Does Homework Work?

By David Shenk
photo-2.jpgSchool's back, and so is Big Homework. Here's what my 7th grade daughter has to do tonight:

1 Math review sheet,
1 Science essay,
French vocab for possible quiz,
History reading and questionaire, and 
English reading and note-taking

About two hours, give or take. This is considered a pretty light load, so as to ramp up gently. Over the next few weeks, it will get up to three hours or more. 

Most of us give very little thought to this long-lived combination. School and homework seem as interconnected as cars and gasoline. Kids need homework to get smarter -- right? It's supposed to be how they pick up a good work ethic.

Only maybe it isn't. Maybe most homework is a giant waste of my daughter's time and a needless cause of family stress. 

Two 2006 books make that argument: Alfie Kohn's The Homework Myth, and Sara Bennett & Nancy Kalish's The Case Against Homework

Homework does not improve children's work habits, argues Kohn. It does not reinforce skills, and "isn't even correlated with, much less responsible for, higher achievement before high school." 

Bennett and Kalish write:

There's absolutely no proof that homework helps elementary school pupils learn more or have greater academic success. In fact...when children are asked to do too much nightly work, just the opposite has been found. And study after study shows that homework is not much more beneficial in middle school either. Even in high school, where there can be benefits, they start to decline as soon as kids are overloaded.

The new thinking is that, instead of piling on onerous, rote assignments, homework, kids ought to be encouraged to use their after school time to explore their own curiosities, read books of their own choice, to play, and to get adequate sleep. 

Kohn again: 

Most kids hate homework. They dread it, groan about it, put off doing it as long as possible. It may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.

Any parent reading this has high expectations for his or her child. We all want not what's easiest, but what's best. If that means a lot of homework, so be it. But it seems the time has come for all parents to revisit this subject with considerable skepticism.
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Some interesting links:

• 2003 NPR report, "Homework: How Much is Too Much?" 

• Sara Bennett's StopHomework.com
 
• Telegraph: "UK's biggest school to scrap homework"

• Letter from the principal of Grant Elementary School in Glenrock, Wyoming, explaining that her school is implementing a no homework practice

• "Project Student Autonomy: A Student's Guide to Taking Back Power in the Classroom" 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/09/does-homework-work/26545/