Q: I’ve heard a lot of talk about schools doing away with homework altogether. What are your thoughts?
The crusade against homework is mainly coming from two quarters: 1) Educators who are under pressure to pass lazy students and see homework as an impediment. 2) Parents who lack the will to make their children do it.
The most common argument for elimination is that there’s no research to support that it helps student learning. This is utterly false. The most substantial examination of homework was spearheaded by Dr. Harris Cooper of Duke University and published in the Review of Educational Research. He analyzed multiple studies and determined that they broadly showed “consistent evidence for a positive influence of homework on achievement.”
The study showcased homework’s potential benefits. It showed that homework has positive effects on parents and families. For students, the benefits include increased understanding, better critical thinking, improved attitudes toward school, greater self-direction, greater self-discipline, better time organization, and more inquisitiveness.
Those skills are not to be sniffed at. In March, a New York Times article noted a rise in students having to drop out of college because it’s “too much work, and they had never learned independent study skills.” But maybe some people think college should end its homework demands, too.
This isn’t to say that homework couldn’t use a fresh approach. The National PTA calls for “meaningful homework that will advance a spirit of learning with a focus on quality assignments to motivate students based on grade and ability.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why homework should be: 1) Independent. Many kids don’t have parents who can help them. 2) Age appropriate. 3) Done without the aid of computers or tablets. Kids get too much screen time as it is. 4) Completable in a reasonable amount of time.
On this last point, Dr. Cooper propounds the “ten minute rule” (10 minutes of homework for each grade level, so 20 minutes for second graders, 90 minutes for ninth graders, etc.). Under this sensible approach, a student would have about 91 full days of homework over his 12 years of schooling. Contrasted to 2,011 days of free time over the same span, 91 days is a pittance.
Yet that 91 days, if spread out, is roughly 1.5 years of school time. In other words, eliminating homework is like obliterating an extra year and a half of a child’s education. And much of it is essential. Are children just going to read books in class now? Do you think you could learn a foreign language or the reasons for World War II without reinforcing what is taught by the teacher? How comfortable will you feel if you go to your young doctor and she tells you she never did any homework in her life?
Still, some parents protest that homework eats away at their children’s time to play and frolic and gambol. But it seems reasonable to attribute some of this lost time to parental decisions, like enrolling their kids in soccer, lacrosse, dance, acting, and every other extracurricular activity they can find. You can’t blame it all on homework. Even estimating an early bedtime, students have about 6 hours of freedom when they get home. Kids should easily be able to spend a few minutes on their educations and still have plenty of time to play. I did. Didn’t you?
Well, you might not if you lived in today’s childhood. According to Common Sense Media, kids spend about 7.5 hours every day interacting with screens, not even counting school and homework. So if parents are seriously looking for more play time, a better choice would be to take away kids’ phones and tablets, which government research has established can damage their cerebral cortexes, reduce cognitive ability, and obstruct reading comprehension. Non-computerized homework does the opposite.
Parents who are anti-homework tend to have one core complaint: they don’t like it. It may be the gamboling issue or that they don’t like fighting their kids to get them to do it or that they think it sucks their children’s happiness for an hour, but the bottom line isn’t that these parents think homework doesn’t help learning, it’s that it doesn’t help them.
We must remind ourselves that our children aren’t pets. They don’t exist to make us feel fuzzy and warm like a Publix commercial. They’re human beings, and when you take on the obligation of raising one, you have to do more than just make dinner and frolic. Among a thousand other things, you have to sufficiently prepare them for a life of hard work and responsibility.
Sending them into the world with a sloppy, substandard education is a curious way of performing that duty.