Homework. It’s a word that sends a shudder down the spine of students and parents alike.
It is also a question that has become divisive. Some people feel that homework is an effective way to reinforce the concepts that were learned at school. Others feel like the time that homework demands would be better spent with a meaningful activity that brings the family together.
Is homework important? Is it necessary? Or is the added stress that homework places on students and parents doing more harm than good? Here are some of the key pros and cons to discuss.
List of the Pros of Homework
1. It encourages the discipline of practice.
Repeating the same problems over and over can be boring and difficult, but it also reinforces the practice of discipline. To get better at a skill, repetition is often necessary. You get better with each repetition. By having homework completed every night, especially with a difficult subject, the concepts become easier to understand. That gives the student an advantage later on in life when seeking a vocational career.
2. It gets parents involved with a child’s life.
Looking at Common Core math can be somewhat bewildering to parents. If you see the math problem 5×3 expressed as an addition problem, 5+5+5 seems like the right answer. The correct answer, however, would be 3+3+3+3+3. By bringing homework to do, students can engage their learning process with their parents so everyone can be involved. Many parents actually want homework sent so they can see what their children are being taught in the classroom.
3. It teaches time management skills.
Homework goes beyond completing a task. It forces children (and parents, to some extent) to develop time management skills. Schedules must be organized to ensure that all tasks can be completed during the day. This creates independent thinking and develops problem-solving skills. It encourages research skills. It also puts parents and children into a position where positive decision-making skills must be developed.
4. Homework creates a communication network.
Teachers rarely see into the family lives of their students. Parents rarely see the classroom lives of their children. Homework is a bridge that opens lines of communication between the school, the teacher, and the parent. This allows everyone to get to know one another better. It helps teachers understand the needs of their students better.
It allows parents to find out their child’s strengths and weaknesses. Together, an educational plan can be developed that encourages the best possible learning environment.
5. It allows for a comfortable place to study.
Classrooms have evolved over the years to be a warmer and welcoming environment, but there is nothing like the comfort that is felt at home or in a safe space. By encouraging studies where a child feels the most comfortable, it is possible to retain additional information that may get lost within the standard classroom environment.
6. It provides more time to complete the learning process.
The time allotted for each area of study in school, especially in K-12, is often limited to 1 hour or less per day. That is not always enough time for students to be able to grasp core concepts of that material. By creating specific homework assignments which address these deficiencies, it becomes possible to counter the effects of the time shortages. That can benefit students greatly over time.
7. It reduces screen time.
On the average school night, a student in the US might get 3-4 hours of screen time in per day. When that student isn’t in school, that figure doubles to 7-8 hours of screen time. Homework might be unwanted and disliked, but it does encourage better study habits. It discourages time being spent in front of the television or playing games on a mobile device. That, in turn, may discourage distracting habits from forming that can take away from the learning process in the future.
8. It can be treated like any other extracurricular activity.
Some families over-extend themselves on extracurricular activities. Students can easily have more than 40 hours per week, from clubs to sports, that fall outside of regular school hours. Homework can be treated as one of these activities, fitting into the schedule where there is extra time. As an added benefit, some homework can even be completed on the way to or from some activities.
List of the Cons of Homework
1. