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Homework Under Fire


Just in time for the new school year, the great homework debate is boiling over again. Harris Cooper, a noted education researcher at Duke University, has co-authored a new study finding that elementary school students gain little from most homework assignments, and that excessive amounts of homework might even be bad for middle and high school students. In his new book, The Homework Myth, education gadfly Alfie Kohn is even more strident. He calls for the complete elimination of homework, which he blames for stress, family conflict, and slackened student motivation. Other education experts believe that the problem isn’t homework per se, but the types of assignments teachers give—or are forced to give—and a general lack of clarity about the purpose of homework. “What should homework be?” ponders Dororthy Rich, founder of the Home and School Institute. “In the biggest parameter, it ought to be help kids make better sense of the world. Too often, it doesn’t.”


I understand there is a dabate about the purpose of homework, but if a teacher does not assign some homework, the teacher will not get through the standards. How long would writing a paper or reading a story at the high school level take if it was all accomplished in class? Where would the meaningful discussion come in? Students need to have some homework unless we decide not to teach as much information to them.

I have never been a fan of homework, especially for younger students, except for math, where I believe that practicing skills learned in class has a definate benefit for retention and is necessary to help retain the processes. In that area I believe on all grades it is very useful. Homework causes a great deal of stress at home and prevents students from the relaxation they need after a 6 hour day of work at school. Our children are forgetting how to play and socialize and this is not a good thing. Assignments over the weekend might not be a terrible idea, but I believe that nightly homework assignments are worse than useless. I teach High School English, and except for reading, I do not give homework assignments.

I truly believe that any gain in reinforcement of material presented during the day is overwhelmingly outweighed by the cost to the emotional health of students and their families. As a parent as well as a teacher-in-training, I've seen from personal experience that homework tends to have a much greater negative than positive effect on everyone involved. Once upon a time when most moms were home during the day and could supervise homework sessions over milk and cookies right after school it might have made some sense, but life is not like that for the vast majority of families in today's world. Evenings spent slogging through hours of assignments (which seems to be the case for most junior and senior high school students) stresses and discourages students when it would be far better to find ways to nurture a love of learning in these precious years.

As the co-author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It, and the host of stophomework.com, I'm not a fan of homework, either. One of the things that surprised me the most when doing research, though, was how little teachers learn about homework in their teacher training and how few are exposed to the research behind homework. Unfortunately, there are a lot of beliefs about the value of homework, but if teachers had been given the opportunity to study homework, rather than be left to figure it out on their own, then perhaps homework would become less of a problem and our children would have the time to actually learn more.

As it is now, most children spend too much time on homework activities of little or no educational value. That homework takes away from their opportunities to play, socialize with friends and family, read for pleasure, find and pursue a passion--all activities which promote emotional, intellectual, physical, and social development.

Alfie Kohn hardly needs to be defended against silly pejoratives, but if you read the book, his "call" is for people to look critically at the research on homework, which does not support the widespread practice.

You can also talk to him directly about this issue at: The Pulse

I am an elementary teacher and since so few students come prepared to learn because of their social life and their video games I feel homework is often necessary to review skills (SKILLS) that need mastery. Our country is ridiculous. We think it is OK to send kids to war but not to spend time doing homework. What a joke!

Okay, our school has just issued a Fitness Guideline that says we can no longer keep students in from recess -- so if a student decides he/she is not doing the work in class when will they complete the assignment? When I have beginning readers, I don't send home their readers so they can practice one to one? When my son needs help to figure out what to do on an assignment, or he needs to correct his problems? i believe that some homework is good - last year in 2nd grade I asked that everyone read for 10 minutes and practice their addition and sub facts for 10 min. I think if it supports what is happening in the classroom and it's not graded, then that would be great.

Homework may cause discrimination against poor children and create unnecessary psychological and sociological issues. Also, tests that do not 'teach as they test' probably are detrimental. It is easier to design "Tests That Teach" instead of using the old dictator grilling method on students which is a more expensive, time-consuming, useless, jailhouse style. Besides, I've never seen research to show that the current method has ever been researched to prove that current testing styles produce effective results. Most often, I've observed that students remember only the letter grade and do not any remember useful data from these dictator style tests. Professor B.F. Skinner illustrated to me a "Test that Teaches" because it promotes "learning while being tested" instead of promoting mental defeat while being tested. The 'Teaching Tests'are set up like this: Give the data, ask the questions, give the data again, then ask the questions again...all within the same time frame of a couple of minutes and on the same page. Therefore at the moment of the student's desire for the knowledge, the answer is made available and thus remembered...and enjoyed without stress. Instead, our present day students are being given a headache, killer stress and then rewarded with only an alphabet letter of A, B, C, D or F or a percentage number. And, to boot, this 'reward' is given to them long after their desire for the particular information has waned. Being given just a letter from the alphabet, a percentage number or a cute note from the teacher doesn't hack it. The more logical reward is to give the knowledge a student desires at the moment the knowledge is wanted. All of the current tests being given are a waste of paper, money and time; they are useless unless those tests teach the knowledge desired at the peak point of interest of the student. If teachers taught with "Teaching Tests" then homework could be eliminated because students would be learning during the hours they sit in school. Perhaps, just perhaps, students and teachers wouldn't be wasting each others' time and we'd all have time to get healthy exercise and live longer and be happier. [email protected]

