The Homework Debate
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Every school day brings something new, but there is one status quo most parents expect: homework. The old adage that practice makes perfect seems to make sense when it comes to schoolwork. But, while hunkering down after dinner among books and worksheets might seem like a natural part of childhood, there's more research now than ever suggesting that it shouldn't be so.
Many in the education field today are looking for evidence to support the case for homework, but are coming up empty-handed. “Homework is all pain and no gain,” says author Alfie Kohn. In his book The Homework Myth, Kohn points out that no study has ever found a correlation between homework and academic achievement in elementary school, and there is little reason to believe that homework is necessary in high school. In fact, it may even diminish interest in learning, says Kohn.
If you've ever had a late night argument with your child about completing homework, you probably know first-hand that homework can be a strain on families. In an effort to reduce that stress, a growing number of schools are banning homework.
Mary Jane Cera is the academic administrator for the Kino School, a private, nonprofit K-12 school in Tucson, Arizona, which maintains a no-homework policy across all grades. The purpose of the policy is to make sure learning remains a joy for students, not a second shift of work that impedes social time and creative activity. Cera says that when new students are told there will be no homework assignments, they breathe a sigh of relief.
Many proponents of homework argue that life is filled with things we don't like to do, and that homework teaches self-discipline, time management and other nonacademic life skills. Kohn challenges this popular notion: If kids have no choice in the matter of homework, they're not really exercising judgment, and are instead losing their sense of autonomy.
At the Kino school, Cera says children often choose to take their favorite parts of school home. “A lot of what we see kids doing is continuing to write in journals, practicing music with their friends, and taking experiments home to show their parents,” she says. Anecdotal information from Kino graduates suggests that the early control over their education continues to serve them well into college; they feel better equipped to manage their time and approach professors with questions.
One of the reasons that we continue to dole out mountains of homework, Kohn says, is our obsession with standardized tests. This concern is especially relevant with the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results placing American students 25th in math and 21st in science. “The standards and accountability craze that has our students in its grip argues for getting tougher with children, making them do more mindless worksheets at earlier ages so that we can score higher in international assessments,” Kohn says. “It's not about learning; it's about winning.”
Even if we can agree on the importance of kids doing better on tests like PISA, Kohn says, there is no research to suggest that homework is our ticket to success. Our “competitors” in the global marketplace are coming up with the same conclusions about homework. A recent comparative study of kids in China, Japan and two U.S. cities shows there is no correlation between time spent on studying and academic achievement.
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