Sicily Annmarie Hegge
Elizabeth City, N.C.
As a second-year high-school teacher, I found your recent article on homework to be compatible with much of my own thinking and training on this subject. I tend to assign homework two to three times a week, usually 10 to 30 minutes a night. This was emphasized in my credential program and first-year training.
I would estimate that most sophomores I teach have about 60 to 90 minutes of homework every night if you combine my class (world history), math, English, etc. I always think intentionally about the homework I give, focusing on the purpose and value of each assignment. Your article summarized these debates well; many veteran teachers are certainly stuck in their ways when it comes to homework and curriculum in general. Homework is like any other learning tool; it works only when it is intentional, relevant, and engaging.
While your article succinctly summarizes the educational debate and history surrounding homework, it fails to fully explore the important socioeconomic and cultural differences that can lead to disparities in homework completion and sense of value. While you wrote about how white, middle-class families are often the loudest voices in education, I would have liked to see more about other types of families. Many of my students have jobs, take care of siblings, and/or participate in after-school activities. While some of these young people are high-achieving students with lots of support, others struggle to complete any homework given the physical, emotional, and mental demands they balance at school, work, and home. Still other students lack the support and “push” they need, choosing video games and YouTube over homework every night. These types of situations need to be addressed if we are to have a productive conversation about homework.
I often speak of the metaphorical “kitchen table”: that quiet, nondistracting place at home where kids can do schoolwork and maybe even get help from an educated adult. However, it also encompasses more than a mere physical space; it is having food on the table every night, access to books and the internet, and the presence of stable, loving adults. I was lucky to have that kitchen table, and it contributed to my success in countless ways. Many of my students simply do not have this space. Of course, the presence of the kitchen table is undoubtedly tied to race, class, immigration status, homeownership, mental and physical health, communal support, and a variety of other factors. But its presence or absence can forever alter a young person’s life.
Maybe the question is not “Does homework work?” but rather “Who does homework work for?”
Social Studies Department
John Henry High School
Homework in my school district is not graded. My mother finds that laughable—but I don’t laugh about how much homework I still do. I still study, because I’m scared of failure. It’s not enough to eliminate homework. Eliminating homework will do little to reassure the underlying anxiety of many students. Radical reform to testing, to how we admit kids to college, and to how we view failure and success is necessary. Eliminating homework—or similar policies, like not grading it—address the symptoms of a system that bases student worth on scores, not effort and character. Maybe it’s not a question of how much: It’s a question of what environment homework is in.