Rethinking Homework

I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading about homework and the its impacts (both positive and negative) on kids of different ages. I believe there is too much homework assigned, in general, and that much of it does not have a positive learning impact.

Below are a few resources and quotes on the homework debate:

1) Parent Map's "Should we kill homework?"

"Should kids get to turn away from schoolwork when class time finishes? At Valley School, a private K-5 school in Seattle’s Madison Valley, the answer is yes. Barry Wright, formerly a fifth-grade teacher at Valley and now its director, says, “People don’t stop and think about the harm homework is doing. When you’re really in touch with kids, it seems apparent.” Valley teachers assign no homework until third grade, and even then Wright says it is “very light.” Minimal homework is a longstanding Valley policy. “We’re efficient during the [school] day — we’re good at it — and when kids go home we think they should just be kids,” Wright says. “Our mantra is that kids should leave our school loving school. Homework can kill that.”

Wright is troubled by the pressure homework exerts on parents, too. “When parents have to be teacher and [homework] enforcer, it puts a strain on the parent-child relationship,” he says. “Parents feel that if their kids don’t do their homework, they are bad parents.”"

2) Alfie Kohn's The homework myth: why our kids get too much of a bad thing

From the inside cover jacket: "Alfie Kohn systematically examines the usual defenses of homework --- that it promotes higher achivement, "reinforces" learning, and teaches study skills and responsibility. None of these assumptions, he shows, actually passes the test of research, logic or experience.

The available evidence indicates, for example, that homework provides absolutely no academic benefits for younger students. It also raises serious questions about whether homework is necessary for older students, and it challenges the belief that homework promotes independence and good work habits."

3) The current Seattle Public Schools homework policies (established in 1983)

Elementary School Homework
Middle School Homework
High School Homework

4) The introduction to Brita Butler-Wall's draft (below) for a revised Seattle Public Schools homework policy. She also sent me the draft policies for elementary, middles school, and high school, but they are too long to post here and, I believe, the most important parts are captured in her introduction.



HOMEWORK C11.00 Adopted JUN 1983 Former Code(s): G61.00

It is the policy of the Seattle School Board that meaningful and purposeful homework is essential for all students at all grade levels, as part of their educational experience.

Definition: Homework is a learning task is intended to accomplish course goals outside the classroom without immediate teacher supervision.

Purposes: Homework may be assigned to awaken student interest in a topic, to prepare for class discussion, to develop study skills and time management, to deepen understanding of a topic, to achieve fluency and automaticity through practice, to apply knowledge and skills, to pursue individual interests, and/or to integrate knowledge across courses and disciplines.

Teachers: Teachers who assign homework are responsible for clarifying objectives, due dates, and instructions and for monitoring and giving prompt feedback on completed assignments. Teachers should coordinate with other building staff before assigning major projects, to avoid scheduling overload. Assigning homework as punishment or as busywork is not permitted. Teachers are discouraged from using homework to compensate for poorly-executed lessons or poor time-management.

Students: Students are responsible for completing all homework assignments and turning them in on time using the specified format, for negotiating for an extension of deadlines as needed, and for seeking help from classmates, teacher, and family members in accessing resources, as needed.

Parents: Parents and guardians are encouraged to develop a conducive environment for learning at home, to provide support for their student, to give feedback to the teacher, and to encourage the student to bring homework questions and concerns to the attention of the teacher. Parents and guardians are discouraged from giving direct assistance with homework since this skews the feedback for the teacher on the effectiveness of the instruction.

Amount: The amount of homework assigned will vary by developmental age of the student (maximum 10 min./day per grade total for all subjects), the topic, and the objectives. There is no maximum amount for high school students; however, it is expected that students will be able to balance homework with family and community responsibilities and opportunities to develop into well-rounded adults through out-of-school experiences with arts, sports, recreation, independent reading, and reflection. Homework assignments should help transition high school students into the rigors of higher education.

Consistent homework standards will be established within each individual building following procedures established by the district and best practices and will be communicated in writing to parents, guardians, and students.


Anonymous said…
I don't have time to read the whole post right now but I wanted to give my 2 cents on homework (at this point in our lives). My oldest is in 1st grade and she gets one item a day (usually some kind of worksheet working on skills such as math, writing, problem solving, etc). She also gets one challenge homework assignment a week which is optional.

For us I LOVE it because it helps me better understand what my daughter is working on and I personally think it helps me reinforce what she is learning in class. Sometimes the homework is really easy for her, but some items , such as money, has not been as easy so when I see that, I know that I should work more with her on money. As a parent, I really like that and feels it helps prevent her from slipping behind.

