The Homework Debate: The Case Against Homework

Featured Stories Updated January 7, 2016

Students, parents, and teachers all seem to hate it. Why, then, is homework an inescapable part of the student experience? Worksheets, busywork 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. Kohn 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 hate 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 article, 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 readingThe 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.

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