During the course of our lives, it’s not uncommon to discover that some of our views, tastes and preferences evolve over time as we gain experience. However, one thing has remained a constant throughout my life: I hate homework. I hated it as a student, I hate it as a college educator and I hate it as a parent of two school-age children. To be fair, my animus is not directed at all homework, just bad homework.
During the course of our lives, it’s not uncommon to discover that some of our views, tastes and preferences evolve over time as we gain experience.
However, one thing has remained a constant throughout my life: I hate homework. I hated it as a student, I hate it as a college educator and I hate it as a parent of two school-age children.
To be fair, my animus is not directed at all homework, just bad homework. The selective reintroduction of concepts and material over time is a proven way to ensure retention, and concise, well-designed homework assignments can be an appropriate means by which to accomplish this objective. The problem is that in many schools, the effective and strategic use of homework is the exception, not the rule.
Does completing a word search really help improve spelling or vocabulary? Can you instill a love of books by forcing a child to read and log the number of pages completed every day? Does coloring posters, cutting out certain words from magazines or building shoebox dioramas really increase subject matter comprehension?
Perhaps a better question is whether homework serves any real purpose at all. Professor and education researcher Harris Cooper found that for younger children (from about kindergarten through second grade), the correlation between the amount of time spent on homework and student achievement was essentially zero.
Other studies suggest that due to their relative lack of cognitive development, homework provides no measurable benefit for students until high school, yet the amount of homework assigned to children between the ages of 6 and 9 has more than doubled since 1981.
There is a modest association between homework and higher grades for older students, but the effect is only related to the amount of homework completed, not homework assigned. Further, while the impact on grades for older students is demonstrable, test scores remain unaffected.
These findings can be attributed to the fact that many teachers base their grades in part on whether students did their homework, regardless of whether it was beneficial to the learning process.
Even in the limited circumstances in which homework is found to be beneficial, the effect is only evident when the amount of homework is not excessive. To avoid overloading students, Cooper endorses the “10 minute rule” — 10 minutes of homework for each grade a student attains.
For example, a fourth-grader would be assigned 40 minutes of homework per night, while a senior in high school would get two hours.
Despite the lack of evidence regarding its efficacy, more homework is assigned today than ever before. Why?
The underwhelming performance of American students on international proficiency tests is well documented. With tight budgets and few options, many school administrators have responded by creating at least the appearance of improvement by increasing the volume of homework assigned.
Many parents undoubtedly assume that since their children are busier than ever, they must be learning something.
Ironically, students from countries like Japan, Finland, Denmark and the Czech Republic are assigned relatively less homework and still outperform American students in standardized tests, an indication that homework alone is not the key to achieving proficiency.
It appears that much of the homework assigned to our children fails to accomplish its intended purpose and often amounts to little more than busywork. Rather than engaging them with subjects to be mastered, children are given a multitude of tasks to complete.
The recent surge in homework has impacted parents as well. Studies have found reports of increased stress between parents and their children due to the pressure associated with the completion of homework assignments.
Many parents have even resorted to doing their children’s homework for them. It isn’t surprising that research has found that students whose parents were excessively involved in their homework performed worse than students whose parents were less involved.
Some schools are cognizant of the negative aspects of homework and have begun experimenting with a tactic known as “flipping.” Rather than review lessons in class and work on their own at night, students watch video lessons prepared by their teachers online at home or in the school library, while class time is dedicated to the completion of homework under the supervision of their instructor.
Students can access the lessons as needed, and once the teachers establish a library of completed videos, they can focus more of their time on working with students. Early results have been promising.
Regardless of its effectiveness, homework is so entrenched in the American educational system that it’s not likely to disappear. However, until the current educational paradigm is changed, homework must be improved; that means assigning a reasonable amount of quality homework to older children for an identifiable purpose.
Given the challenges facing our nation, we should begin training the next generation to think and solve problems instead of teaching them to shuffle papers and pretend that they’re accomplishing something.
Read more from Matthew Casey at matthewcasey.net.