Special Topic The Case For And Against Homework Articles

When kids are younger, homework is rarely an issue—a worksheet or two, spelling lists, 20 minutes of reading. In other words, nothing too taxing. But along the way, things change. Hello, multiple assignments nightly—research reports, special projects and more. Some parents don't mind when teachers pile it on, figuring, Plenty of homework must mean my kid is really learning something, right? After all, the news media regularly inform us that American kids lag pitifully behind their global peers, so extra learning opportunities are an appealing prospect. But other moms and dads see the intrusiveness, reasoning that seven hours in the classroom should suffice academically, leaving evenings and weekends free for sports, hobbies, family time—anything besides frustration, exhaustion and near-constant arguments about getting the work done. Yet seemingly few of these furious parents challenge the status quo.

According to education expert Alfie Kohn, they should. "I spend most of my time writing and speaking about issues where it appears that solid logic and evidence point in one direction, but widespread practice heads the other way," says Kohn. "I got a whiff of such a discrepancy and devoted about one page in my book The Schools Our Children Deserve to the question of homework. A few years later, after more evidence had accumulated that showed no benefit to it, I decided the topic deserved a book of its own." The Homework Myth (Da Capo Press), first published in 2006, challenges conventional wisdom in making its case against after-hours assignments. Read Kohn's take below, then join the conversation at familycircle.com/homework.

—The editors

The Case Against Homework

By Alfie Kohn

After spending all day in school, our children are forced to begin a second shift, with more academic assignments to be completed at home. This arrangement is rather odd when you stop to think about it, as is the fact that few of us ever do stop to think about it.

Instead of assuming that homework should be a given, or that it allegedly benefits children, I've spent the last few years reviewing the available research and talking to parents, teachers and students. My findings can be summarized in seven words: Homework is all pain and no gain.

The pain is obvious to kids but isn't always taken seriously by adults. Backpacks stuffed with assignments leave students exhausted, frustrated, less interested in intellectual pursuits and lacking time to do things they enjoy. "Most of what homework is doing," says literacy expert Harvey Daniels, "is driving kids away from learning."

We parents, meanwhile, turn into nags. After being away from our children all day, the first words out of our mouths, sadly, may be: "So, did you finish your homework?" One mother told me it permanently damaged her relationship with her son because it forced her to be an enforcer rather than a mom.

The surprising news, though, is that there are virtually no pros to balance the cons. Even if you regard grades or test scores as good measures of learning, which I do not, doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school. In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores, but it's usually fairly small. And in any case, it's far from clear that the former causes the latter. And if you're wondering, not a single study has ever supported the folk wisdom that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility or independence.

Some teachers know all this but feel compelled to keep assigning homework for tradition's sake, or because of pressure from administrators or, ironically, parents. Adults also may assume that kids will waste their time (read: do things grown-ups don't regard as sufficiently constructive) unless they're made to do schoolwork at home.

Still others believe—incorrectly—that more time spent on a task produces better results, or that because practice is required to be a good athlete or musician, it's also at the heart of intellectual growth. It isn't. You can't "reinforce" understanding the way you can reinforce a behavior. In my experience, people with the least sophisticated understanding of how children learn, or the least amount of concern about children's attitudes toward learning, tend to be the most enthusiastic supporters of homework.

We might forgive the infringement on family time if homework were assigned only when there was good reason to think that this particular task would benefit these particular students, that it will help them think more deeply about questions that matter and create more excitement about learning (and that it can't be done at school). But what educators are more likely to say is, in effect, "Your children will have to do something every night. Later on we'll figure out what to make them do." If there's a persuasive defense of that approach, I've never heard it.

Not only should there be much less homework assigned, there ought to be none at all of the worst types, such as filling out worksheets or cramming forgettable facts into short-term memory. I believe "no homework" should be the default arrangement. In other words, weeknight (let alone weekend or vacation) assignments should have to be justified on a case-by-case basis. Because most homework can't be justified, some teachers, and even some whole schools, have stopped assigning it altogether, with fabulous results.

We parents need to reach out to others in our communities to debunk uninformed assumptions ("homework is academically beneficial"), to challenge silly claims ("homework is needed to provide a link between school and family"), and to help restore sanity and joy to our children's lives. We should respectfully but pointedly inform educators that the status quo isn't supported by good research or basic values, and those values include a commitment to let kids be kids and provide them with time to grow socially, physically, emotionally and artistically—not just academically.

What topics would you most want to SPEAK UP about? Send ideas to speakup@familycircle.com.

Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.

For Teachers Updated December 7, 2017

The Homework Debate: The Case Against Homework

By Monica Fuglei November 14, 2013

This post has been updated for accuracy and relevance as of December 2017.

It’s not uncommon to hear students, parents, and even some teachers always complaining about homework. Why, then, is homework an inescapable part of the student experience? Worksheets, busy work, and reading assignments continue to be a mainstay of students’ evenings.

Whether from habit or comparison with out-of-class work time in other nations, our students are getting homework and, according to some of them, a LOT of it. Educators and policy makers must ask themselves—does assigning homework pay off?

Is there evidence that homework benefits students younger than high school?

The Scholastic article Is Homework Bad? references Alfie Kohn’s book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, in which he says, “There is no evidence to demonstrate that homework benefits students below high school age.”

The article goes on to note that those who oppose homework focus on the drawbacks of significant time spent on homework, identifying one major negative as homework’s intrusion into family time. They also point out that opponents believe schools have decided homework is necessary and thus assign it simply to assign some kind of homework, not because doing the work meets specifically-identified student needs.

“Busy work” does not help students learn

Students and parents appear to carry similar critiques of homework, specifically regarding assignments identified as busy work—long sheets of repetitive math problems, word searches, or reading logs seemingly designed to make children dislike books.

When asked how homework can negatively affect children, Nancy Kalish, author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It, says that many homework assignments are “simply busy work” that makes learning “a chore rather than a positive, constructive experience.”

Commenters on the piece, both parents and students, tended to agree. One student shared that on occasion they spent more time on homework than at school, while another commenter pointed out that, “We don’t give slow-working children a longer school day, but we consistently give them a longer homework day.”

Without feedback, homework is ineffective

The efficacy of the homework identified by Kalish has been studied by policy researchers as well. Gerald LeTendre, of Penn State’s Education Policy Studies department points out that the shotgun approach to homework, when students all receive the same photocopied assignment which is then checked as complete rather than discussed individually with the student, is “not very effective.”  He goes on to say that, “If there’s no feedback and no monitoring, the homework is probably not effective.”

Researchers from the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia had similar findings in their study, “When Is Homework Worth The Time?” According to UVAToday, these researchers reported no “substantive difference” in the grades of students related to homework completion.

As researcher Adam Maltese noted, “Our results hint that maybe homework is not being used as well as it could be.” The report further suggested that while not all homework is bad, the type and quality of assignments and their differentiation to specific learners appears to be an important point of future research.

If homework is assigned, it should heighten understanding of the subject

The Curry School of Education report did find a positive association between standardized test performance and time spent on homework, but standardized test performance shouldn’t be the end goal of assignments—a heightened understanding and capability with the content material should.

As such, it is important that if/when teachers assign homework assignments, it is done thoughtfully and carefully—and respectful of the maximum times suggested by the National Education Association, about 10 minutes per night starting in the first grade, with an additional 10 minutes per year after.

Continue reading — The Homework Debate: How Homework Benefits Students

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

Learn More: Click to view related resources. Tags: Leadership and Administration, Pros and Cons, Teacher-Parent Relationships

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