Homework has become a hot-button issue with defenders advocating its merits as skills and character builder while others decry it as a family burden and emotional stressor or concern themselves with children living in homes that are not conducive to learning.
One overriding stipulation for most is that assignments be reasonable, meaningful—not just busywork—and doable without parental intervention. Even that goes too far for some, though, who say even ten minutes worth, regardless of value, is too much—and such folks are both near and far.
Take for, example, Sherri and Tom Milley of Calgary. When their two-year-long attempt to change the homework policy at their children’s school failed, these two lawyers turned around and negotiated a one-of-a-kind contract called the Differentiated Homework Plan, which literally absolves their two youngest kids of homework at their current school. Really.
And look what’s happening in France. Last October, President Francois Hollande called for a ban on all homework for elementary and middle school students. In his view, it’s unfair that some children get assistance at home, while those from disadvantaged households do not. All this in the name of equality, much to the dismay of many.
Indeed, about that, The Arrow’s opinion editor, Kevin Ngo, had this to say: “…It’s a stupid idea; it would only take away from the purpose of school . . . Homework may not be enjoyable, but it is all too necessary for students. It teaches skills that are needed for success in college and life in general.”
Meanwhile, back here in the states comes word that, a while back, the Board of Education in New Jersey’s Galloway Township voted unanimously to ban written homework on weekends and holidays for those in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. Kids can still study for tests, read, and work on projects, though.
And then in June, 2011, the Los Angeles Unified School District decreed that homework can count for only 10% of a student’s grades—and that’s not much. Not everyone was on board, however, and that figure has now been revised to stand at 20%.
Not everyone is in agreement, however. Here's Chris Johnson’s take on homework as a teacher of AP English and history at L.A.’s Santee Education Complex: “If it takes till midnight, then you burn the midnight oil.”
Not so, says Alfie Kohn upon entering the fray. The author of 12 books on education and human behavior, including The Homework Myth, he has spent years poring over the research and talking with kids, along with parents and teachers. Kohn says, “For starters, there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied. Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.”
In a word, he says, “Homework is all pain and no gain.”
His is by no means the final word, however. Indeed, an extensive 2006 study by Duke University’s Harris Cooper found that “Students who had homework performed better on class tests compared to those who did not.” Moreover, of 35 studies that correlated homework and achievement—and did not take into any account student differences—77% found a positive link between time on homework and achievement.
In other words, no clear conclusion can be drawn, not even when looking at Finland and South Korea, the two highest scorers on the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Education Attainment. In fact, top-performing Finnish students enjoy short school days and few homework assignments, whereas Korean children experience “long school days, followed by tutoring sessions, and a focus on rote learning assignments.”
So what now? For the foreseeable future, homework is most assuredly here to stay, detractors notwithstanding, and the current gold standard is Dr. Cooper’s “10-Minute Rule,” so that not too much is assigned:
- Grades 1-3: 1 to 3 nights of homework, for no more than 15 minutes per night.
- Grades 4-6: 2 to 4 nights of homework, for about 15 to 45 minutes per night.
- Grades 7-9: 3 to 5 nights of homework, for about 45 to 75 minutes per night.
- Grades 10-12: 4 to 5 nights of homework, for about 75 to 120 minutes per night.
Meanwhile, according to both the Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association, most educators believe that 10 to 20 minutes a day of homework is sufficient for children in kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. For those in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, 30 to 60 minutes is adequate, and for older students, about 30 minutes of homework per subject is should be expected.
Bottom line: No consensus and no end in sight to the debate for the foreseeable future, but, as the Pennsylvania State Education Association reminds us, “The work your child brings home is as important to her as what you do at work . . .”
Oh, yes; now see that it gets done—carefully, completely, and independently.