I don't think the issue should be about 'homework' per se. Rather, we should be questioning what the origins of homework were, whether it continues to make sense in today's educational context (of high-stakes testing), and how it is relevant to children's learning needs.

If we begin to make statements like: "if a teacher does not assign some homework, the teacher will not get through the standards," then perhaps we are not delving deep enough into the problems of why 'homework' is an issue at all. I.e., are the standards even relevant to the overall development of young people?

So, to reiterate, my understanding of the homework debate is situated in the larger context of debate on educational policy, school practices, and teacher-student-parent relationships. The issue of homework is merely symptomatic of issues related to the quality of learning in schools. Putting the issue of homework aside, is everything else that takes place in the DOE/schools/classrooms meaningful? Why or why not?

I am so glad this topic has been brought forward. I have been thinking about it for a long time (as well as the whole report card and grades issue. The reason I gave homework last year (besides the fact tht it was expected by the students, parents, and administrators)was that my students had so little background knowledge, being mostly immigrants. So my homework was usually a short science, historical, cultural reading passage or a short story,fairy tale or tall tale related to what we were studying in class. I asked them to read it aloud to an adult or older family member. This and 8 math problems was their homework. I am wondering now if this is wrong. Is it?

Amen to idea of less homework. I am both a middle school teacher and the parent of a fourth grader. While I see that homework is necessary for longer projects that older students do, I agree that homework should be limited in elementary school. My fourth grader regularly works for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in the evening on homework. I believe this is way too much. I like to read books aloud too him that are just above his reading level, but after this much homework, he is ready to do something more active.

From a parent's perspective, I can tell you that homework time for my 3rd grader is VERY stressful for both of us, and I think it is very counter-productive. For starters, I am a single mother and work full time; by the time I get home it is 6 pm. Immediately starts the race against time to get dinner ready, get homework done, and whatever else I need to accomplish. Lately I have been getting my son to bed between 10 and 11 pm, after a marathon of homework that cannot have been productive, considering the speed with which we have to go through it; sometimes my frustration with the timing leads to impatience, which puts more stress onto my child, when what he really needs is time to slowly digest the material. Unfortunately, there IS no time, and the homework HAS to be done, or else the teacher will be unhappy and he will have to "move his clip" (discipline). I think homework should serve to REINFORCE what has been LEARNED in the classroom, but increasingly I feel like I should set up a room in my house with a desk and a chalkboard and become his substitute teacher when I get home. Don't get me wrong; I'm ready, willing and capable of helping my child; but, at the end of it all, I have a frustrated, sleep-deprived child, who has not benefitted from whatever the homework is supposed to accomplish. It seems to me that more and more my child's education is dependent on how much time I can dedicate to "teaching" him at home, and quite frankly, it is becoming very frustrating. For example: yesterday my son brought home 4 pages of math notes and 6 pages of science and social studies notes. The top of the first page makes reference to the SOLs (Standards of Learning), and "Parents, please make sure your child studies the concepts below every day to help your child succeed". I'm looking at the material and wondering at what time of the day or night I'm expected to go over this additional material with him? I'm also wondering what happens with the children whose parents have the willingness, but not the time or the level of understanding to be able to help their child with this material? What if our children fail the SOLs, who is responsible if we are not able to dedicate this time at home? I believe most learning should happen in the classroom, where the child has access to the "expert" that is supposed to know the techniques to facilitate the learning process. If there isn't enough time for teachers to ensure the children have learned the material, then maybe the school day should be longer. Schools need to concentrate on what helps children learn for the long-term, and not just concentrate on cramming the SOLs into their brains so they can pass. As I see it, there's not a whole lot of learning happening in our learning institutions.

As the mother of an adopted child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and several other special needs I have had much difficulty in obtaining an IEP.