Who knows what my opinion will be when the amount becomes much more.
Anonymous said…
I like my children to have a reasonable amount of meaningful homework. It is a way for me to stay in touch with what they are doing in school, and keep abreast of their progress. However the key is a "reasonable" or "manageable" amount, and "meaningful". To much homework puts a huge strain on a child and a huge strain on the parent/child relationship if parents have to be the enforcers. My middle schooler gets about two hours of homework a night. Two hours! Not to mention the big projects that take up his weekends. It is way to much. He is always thinking about or doing homework. I can't imaging high school. How could a kid play a sport and do homework too?? How could they have a part time job like many of us did? Where would the time come from??

I think a small amount of homework to reinforce what was learned at school, some research or a project here and there are reasonable. Two hours of homework is not.

In elementary school you can opt out of homework and there is absolutely nothing a teacher or school can do about it. Nothing. Of course you may suffer the consequences of poor homework habits or your child not taking homework seriously.

In middle and high school the children are actually graded on homework. It is part of their grade. In HS it becomes part of their GPA. They can't just opt out.

Funny thing is it is still school by school and teacher by teacher. A parent over heard us complaining about homework the other day and she mentioned that her child went to Hale and had virtually no homework to speak of. Our friend has a child at Roosevelt and tells us her daughter has 2+ hours per night. Go figure???
Anonymous said…
NE mom said: "In elementary school you can opt out of homework and there is absolutely nothing a teacher or school can do about it. Nothing."

My 4th grader's teacher makes kids who don't turn in their homework sit inside at recess and write 'lines' ("I will not forget to hand in my homework...."). I don't mind it when teachers have them stay in to finish their homework, but I think this mindless busy work just tells the kids how little she respects and values their time. Have I told her that? No, I'm still working up the courage.
Anonymous said…
Wimp you must tell her. that's ridiculous and it doesn't help the students at all. (except perhaps improve their handwriting.)

I don't know how studies can say homework doesn't reinforce learning. Think about how little time a teacher can spend on each subject, why wouldn't it help a student to briefly go over some of the principles in more detail at home? I would have been lost in math if I hadn't been able to go home and slowly work over each problem until I could do them quickly.
Anonymous said…
Wimp, you have to talk to the teacher and if you get nowhere maybe administration. As a parent you have the right to say, you may not keep my child in from recess. Period.

Any teacher that know anything about child development knows just how important recess is. It is not just a privilege but a necessity at the elementary level. As for the writing of lines - how belittling. punishment and belittling does not accomplish a single positive thing.

Sounds like Little House on the Prairie, only this Seattle - 2007!
Anonymous said…
My son attends Washington Middle School and his homework varies considerably from class to class. He's in math with mainly APP kids and has about 30-40 minutes of homework/3-5x a week, Spectrum LA/SS with about 60 minutes per week, and 30 minutes of reading daily for Spectrum reading, and none in General Science. I had heard that WMS had a reputation for lots of homework, but it doesn't seem that excessive to me at this point. I view the 30 minutes of reading as a good alternative to TV and not really homework. Maybe it's just his teachers.
old salt said…
This article from the NYT, 'Less Homework More Yoga', a high school principal talks about the downside of student stress and its harm to learning.

I also wonder about kids who don't have after school support with homework & projects.
Anonymous said…
If they'd even stick to the maximum of 10 minutes per grade per day, I'd be a whole lot happier. Right now one of my middle schoolers is apparently in graduate school, going by her workload.

Anonymous said…
Even ten minutes per grade is a lot. I think an hour of homework a night for a 5th grader is just way to much. My 4th grader is spent when he gets home from school. By the time he, goes to basketball practice, eats dinner, takes a shower, and does his homework it's time for bed. There is no free time. No time for him to just be a kid. I remember at his age, coming home from school and going straight out to play with my friends until dinner time. We only had homework occasionally, and projects here and their. Life was much less stressful. I feel for todays over scheduled kids, and am making a very conscious effort to schedule less, and give my kids more down time!
Anonymous said…
the less homework you do in math, the less you learn. it takes practice to learn for most of most people, and the less practice you get the less you learn.

