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What Will it Take for Schools to Get Serious About “Healthy Homework” Levels?

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Enough With the Excessive, Counter-Productive Homework Already.

This year I've watched my daughter, a consistent 98 to 99 average student who is now in 8th grade and taking several honors courses, struggle with a burdensome level of homework. While I realize that there may be room for improvement in how efficiently she tackles her work, she is consistently having to work late into the night to complete her work, resulting in less than 6 hours sleep many nights.

This is detrimental to her health, her learning, and her emotional well being, and this student who has excelled at academics her whole life now constantly complains about school. The already challenging life of a 13 year old girl is frequently filled with emotional turbulence, which is further exacerbated by being over tired and stressed.

I've looked at a lot of this homework, and frankly, much (but by no means not all) of it is meaningless “busy work” with little value towards learning. I'm really pretty disturbed that her school and teachers think this is a worthwhile part of the learning experience.

I went in search of content on the movement away from such burdensome, and often counter-productive, work. Yes, homework is an important part of the learning process, but the right kind of homework, in the right quantities.

The article, “Bring Healthy Homework to Your School“, from Racetonowhere.com, offers these three excellent guidelines:

  1. Homework Should Advance A Spirit Of Learning
  2. Homework Should Be Student-Directed
  3. Homework Should Promote A Balanced Schedule

Now I have no doubt that there are plenty of teachers out there who will read these (especially no. 2) and disagree to some extent, but before dismissing any of these notions, I encourage you to read the more detailed suggestions supporting these assertions.

The article, “Emerging Trend: The No-Homework Movement“from Skyward.com, offers many reasons why we should limit or even eliminate homework in some classes and grades.

Homework doesn’t improve performance in many subjects
“The Economics of Education Review concluded that ELA, science, and history homework had “little to no impact” on test scores (although math homework did prove beneficial). Researchers studying the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) test determined that the countries with the highest scores assign the least amount of homework.”

Homework takes up valuable class time
“Schools without homework have repurposed that time, allowing teachers to spend more quality time working directly with students to apply the material.”

Homework requires parental assistance and contributes to the learning gap
“The classroom is a place where all students have access to the same resources and assistance. The same cannot be said when work is sent home with students. While some children go home to well-educated parents, internet access, and plentiful resources, other children struggle to do the work on their own.”

Homework deflates the joy of learning
“An increasing number of people view homework as a “stress-inducing, mostly useless practice that saps students’ desire to learn rather than nurtures it.””

Homework reduces reading
“Parents and educators are beginning to wonder whether memorizing words is really a more effective way to teach children vocabulary than having them read and nurturing their interest in books.”

Homework adds unnecessary stress
“Typically, students sacrifice sleep and time to relax, play, and live balanced lives. In a study by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, 70 percent of parents said their 9-to 13-year-olds suffered “moderate to high levels of stress.” Parents cited homework as the number one cause.”

Homework eliminates time for other learning opportunities
“… many students spend hours doing schoolwork at home. A minimal amount of time remains to engage in other opportunities such as playing an instrument, exercising, volunteering, and helping with projects at home – or just spending time with family.”

Next, to provide a balanced perspective, they cite four good reasons why homework should not be eliminated:

  • Homework teaches life lessons
  • Homework increases achievement levels (in some course)
  • Homework encourages critical thinking
  • The amount of homework can be controlled

That last one is key, IMHO.

The article “Is Homework Healthy?” on nais.org, explores a case study from the book The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning, by Etta Kralovec and John Buell. They make this observation:

Policy analysis of homework, as of many other topics, is best done through close observation of those who are on the receiving end, rather than from the perspective of experts who wish to fit actual experience to preconceived notions. We need to take our lived reality as the starting point for our thinking about homework. We need to listen to our kids when they say they are sick and tired of school, or they just want to “veg,” or they have to see their friends. Respecting their needs and honoring their voices should be our first priority in rethinking the homework wars.

The folks from “Race to Nowhere” (they published the 3 guidelines offered above) published this video, which provides additional perspective:

So teachers and admins, what do you think about all of this? Is there a line you should be drawing when it comes to homework? Are you working to make homework meaningful and appropriately “sized”? If not, why not? 

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, assignments are critical to individual child/self development. Perhaps, bulky assignments can be tiring, boring and stressful. It’s important for classroom/subjects teachers to give assignments so as to assess the level of understanding of the learner to the subject matter been taught in the class earlier.
    However, assignments should be short, engaging, stimulating and interesting such that the learner would see it more as a relaxing time.

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