Even when my child spent all half of first grade and all of second grade in a Psych Children's Day Treatment center now in 3rd grade she is expected

1)To Read 20 mins every night including weekends.

2) Write a Full one page story and turn in a final copy over the course of one week.

3) Sort, and graph 8 categories, and label the graph, define unit measurements, and blah blah blah....
During the course of one week.

I am sorry, but my child cannot even write a one page DRAFT let alone get past the brainstorming stage.

I think all of this added work not only hurts her ability to have any self confidence but also MAKES me the person responsible for her educations... And Anyone who KNOWS anything about Reactive Attachment Disorder understands the LAST thing our family needs is another power struggle!

Sorry for venting but, I am simply beyond upset.

Many subjects... math, music, art, writing require practice outside of the classroom for improvement and development. Period. Either you practice or you dont' get good. If it's okay for your child not to be good at things, that's fine. Homework is just another work for additional practice.

"Either you practice or you don't get good." So how many hours a day do our kids need to practice to "achieve mastery"(get good)? As a high school educator and parent, I KNOW that my high school student is NOT learning what is required because he is so sleep-deprived he can't concentrate either at school or at home. If Eric Jensen is correct, that the brain needs time to synthesize what is being learned, when do our kids have that time? Maybe our kids are all ADHD and ADD because they are so tired they can't still long enough in class to learn. Homework is NOT necessary and is detrimental to the development of our children!

I am a fourth grade teacher and parent on leave to finish writing my dissertation about how standardization and statistical accountability is basically killing the soul of public schooling and I had to do something that broke my heart twice last week. The first thing was leave a meeting with my long term sub wherein she told me about the half dozen kids she has on our schoolwide discipline levels because of not completing homework...in the six years since I have been back in the classroom from a variety of support and administrative positions I have had ONE child on discipline levels because he stabbed someone with a pencil. But because she is there and I am not and I felt I couldn't undermine her I bit my tongue and let it stand. But I have to wonder, if homework is supposed to be about reinforcing, additional practice and assisting mastery why are we PUNISHING kids for not completing it. What would the normal consequence be when one doesn't follow through and then doesn't know the skills when the test comes or project is due?

The second thing that happened was that I held a focus group for my data collection with some teachers and they were talking about the huge pressure they are under to make the test scores go up and how much harder it gets every year because they have squeezed out as much as they can from the kids. And the conversation turned to parents and how the teachers felt like they couldn't get the scores up unless the parents did more with homework, especially, and reinforcing the standards and working with their kids at home and then one teacher, in tears, talked about how hard it was knowing that the superintendent is leaning on the principals and making their lives hell, and the principals are leaning on the teachers making their lives hell, and now the teachers are leaning on the parents and the kids making their lives hell; she used to like work, the kids, the parents, the community despite its poverty and struggles she saw good, honest hard-working people trying to do the right thing as best they could and now it pained her to admit that all she saw most of the time were people who were obstacles to getting higher scores and because they were poor, working too many jobs, undereducated and struggling, they were the ones keeping her and her colleagues under the gun and criticized for not doing their jobs despite how hard they tried and how much they gave of themselves. I looked around the table and everyone (male and female; veteran and new teacher) had tears in their eyes and was slowing nodding in agreement.

How does any of this make sense and serve our principles and purposes as educators?

I am a college professor, and my concern is that if high school students don't have homework, their study habits will be nonexistent--which will mean certain failure or extreme stress when they hit college, where three hours of work outside class is the norm for every hour in class. While I completely understand all the arguments against homework (I am a single mom raising five of my own kids), the idea of NO homework is counterproductive for kids headed to college.


If homework is so great then somebody explain to me why I forget 90% of what I learned in Honors Pre-Calculus after just 2 months of completion? Also, explain why I easily passed the AP exam for AP European History 1 year after taking the class, which barely had homework and emphasized on a positive learning environment, interaction, and fun. I'll give you a hint: I despised every moment of doing the Pre-Calc homework. Even though I did well, I hated it, and it caused me so much stress that I constantly unleashed on friends and family, enough to surprise myself. My social time and my free time evaporated, so it was basically wake up, school school school lunch school, come home, exercise, eat, homework homework homework, eat, homework, done with homework, and oh look, it's 10:30 pm, the optimal time to be ready to hang out with friends, wouldn't you say?

Feel free to send me an email and explain how exactly 4 hours of homework do me good - [email protected]

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Recent Comments

  • andrey: If homework is so great then somebody explain to me read more
  • hoshismom: A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE I am a college professor, and my read more
  • cindermommy: I am a fourth grade teacher and parent on leave read more
  • c: "Either you practice or you don't get good." So how read more




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