The Homework Debate

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I think back to my elementary school experience in the 60s (yikes!), I recall several homework assignments. I don’t remember any everyday assignments, but I do remember the larger projects that took several days or weeks to complete. My favorite project revolved around the solar system (pun intended). I was in fifth grade in Mrs. Wall’s class and had to write a report and draw pictures on each of the (then) nine planets. It took me a good day’s worth of time to complete each planet and was very labor intensive. The end result was a bound “report” consisting of about 20 pages – all handwritten and hand-drawn.

Homework has evolved over the years. Now, instead of just the project-based homework, teachers are usually assigning daily homework to students as a matter of routine. Most of it is worksheet based and involves a practice of skills previously taught in the classroom. In addition to the various worksheets or assigned book pages, students are usually expected to independently read for a certain period of time. Many schools follow the “ten minutes per grade level” formula that is based on the “average” student. So, an average fourth grader would receive 40 minutes of work.

Some kids have a very negative reaction to homework.One of the problems with the ten minutes per grade level system is that many teachers want to appear to be much more rigorous than the “average.” So, they assign more thinking that if ten minutes per grade level is good, then doubling it must be better. And if a student struggles, it could rise to 30 or 40 minutes per grade level. I have seen some fourth and fifth graders straining through two or three hours of daily homework. Many of these kids develop anxiety and a hatred toward school.

Should young students do homework? That is the latest constroversy surrounding our educational system.Recently, the practice of assigning daily homework has come under scrutiny. Does the cost of time and effort – both for the student and teacher – have a corresponding worthwhile benefit? The answer seems to be – it depends. Some of the most comprehensive research on the benefits of homework comes from Harris M. Cooper who has a PhD in Social Psychology and is a professor of psychology and neurosciences at Duke University. He reviewed dozens of homework studies and the research indicated that homework provides little to no benefit for elementary students, some benefit to middle schoolers, and significant benefit to high school students. (Link to the PDF research article). Cooper also wrote a book in 2006 titled The Battle Over Homework which provides an easy to read summary of his research and feelings about homework. Although Cooper’s research indicates a rather poor correlation between elementary homework time and achievement, he still generally supports the notion of 10 minutes of homework per grade level to build a habit and foundation that can lead to more beneficial homework in middle and high school.

The Battle Over Homework

But there is now a movement sweeping across the country that seeks to reign-in what is viewed as “abusive” educational practices. Most of these abuses deal with homework and testing. Many parents – who are already struggling to find time for all of the activities of modern life – are now demanding that homework be either greatly reduced or eliminated altogether until high school. And with the backing of current research, they very well may have a valid case. Of course, whether cutting back on homework is helpful or not depends greatly upon which activities would replace the homework. If children spend more time engaging in beneficial activities such as socializing, exercising, or spending time with family, maybe that would be a good trade off.

What are your observations and feeling regarding homework?

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