My kids returned to school just last week. I expect that this week, the homework will begin. I'm dreading it. Between our two kids' extracurricular activities and our professions, my husband and I seriously struggle to do anything else with our kids BUT homework. So as I unanxiously wait for the homework to start rolling in, I thought I'd take a closer look at what homework is, why it's necessary (or not), and how effective it is. What I found? Homework debate: pros, cons,...and I still don't like it!
Homework Debate: Cons
I thought this was an interesting way to start. This statement is from an Education.com article "The Homework Debate":
'“Homework is all pain and no gain,” says author Alfie Kohn. In his book The Homework Myth, Kohn points out that no study has ever found a correlation between homework and academic achievement in elementary school, and there is little reason to believe that homework is necessary in high school. In fact, it may even diminish interest in learning, says Kohn.'
I also found this statement by Nancy Kalish, author of "The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It" in Jay Mattews' column in the Washington Post was also very provoking:
"Another disturbing fact...is how little training teachers get when it comes to homework. Only one teacher in hundreds that we surveyed said she had ever taken a class specifically on homework. If you look into this, as we did, you'll find that most teacher training programs, even at top universities such as Harvard, don't include such courses."
The realm of education seems to be one that is concerned with making sure that teachers are constantly learning about new theories and techniques. So, the fact that so few educators are taught about homework really surprised me.
I read many, many articles and statements about how homework exhausts kids and has little educational value. Over and over again I came across these arguments.
Homework Debate: Pros
Okay, so where is the argument in favor of homework? Honestly, I struggled to find it. Really struggled. But this is the gist of what I found...
Homework keeps kids from watching too much TV.
Homework increases school performance on standardized testing.
Jay Matthews, in another Washington Post article, "The Weak Case Against Homework" argues that he remembers "what class was like on days when I had not done my homework. I remember what it was like on days when I had. The latter was a much more engaging and useful educational experience than the former."
That was seriously underwhelming. So...
I still don't like it
I was very disappointed in what I found as I read more and more about the topic of homework. I was hoping to find some inspiration or enthusiasm for homework. But I still don't like it. And, I do have some frame of reference, after all I was a student for many years myself. Granted, I can honestly say that not all homework is bad. But there is a lot of it, period. And a lot of it that in my opinion is frustrating for parents, and most importantly frustrating for students.
What would I like to see? Meaningful homework. I'm guessing that most teachers already feel that their homework is meaningful. But according to what I've read, we really don't know as teachers aren't necessarily taught about homework and what is effective and what isn't.
Homework that doesn't intimidate my kids or me. If my kids get homework, I want it to be something that they can reasonably achieve on their own and be successful. I want to see quality homework rather than quantity. My dream would be for teachers to work together so they could get a picture of what a kid's homework would look like when all their assignments are put together.
I know, I know...but it's my dream.
I'm looking forward to some comments that will help show people like me the value and need for homework. Help me!
Homework. It’s a word that sends a shudder down the spine of students and parents alike.
It is also a question that has become divisive. Some people feel that homework is an effective way to reinforce the concepts that were learned at school. Others feel like the time that homework demands would be better spent with a meaningful activity that brings the family together.
Is homework important? Is it necessary? Or is the added stress that homework places on students and parents doing more harm than good? Here are some of the key pros and cons to discuss.
List of the Pros of Homework
1. It encourages the discipline of practice.
Repeating the same problems over and over can be boring and difficult, but it also reinforces the practice of discipline. To get better at a skill, repetition is often necessary. You get better with each repetition. By having homework completed every night, especially with a difficult subject, the concepts become easier to understand. That gives the student an advantage later on in life when seeking a vocational career.
2. It gets parents involved with a child’s life.
Looking at Common Core math can be somewhat bewildering to parents. If you see the math problem 5×3 expressed as an addition problem, 5+5+5 seems like the right answer. The correct answer, however, would be 3+3+3+3+3. By bringing homework to do, students can engage their learning process with their parents so everyone can be involved. Many parents actually want homework sent so they can see what their children are being taught in the classroom.
3. It teaches time management skills.
Homework goes beyond completing a task. It forces children (and parents, to some extent) to develop time management skills. Schedules must be organized to ensure that all tasks can be completed during the day. This creates independent thinking and develops problem-solving skills. It encourages research skills. It also puts parents and children into a position where positive decision-making skills must be developed.
4. Homework creates a communication network.
Teachers rarely see into the family lives of their students. Parents rarely see the classroom lives of their children. Homework is a bridge that opens lines of communication between the school, the teacher, and the parent. This allows everyone to get to know one another better. It helps teachers understand the needs of their students better.
It allows parents to find out their child’s strengths and weaknesses. Together, an educational plan can be developed that encourages the best possible learning environment.
5. It allows for a comfortable place to study.
Classrooms have evolved over the years to be a warmer and welcoming environment, but there is nothing like the comfort that is felt at home or in a safe space. By encouraging studies where a child feels the most comfortable, it is possible to retain additional information that may get lost within the standard classroom environment.
6. It provides more time to complete the learning process.
The time allotted for each area of study in school, especially in K-12, is often limited to 1 hour or less per day. That is not always enough time for students to be able to grasp core concepts of that material. By creating specific homework assignments which address these deficiencies, it becomes possible to counter the effects of the time shortages. That can benefit students greatly over time.
