Of all the things that school entails, few are as notorious as homework. Kids complain about it, parents nag about it and teachers spend valuable time evaluating it. Homework has been taken to a new level by the testing culture that pervades our educational system.
Teachers’ hands are tied; to blame them for homework issues is mostly misguided. While some educators assign more homework than others — whether due to their subject matter or personal philosophy — the extraordinary pressure of standardized testing all but requires homework to be assigned.
There aren’t enough hours in the school day to cover everything on the test, so teachers are often forced to move quickly through concepts and give homework to (theoretically) reinforce them.
There is a strong modern movement aimed at reducing or even eliminating homework. There are several popular books on the topic, including, “The Case Against Homework,” by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. Among the eye-opening information the book offers are assertions that homework contributes to the sedentary lifestyle resulting in high rates of childhood obesity and that most teachers are unaware of research about homework.
Most stunning of all: A) countries with the highest rates of academic achievement are ones that assign little to no homework. The United States falls around the middle in both the amount of homework assigned and achievement and B) regular family meals are the strongest predictor of academic achievement in kids under 12.
Some kids fall behind because they lack support at home and they’re often the kids who most need the reinforcement homework can provide. But they’re less likely to complete that homework because no one at home holds them accountable. If parents aren’t engaged and involved at the elementary level, there’s no way they’ll be present in high school.
Students cannot and will not rise to the occasion if parents and teachers do not have high expectations; used correctly, homework can be a part of those expectations. (Of course, it’s important to remember that some students do not complete their work in class and must take it home to finish.)
Research shows homework and achievement have no real, proven connection in elementary school; studies of high school students sometimes show a marginal correlation between homework and test scores, but too much homework is counterproductive.
Many experts believe that homework actually drives kids away from learning. There’s no doubt that homework cuts into family time and time for kids to enjoy other pursuits and simply be kids. After seven hours in the classroom, do they really need to spend even more time on school work? Recently, a neighbor shared that she loved to read until her teachers made it a chore — in her 6th grade class, students are required to read nightly and then write in a log about what they’ve read, in addition to taking tests on the material. Reading has been robbed of its joy because it’s no longer just reading.
Most of us had homework as schoolchildren and we survived. But the difference I see as a parent is in the sheer amount of work piled on modern students. When I was a kid, homework was almost unheard of until 4th or 5th grade. At that point we sometimes had a small amount, which gradually increased through the years.
By high school, we had assignments most nights, but it was rarely “busy work” — more commonly, reading and studying for tests. So much of kids’ homework now is definitely “busy work” — often in the form of worksheets. Are kids really learning anything by filling in worksheets?
Of course, homework can theoretically help kids learn responsibility, time management and organization skills. But in the younger years, it is parents who bear the majority of the responsibility for being sure homework is completed, which may or may not foster the child’s sense own sense of responsibility.
If students have not learned good study habits and skills by the time they reach high school or college, they will most assuredly fail or quit. The key is finding balance between tedious busy work and meaningful assignments. In situations where students have more than one teacher, maybe it’s possible for teachers to work cooperatively so kids don’t have homework in every subject every night.
And maybe kids need to put down the homework and sit down to dinner with the family. Spending two or three hours on homework each night is absolutely unnecessary at any age. Parents, teachers and administrators all need to work together to help reach a happy medium, where kids learn and reinforce material but do not spend all their “free” time on homework.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.