Rethinking Homework Help


Many of our elementary, middle, and high school experiences have given us fond (perhaps not so fond) memories of homework. Ideas that we had been introduced to in the classroom were ideally reinforced with assignments that we were expected to complete during the time we weren’t at school. We were told that we were assigned homework because it was necessary, because it would instill in us a work ethic and study skills that we’d need to be productive adults–and that’s to say nothing of how effective homework was at helping us to grasp the complicated nuances of the subjects that we were learning in school. We needed the extra practice, right?

Well, perhaps not.

Some researchers are beginning to question the validity of homework as a tool that actually helps students. First, a focus on homework completion is potentially regressive–that is, it hurts students from vulnerable populations. Think students struggling with poverty, students lacking parental support, students with learning needs, and students from racial groups that have been long neglected by our educational systems. Additionally, there is research that shows that there really is no correlation between homework and student academic performance, at least for most elementary school students. Homework’s impact on academic performance increases for middle and high school students.

There are other issues as well. Many students from those targeted or marginalized populations attend schools that give students large homework loads, assuming that the homework will reinforce skills learned in classrooms. But the teachers aren’t always available to assist students with homework, and the parents or support systems aren’t always available for these students. The issue becomes that these students cannot comprehend their homework assignments, and thus, can’t complete them–or if the homework is complete, it’s not necessarily correct.

homework help

Many community organizations are attempting to remedy this by offering homework help to the students that they serve. Their aim is to help the students and reduce the amount of time that the students will have to spend on homework while at home, freeing up students’ time so that they can spend it relaxing or with their family. For middle and high school students, this homework help can be very valuable. However, as we said above, complete homework isn’t necessarily correct homework, and struggling students who receive help that is incorrect or learn ineffective habits can actually exacerbate their achievement problems.

Also, there’s evidence that many organizations just don’t have the staff necessary to ensure that every child receives an equal amount of homework assistance. When the ratio of staff to student is 1 staff member for every 25 students, there isn’t really any hope of individualized help, which means that homework–and homework help–can become a game of completion rather than a tool that eventually helps students become more proficient in their areas of study.

Is there a solution? Not a simple one.

A focus on building comprehension skills in children, and encouraging them to engage with their work in different, more meaningful ways can go a long way toward positively effecting student achievement. Especially in the case of young children, there is not so much a need for help with specific homework assignments as there is a need for children to increase their ability to read and comprehend texts.

Young learners also would benefit from improving their communication ability. This includes their use of oral language in addition to comprehension. If they are guided toward improvement of these skills, they will gain skills necessary to meaningfully engage with their work and be empowered to communicate about not only their academic expectations, but any misunderstandings that arise.

If our goal is to make sure that our students are truly engaged readers and critical thinkers, then we have to make sure that we focus on assisting them with essential skills that will serve them throughout their academic careers–and those skills are developed from targeted reading and literacy instruction as well as homework help.

Want to help us achieve our goal of a 100% literate Mid-South? Consider donating to Literacy Mid-South, or spread the word. And follow our blog for more updates.

The fifth annual Literatini, our book and martini focused event that is “straight up fun for a good cause”, is June 10th at 6pm!Click here to buy tickets.


Literacy Mid-South Executive Director Kevin Dean to Step Down After Five Years at Helm

Dear supporters,

I have had such a wonderful adventure with Literacy Mid-South. From the moment I walked in the door on my first day, I felt like I was home. I have made incredible lifelong friends with my coworkers, the board members, our volunteers, and many of you. Today, though, I am announcing that I will step down from my position as Executive Director following a five-year tenure with the organization.

11043177_10152757618861032_6343002988607011833_nI’m honored to have been given the opportunity to lead such an inspiring organization that constantly strives to improve literacy rates in Memphis for children and adults. In my five years at the helm, we’ve made tremendous progress in expanding our programming and services and promoting a community of readers. I feel now is the appropriate time to pass the torch and allow the next leader to make his or her mark on our community. This is truly an exciting time for Literacy Mid-South and Shelby County, and I can’t wait to see what the two accomplish together in the next five years and beyond.

Thanks to our staff, board, and people like you, we have begun a multitude of initiatives for Literacy Mid-South that have helped the organization achieve the following milestones:

  • Tripled the liquid assets of the organization
  • Increased staff from five people to 46 people (beginning this summer)
  • Overhauled programming to add new programs like the Read Memphis Project and a summer reading program for 3,000 children
  • Created the first-ever adult-learning mobile app for volunteer tutors
  • Increased the number of adults served in Memphis from 500 to 1,500, making the Adult Learning Program one of the largest in the South
  • Decentralized the 40 year-old Adult Learning Program from office space in Cooper Young to 31 different libraries throughout the Mid-South
  • Founded the first-ever Mid-South Book Festival, which is now one of the largest book festivals in the South in only its third year
  • Redistributed saved money to become a granting organization for other education nonprofits, distributing millions of dollars in resources every year
  • Nationally-recognized by ProLiteracy, the Nonprofit Times, and Nonprofit Quarterly
  • Literacy Mid-South continues to need your support. As we make this transition, we will rely heavily on your continued support to ensure an easy transition.

