As kids return to school, debate is heating up once again over how they should spend their time after they leave the classroom for the day.
The no-homework policy of a second-grade teacher in Texas went viral last week, earning praise from parents across the country who lament the heavy workload often assigned to young students. Brandy Young told parents she would not formally assign any homework this year, asking students instead to eat dinner with their families, play outside and go to bed early.
But the question of how much work children should be doing outside of school remains controversial, and plenty of parents take issue with no-homework policies, worried their kids are losing a potential academic advantage. Here’s what you need to know:
For decades, the homework standard has been a “10-minute rule,” which recommends a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Second graders, for example, should do about 20 minutes of homework each night. High school seniors should complete about two hours of homework each night. The National PTA and the National Education Association both support that guideline.
But some schools have begun to give their youngest students a break. A Massachusetts elementary school has announced a no-homework pilot program for the coming school year, lengthening the school day by two hours to provide more in-class instruction. “We really want kids to go home at 4 o’clock, tired. We want their brain to be tired,” Kelly Elementary School Principal Jackie Glasheen said in an interview with a local TV station. “We want them to enjoy their families. We want them to go to soccer practice or football practice, and we want them to go to bed. And that’s it.”
A New York City public elementary school implemented a similar policy last year, eliminating traditional homework assignments in favor of family time. The change was quickly met with outrage from some parents, though it earned support from other education leaders.
New solutions and approaches to homework differ by community, and these local debates are complicated by the fact that even education experts disagree about what’s best for kids.
The most comprehensive research on homework to date comes from a 2006 meta-analysis by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, who found evidence of a positive correlation between homework and student achievement, meaning students who did homework performed better in school. The correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades, for whom there was a weak relationship between homework and performance.
Cooper’s analysis focused on how homework impacts academic achievement—test scores, for example. His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills. On the other hand, some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. At the end of his analysis, Cooper recommended further study of such potential effects of homework.
Despite the weak correlation between homework and performance for young children, Cooper argues that a small amount of homework is useful for all students. Second-graders should not be doing two hours of homework each night, he said, but they also shouldn’t be doing no homework.
Not all education experts agree entirely with Cooper’s assessment.
Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, supports the “10-minute rule” as a maximum, but she thinks there is not sufficient proof that homework is helpful for students in elementary school.
“Correlation is not causation,” she said. “Does homework cause achievement, or do high achievers do more homework?”
Vatterott, the author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, thinks there should be more emphasis on improving the quality of homework tasks, and she supports efforts to eliminate homework for younger kids.
“I have no concerns about students not starting homework until fourth grade or fifth grade,” she said, noting that while the debate over homework will undoubtedly continue, she has noticed a trend toward limiting, if not eliminating, homework in elementary school.
The issue has been debated for decades. A TIME cover in 1999 read: “Too much homework! How it’s hurting our kids, and what parents should do about it.” The accompanying story noted that the launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to a push for better math and science education in the U.S. The ensuing pressure to be competitive on a global scale, plus the increasingly demanding college admissions process, fueled the practice of assigning homework.
“The complaints are cyclical, and we’re in the part of the cycle now where the concern is for too much,” Cooper said. “You can go back to the 1970s, when you’ll find there were concerns that there was too little, when we were concerned about our global competitiveness.”
Cooper acknowledged that some students really are bringing home too much homework, and their parents are right to be concerned.
“A good way to think about homework is the way you think about medications or dietary supplements,” he said. “If you take too little, they’ll have no effect. If you take too much, they can kill you. If you take the right amount, you’ll get better.”
Why Homework Should Be Banned: 10 Facts You Might Not Know
When you find yourself groaning at the thought of going home at the end of a long day in school and starting work all over again, no wonder you feel that homework should be banned. Check out these 10 facts that support your opinion.
- Allotted Time. The task that you have been given will probably take a lot longer than is specified on your homework time table. This may not be anything to do with your ability, it may be because your tutor misjudged that time it would take.
- Timetable. Before the start of every academic year, teaching staff work out when they will be setting major tasks that you will be asked to do at home. Ideally there should not to a conflict between the time-scale for completing two or more major pieces of work.
- Need a break. Unless you do your work as soon as you get home you may find that you have to tackle the chore later in the evening, then stay up late to complete, which makes you late going to bed and then you get up feeling cranky in the morning.
- Distractions at home. It can be very difficult to produce a really good piece of work at home if you haven't got a dedicated area to work in or you have younger brothers and sisters who make a lot of noise.
- Lack of help at home. Family may be very willing to help but if they have never studied the subject that you are studying or are not very good at it (a good example is Math), then you will find that you have little or no help line at home to complete the work.
- Students hate Homework. Although everyone groans about homework, the truth is that students hate homework. It is difficult to see the positive side of bring home work to do when they see their parents come home from work without additional 'homework'.
- Little chance to socialise after school. This includes spending time with friends who are at other schools or even family. Homework can make students feel isolated from friends and family.
- Working alone can be stressful. All day you are with other people in a classroom which in itself can be stressful. It is difficult to concentrate when you are not sure what you are being asked to do and have the additional pressure of lack of time to complete.
- Prep work. You may have been asked to do some preliminary reading in preparation fro the next class. This can be confusing and also unproductive unless you have been given good instructions about the focus of the work.
- Not all subject areas give the same amount of work. It is bad enough when you are given two or more major pieces of work to complete in roughly the same time frame, but at other times there does not seem to be any consistency in the amount of work set.
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