Health professionals, meanwhile, have begun raising concerns about the weight of children's backpacks and then recommending . . . exercises to strengthen their backs! This was also the tack taken by People magazine: An article about families struggling to cope with excessive homework was accompanied by a sidebar that offered some "ways to minimize the strain on young backs" -- for example, "pick a [back]pack with padded shoulder straps."
The People article reminds us that the popular press does occasionally -- cyclically -- take note of how much homework children have to do, and how varied and virulent are its effects. But such inquiries are rarely penetrating and their conclusions almost never rock the boat. Time magazine published a cover essay in 2003 entitled "The Homework Ate My Family." It opened with affecting and even alarming stories of homework's harms. Several pages later, however, it closed with a finger-wagging declaration that "both parents and students must be willing to embrace the 'work' component of homework -- to recognize the quiet satisfaction that comes from practice and drill." Likewise, an essay on the Family Education Network's Web site: "Yes, homework is sometimes dull, or too easy, or too difficult. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be taken seriously." (One wonders what would have to be true before we'd be justified in not taking something seriously.)
The most striking feature of such a list is what isn't on it. Such a questionnaire seems to have been designed to illustrate Chomsky's point about encouraging lively discussion within a narrow spectrum of acceptable opinion, the better to reinforce the key presuppositions of the system. Parents' feedback is earnestly sought -- on these questions only. So, too, for the popular articles that criticize homework, or the parents who speak out: The focus is generally limited to how much is being assigned. I'm sympathetic to this concern, but I'm more struck by how it misses much of what matters. We sometimes forget that not everything that's destructive when done to excess is innocuous when done in moderation. Sometimes the problem is with what's being done, or at least the way it's being done, rather than just with how much of it is being done.
When I answer this question, I answer as an educator and as the parent of school age children. I do see homework as having a role in the educational process and I do not agree with Alfie Kohn (see article), who appears to believe homework is worthless, or worse, has a negative impact. While Kohn asserts there is almost no research that proves homework to be beneficial, I did not see a convincing amount of hard data to support doing away with all homework.
As a parent, it can be difficult to squeeze in homework some nights! My own children have brought home assignments I believed inappropriate or too lengthy for one night. We do the best we can, and if we have problems or concerns, I reach out to the teacher. Knowing some students have little or no support at home must be recognized by educators. Again, good teachers make it a point to know what some home situations may be like and to modify accordingly. When possible, colleagues can work together, as described in two supplemental course articles, by establishing a learning lab or incorporating Drop-In" times during the school day.
Jay Matthews, in another Washington Post article, "The Weak Case Against Homework" argues that he remembers "what class was like on days when I had not done my homework. I remember what it was like on days when I had. The latter was a much more engaging and useful educational experience than the former."
For one, as a society in general we are spending more time sitting than ever before. We commute to work and school, most often by sitting in a vehicle. Many adults sit at theirs desks for most of the work day. Many students sit in their desks for most of their school day. When the work and school day are over, many people come home to do more sitting, whether it is for homework or an all too common sedentary pass time such as watching television, playing video games, or spending time on the computer. This much sitting is not good for our health! According to an article published in the Harvard Health Blog, the more sedentary a person is, the higher risk they have for developing type 2 diabetes, cancer, and even dementia. Furthermore, it is well-researched and documented that physical activity and time spent in nature provide substantial physical and mental health benefits, two things that are probably not happening if a child is burdened by too much homework or unthoughtful homework.
One minor complaint about this methodology is that we don\u2019t really know if anyone is reporting time spent on homework accurately. Cooper cites some studies showing that student-reported time-spent-on-homework correlates with test scores at a respectable r = 0.25. But in the same sample, parent-reported time-spent-on-homework correlates at close to zero. Cooper speculates that the students\u2019 estimates are better than the parents\u2019, and I think this makes sense - it\u2019s easier to reduce a correlation by adding noise than to increase it - but in the end we don\u2019t know. According to a Washington Post article, students in two very similar datasets reported very different amounts of time spent on homework - maybe because of the way they asked the question? I don\u2019t know, self-report from schoolchildren seems fraught.
Are there any real randomized studies? Cooper finds six for his review article (page 17), none of which are published or peer-reviewed. Only one is randomized by students, and it contradicts itself about how random it actually was; the other five are cluster-randomized by classroom (which means they have very low effective sample size). Several are bungled in confusing ways. Still, these pretty consistently show a positive effect of homework with medium-to-high effect size. The one that might have been randomized by students (and so might possibly be okay) had an effect size of 0.39. Some of the cluster randomized ones that weren\u2019t bungled too badly had effect sizes in the 0.9 range; the cluster randomization makes it hard to call this significant, but unofficially it seems impressive.
When I started looking into the evidence, I was surprised to find that there is not much evidence that homework before high school benefits children. I really love this article by Justin Coulson, a parenting expert and psychologist, detailing why he bans his school age children from doing homework, concluding from the evidence that homework does more harm than good. A recent study showed that some elementary school children had three times the recommended homework load. In spite of this, homework has started appearing even in kindergarten and the first great in spite of recommendations to the contrary. This has become a source of great stress to families.
Homework, it seems, isn't very well-liked by anybody. And yet, few people seem to question its validity. Just Google "how to get kids to do their homework," and you'll find article after article offering tips and techniques for motivating students and ending the dreaded homework battle. 2b1af7f3a8