Let’s get this out of the way first: there is little correlation between homework and school performance.

Students in America and elsewhere are receiving more and more homework every night, too much homework. In charter and magnet schools, it’s not uncommon for students to be expected to two, three, five hours of homework a night, and more on the weekend, while students in Finland, one of the finest school systems in the world, only average 30 minutes. But why?

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Photo R. Nial Bradshaw

One reason is initiatives like No Child Left Behind and ever greater reliance on standardized tests for funding, teacher reviews, and everything else. Teachers are expected to cover vast numbers of objectives in order to meet the state-mandated curriculum. If they have any hope of checking off each objective, they have to give a lot of it as homework. There’s little time left in the school day to do practice and drilling, so that goes into the homework pile, too.

 

Parents aren’t blameless either, no matter how much they may be railing against the strain of homework now. For decades, helicopter parents viewed idle time as wasted time and viewed teachers who understood the value of free time as mediocre. Charter schools, magnets and the like often view mass amounts of homework as a badge of honor, a sign of the effectiveness of their curriculum. When I taught young learners in Korea, the parents would often call the school and complain if we didn’t give their kindergartners or first graders an hour or two of homework a night. They didn’t care if it was just busy work; they insisted that their kids study at all times.

This article in The Atlantic paints a pretty clear picture of just how much homework kids are getting these days. After seeing how much homework his daughter was getting, he decided to try to do her homework every day for a week. In the author’s own words, it nearly killed him. He raises a number of great points about homework. It’s worth reading.

How much homework do children need? From a Washington Post article:

Harris Cooper, professor of education and psychology at Duke University, who is probably the best known researcher on the subject, has concluded that:

• Up until fifth grade, homework should be very limited.

• Middle-school students should not spend more than 90 minutes a day on homework

• Two hours should be the limit in high school.

Beyond those time limits, he has said, research shows that homework has no impact on student performance.

Homework can be beneficial in some cases, but only if it is well thought-out and meaningful. A teacher should very, very carefully think about whether an assignment is actually needed, or if they’re just assigning it to be assigning something. And, teachers need to have a good handle on what other teachers are assigning as well. Letting students have free time to play, hang out, and do things that are interesting to them is valuable. More valuable than another worksheet on irregular verbs.

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