7. It reduces screen time.
On the average school night, a student in the US might get 3-4 hours of screen time in per day. When that student isn’t in school, that figure doubles to 7-8 hours of screen time. Homework might be unwanted and disliked, but it does encourage better study habits. It discourages time being spent in front of the television or playing games on a mobile device. That, in turn, may discourage distracting habits from forming that can take away from the learning process in the future.
8. It can be treated like any other extracurricular activity.
Some families over-extend themselves on extracurricular activities. Students can easily have more than 40 hours per week, from clubs to sports, that fall outside of regular school hours. Homework can be treated as one of these activities, fitting into the schedule where there is extra time. As an added benefit, some homework can even be completed on the way to or from some activities.
List of the Cons of Homework
1. Children benefit from playing.
Being in a classroom can be a good thing, but so ca being on a playground. With too much homework, a child doesn’t have enough time to play and that can impact their learning and social development. Low levels of play are associated with lower academic achievement levels, lower safety awareness, less character development, and lower overall health.
2. It encourages a sedentary lifestyle.
Long homework assignments require long periods of sitting. A sedentary lifestyle has numerous direct associations with premature death as children age into adults. Obesity levels are already at or near record highs in many communities. Homework may reinforce certain skills and encourage knowledge retention, but it may come at a high price.
3. Not every home is a beneficial environment.
There are some homes that are highly invested into their children. Parents may be involved in every stage of homework or there may be access to tutors that can explain difficult concepts. In other homes, there may be little or no education investment into the child. Some parents push the responsibility of teaching off on the teacher and provide no homework support at all.
Sometimes parents may wish to be involved and support their child, but there are barriers in place that prevent this from happening. The bottom line is this: no every home life is equal.
4. School is already a full-time job for kids.
An elementary school day might start at 9:00am and end at 3:20pm. That’s more than 6 hours of work that kids as young as 5 are putting into their education every day. Add in the extra-curricular activities that schools encourage, such as sports, musicals, and after-school programming and a student can easily reach 8 hours of education in the average day. Then add homework on top of that? It is asking a lot for any child, but especially young children, to complete extra homework.
5. There is no evidence that homework creates improvements.
Survey after survey has found that the only thing that homework does is create a negative attitude toward schooling and education in general. Homework is not associated with a higher level of academic achievement on a national scale. It may help some students who struggle with certain subjects, if they have access to a knowledgeable tutor or parent, but on a community level, there is no evidence that shows improvements are gained.
6. It discourages creative endeavors.
If a student is spending 1 hour each day on homework, that’s an hour they are not spending pursuing something that is important to them. Students might like to play video games or watch TV, but homework takes time away from learning an instrument, painting, or developing photography skills as well. Although some homework can involve creative skills, that usually isn’t the case.
7. Homework is difficult to enforce.
Some students just don’t care about homework. They can achieve adequate grades without doing it, so they choose not to do it. There is no level of motivation that a parent or teacher can create that inspires some students to get involved with homework. There is no denying the fact that homework requires a certain amount of effort. Sometimes a child just doesn’t want to put in that effort.
8. Extra time in school does not equate to better grades.
Students in the US spend more than 100 hours of extra time in school already compared to high-performing countries around the world, but that has not closed the educational gap between those countries and the United States. In some educational areas, the US is even falling in global rankings despite the extra time that students are spending in school. When it comes to homework or any other form of learning, quality is much more important than quantity.
9. Accurate practice may not be possible.
If homework is assigned, there is a reliance on the student, their parents, or their guardians to locate resources that can help them understand the content. Homework is often about practice, but if the core concepts of that information are not understood or inaccurately understood, then the results are the opposite of what is intended. If inaccurate practice is performed, it becomes necessary for the teacher to first correct the issue and then reteach it, which prolongs the learning process.
10. It may encourage cheating on multiple levels.
Some students may decide that cheating in the classroom to avoid taking homework home is a compromise they’re willing to make. With internet resources, finding the answers to homework instead of figuring out the answers on one’s own is a constant temptation as well. For families with multiple children, they may decide to copy off one another to minimize the time investment.
11. Too much homework is often assigned to students.
There is a general agreement that students should be assigned no more than 10 minutes of homework per day, per grade level. That means a first grader should not be assigned more than 10 minutes of homework per night. Yet for the average first grader in US public schools, they come home with 20 minutes of homework and then are asked to complete 20 minutes of reading on top of that. That means some students are completing 4x more homework than recommended every night.
At the same time, the amount of time children spent playing outdoors has decreased by 40% over the past 30 years.
For high school students, it is even worse at high performing schools in the US where 90% of graduates go onto college, the average amount of homework assigned per night was 3 hours per student.
12. Homework is often geared toward benchmarks.
Homework is often assigned to improve test scores. Although this can provide positive outcomes, including better study skills or habits, the fact is that when children are tired, they do not absorb much information. When children have more homework than recommended, test scores actually go down. Stress levels go up. Burnout on the curriculum occurs.
The results for many students, according to research from Ruben Fernandez-Alonso in the Journal of Educational Psychology, is a decrease in grades instead of an increase.
The pros and cons of homework are admittedly all over the map. Many parents and teachers follow their personal perspectives and create learning environments around them. When parents and teachers clash on homework, the student is often left in the middle of that tug of war. By discussing these key points, each side can work to find some common ground so our children can benefit for a clear, precise message.
Quantity may be important, but quality must be the priority for homework if a student is going to be successful.