Thank you for all that you’ve done. I have been inspired daily by your unflinching desire to collaborate and work together towards this huge goal of eliminating low literacy in the Mid-South. YOU ARE AMAZING.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

Kevin Dean
Executive Director
Literacy Mid-South

PS. The fun isn’t over yet! Wait until you see our new website, our new logo, and a new program launching very soon!!

The Impact of Immigration on the Workforce

Image by quetzalcoatl2k.

The last time we discussed our workforce, we were talking about how low literacy and limited English Language Proficiency impacts it. (Click here to visit that post). Today, we’re going to bust up some myths surrounding the impact of immigration on our workforce. Just as a refresher, when we say “workforce” we mean the:

Total number of a country’s population employed in the armed forces and civilian jobs, plus those unemployed people who are actually seeking paying work.

There is a persistent myth among some Americans that immigration is a bad thing for us, among other reasons, because it weakens our workforce. The belief is that immigrant workers will replace our existing workers and take jobs that American-born citizens could hold. The truth is that an immigrant labor force will not replace, but complement our U.S. born workforce.

There are several reasons why immigrant populations help to boost our labor pool. One reason is due to the specialization levels of workers from immigrant populations. Many immigrants are either high skilled or low-skilled, which encourages companies to create specialized positions that many different workers can benefit from. In fact, there are studies showing that an influx of high-skill immigrants actually leads to more job creation. Immigrants also fill many of the low skill jobs, which are not taken by U.S. workforce due to higher education and older age.

An aging population is another reason why immigrants are good for our workforce. Many of our workers are getting older, and there is a gap that will be left when these older workers are unable to perform. Immigrant workers come here with all kinds of skills and abilities that they can put to bear to fill this gap, which will strengthen the workforce immensely. By 2030, it’s believed that 20% of Americans will be aged 65 or older. As these aging workers retire, there will be as many as 33.4 million jobs created.


Immigrants also have an impact on the unemployment rate and wages, but not in the way that some might think. Immigrants often move to areas with significant job growth and help boost the economy when unemployment is high. It’s been shown that immigrant workers often help to decrease the unemployment rates for these areas, not increase them. Also, U.S. native workers often make higher wages in cities with a high immigrant population, despite the belief that immigrant workers drive down wages.The average yearly wages of U.S. born workers increased 1.8% because of immigration. A 10% increase in the immigrants might decrease wages by less than 1%, but this number is almost always much closer to 0%. The impact of immigrant influx is often either negligible on wages or leads to a wage increase because even at the lowest level, immigrants increase labor supply and demand, and boost job creation.

Much of the thinking and discussion around the impact of immigrant workers on our workforce is based on stereotype. The belief that immigrant workers are here to leech off of our existing systems and take jobs from American workers just isn’t true. Immigrant workers make our workforce, and our economy stronger. They don’t contribute overmuch to crime rates. They pay taxes for services that they might not receive. They become productive members of society, and are essential to its functioning. And they make things better for everyone in the long run.

Literacy Mid-South is now offering the training these workers will need to succeed in the workplace. Learn more at

Summer Reading With Literacy Mid-South


In a few short weeks, students will leave their classrooms and schools and begin enjoying their summer vacations. During this time, many students will be enrolled in summer camps, community programs, or on vacation with their families. Others will struggle to access meaningful summer opportunities, educational or otherwise. Summer vacation plans notwithstanding, it is important for students (and, some would argue, the entire community–including adults) to read during summer vacation. Students who don’t engage in educational opportunities risk losing some of the academic gains that they made during the school year. This phenomenon is called “Summer Slide” or “summer learning loss.”

Summer learning loss has an adverse effect  on student performance at the beginning of the following school year. In addition to this negative outcome, it can also widen the academic performance gap between low performing students and their peers. This chasm in performance between groups students from different backgrounds is known as the achievement gap. In fact, some research suggests that summer learning loss, especially in the case of students from low income households, can make students already affected by the achievement gap less likely to finish high school or enter college.  


Students in the Mid-South are not immune to the Summer Slide, and Literacy Mid-South is attempting to mitigate its effects. We’ve developed a summer reading program in collaboration with a network of partners to measure the effectiveness of summer learning loss prevention efforts and hopefully curb the learning loss associated with summer vacation. Our partners include organizations that are already doing meaningful work in the community: Memphis Athletic Ministries, Streets Ministries, and Agape Child and Family Services, among others. We hope not only to mitigate summer reading loss, but also build a community of students and organizations dedicated to summer reading.

This summer we will be rolling out the Literacy Mid-South Summer Reading pilot program that will attack summer reading loss by providing students with rich, complex, and culturally competent books to work with over the summer vacation. Throughout the summer, we will focus on increasing oral language and vocabulary. Our hope is to serve 2000 students through the pilot program, and have around 3,800 students enrolled in the summer reading community. Additionally, every student that participates will receive three books free of charge.

The mission of Literacy Mid-South is to provide literacy resources to learners of all ages and backgrounds. Our summer reading program will work to make good on that mission by providing thousands of underserved children with the literacy support that they need to stay abreast of their peers when school resumes in August. The work that we’re doing now will lead to a stronger Mid-South in the long run.

Want to help us achieve our goal of a 100% literate Mid-South? Consider donating to Literacy Mid-South, or spread the word. And follow our blog for more updates.

The fifth annual Literatini, our book and martini focused event that is “straight up fun for a good cause”, is June 10th at 6pm! Click here to buy tickets.