The Homework Debate: The Case Against HomeworkBy 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
Homework may be the greatest extinguisher of curiosity ever invented
- Alfie Kohen, author of The Homework Myth
Sweeping our country is a new trend, which I love: No homework! Many parents are singing the praises of these policies, which remove the nightly nagging of “Have you done your homework?” Plus it frees up time where parents can genuinely connect with their child whether over dinner, or gardening in the backyard without the stress of impending schoolwork. Of course, the no homework program isn’t for every principal although I really think in early elementary school there’s no downside and research even reveals that, too!
In 2006, Harris Cooper shared his meta-analytic study, which found homework in elementary school (K-5th grade) does not contribute to academic achievement. Said differently: Homework has become just busy work in the United States, and children aren’t learning anything additional from it. And let’s be honest, at one point a child’s homework becomes a parents homework and even I’m regularly guilty of pulling my calculator out to double check my child’s work. But Cooper’s study isn’t black and white: There were modest gains for middle and high school students, so it looks like the developmental window of early childhood is the place where homework isn’t necessarily beneficial.
Recently, Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of Marion County in FL, which has 42,000 students made national news because she not only is banning homework, but is replacing it with 20 minutes of reading per night. Studies clearly show that young students gain from reading nightly, being read to and picking books of interest to them. Mark Trifilio, principal of the Orchard School in VT, eliminated HW last year and suggested replacing it with nightly reading, playing outdoors or even eating with your family. He reports students haven’t fallen behind, but now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions” (The Washington Post, Feb 26, 2017).
The subtext of a “no homework” policy in elementary schools is saying: We trust our teachers, we trust the curriculum, and we trust our students to pay attention as well as learn during the day. No homework for kindergarten through fifth grade doesn’t erase learning, but helps students tolerate an often long day better and encourages them to pursue their unique interests after-school from reading and writing to taking photographs. Abbey, age nine, is one of my child client’s without homework and she’s created a website to share her “nature photos through her eyes.”
Western societies often think “more is better” but when it comes to homework the exact opposite may be true for young and perhaps even older children. A study conducted at Stanford University in 2013 showed the amped up stress and physical ailments high school students face especially when spending too much time on their homework. So perhaps a “no homework” policy early-on can position students to find balance in their lives, which can serve them later on. I especially love replacing homework with reading because I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of reading with a child, and how books open a child’s mind to new worlds whether it’s Hogwarts or the Ice Age. And after all isn’t the point of childhood to have fun and learn in a multitude of ways?
By Maureen Healy
Maureen Healy writes and speaks widely on the subjects of children’s emotional health, education and parenting. She also continues to work directly with children and their parents globally. To learn more about her books, sessions or programs: www.growinghappykids.com or @mdhealy
The Washington Post – July 17, 2017
Why this superintendent is banning homework – and asking kids to read
The Washington Post - February 26, 2017
What happened when one school banned homework – and asked kids to read and play instead
Healthline – April 11, 2017
Is too much homework bad for kids’ health?
CBS News – Sept 26, 2016
Growing number of elementary schools now homework free
The Battle Over Homework by Harris Cooper (2007)