options for solving, which seems like a little overkill for young kids. And of course I still revert back to “my” way of learning.

    I’m also torn about the supposed reference to the use of calculators in that video. I mean, really, it’s true…..

  • 42. parent  |  November 16, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    RE scary. Just my impression after the open house we attended last year. The teacher was pretty boring and it looked like there would be limited options for outside help if a child needed it given the curriculum.

    I’ve known several NSCP grads and they have done really well in college and in advanced math–would not worry too much.

  • 43. another se mom2  |  November 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    The same integrated math program is taught at other SE schools as well as non-SE schools. It’s not exclusive to NS – just as Everyday Math can be found at the elementary SE and the regular neighborhood schools.

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