I don't see how 2 hours of homework a night is a big deal. kids are awake for 16 hours, give or take, getting to school, going to school, getting home from school takes ... 8? 9? hours?

the kids we're kind of competing against are doing a lot more than 2 hours of homework a night - I say 'kind of competing against' because at less than 2 hours of homework a night, you're not competing against those kids, you're competing against all the people working minimum wage jobs.
Anonymous said…
How did we all make it??? We weren't piled with 2 hours of homework a night in 6th grade. Not even close. I might have had an hour a week in high school and a few projects. We all did just fine. I believe we did fine because we were so much more well rounded. We had time to be kids! Life wasn't full of all of the stresses it is today. And certainly not two hours worth of homework a day (so we could pass the 10th grade WASL). Thank goodness.

My kids are in bed by 9PM and up at 7AM, which means that they are awake 14 hours. School is 8 hours with the commute, dinner and dinner clean up is hour, shower a half hour, sports practice an hour, chores a half hour. That leaves about 3 hours a day left over. If you add 2 hours of homework, that means my kids would have 1 hour of down time a day. 1 hour!!!! Yikes.
That's just ridiculous. We all deserve to relax, curl up with a book, watch a favorite TV show, go for a walk, hang out with a friend, listen to some music. Must we take all of that away from our kids???? All for the WASL????

I wish there was less homework assigned in general. And for the parents like the above poster who want two hours a night, a teacher could have "extra" available. That way everyone would be happy!
Anonymous said…
Is Denny MS the only one that doesn't give kids text books? My honors math student comes home with a workbook, but nothing to back up the work they're doing. It's nearly impossible for me to help with homework.
Anonymous said…
All MS's use the Connected Math curriculum now (as far as I know). They do not have text books, just work books, and you are absolutely correct, there is very little explanation and hardly any examples. They rely on the teacher to teach in class, and kids just do the work out of the work book. I, like you, find it almost impossible to help my 7th grade, honors math, son with HW. Whenever we can't figure it out, we send him back to his teacher for clarification. Unfortunately, this means that he didn't do his HW on time, and he gets a poor grade or a 0. It stinks.
Anonymous said…
Dear Anon at 9:20 PM,

Now you know why I've spent since Jan 17, 2007 testifying at SPS board meetings. What did my testimony accomplish --- absolutely nothing as on May 30 in an unvideoed School board meeting the SPS adopted Everyday math over the objections of parents who were engineers etc.

Nice move SPS no TV, no video, not web accessible and now no web published document.

Well it is similar to the monorail, I am going to keep on testifying until these folks get it right. This is a total outrage that people who know zero about math trust their hired experts who know zero.
The hired experts only qualification is to be able to follow like blind sheep the ignorance of the state.

Dr. Terry Bergeson listed CMP and Everyday Math as most aligned with her failed OSPI math standards and our SPS hired experts abandon our students best interests to follow the leader's deranged recommendations instead.
Will said…
We were shocked to see the amount of homework our son received in KINDERGARTEN. Now he is in first grade doing story problems, fractions, long addition and subtraction, less than/greater than, etc. I didn't do this type of work until the 3rd/4th grade. I also did very little homework and still made the Dean's list in college. Our son has after school activities 4 days per week, followed by dinner. After dinner should be family time but, no, time for 45 minutes of homework that is beyond his level of understanding, much cajoling, frustration and tears then hopefully to bed on time. What is this doing? It is creating a strong resentment of school and learning (this type at least) in my child. First graders should be crying on the floor in the morning saying they hate school. The high standards the district is pushing are pushing many kids down rather than lifting them up! I have seen so many of my son's peers lose confidence this year because they can't keep up, it is so sad. Kids learn in spurts and at different levels and this one-size-fits-all system is contrary to everything we know about learning. I'm not saying there should be no homework- I think 3rd grade is a good starting point, and then it should only be used to help kids in areas they need to work on. I am a very strong advocate of public schools (I worked in the SPS classrooms for 4 years) but we are considering private school at this point. The Bush and Valley schools don't give homework (besides regular reading) to the younger grades?! Hmmm, wonder if their kids can read. Did you know that the nations which pile on the homework have LOWER academic achievement? I know this doesn't make logical sense but that is why we have research.

As you can see I am passionate about this subject, thanks for posting this.
JulietteF said…
What is the actual law regarding homework??
Public schools must operate under RCW and WAC; they can't just 'make stuff up'. They are public, government departments, beholden to the state congress and the rights granted by vote, by our district representatives, despite what principals or handbooks or experienced parents say.

Looking at RCW 28A.150.240 & as far as I can tell, the teacher's authority ends at the end of the school day. If this is right, then Homework isn't , strictly speaking, legal.
Opt out.

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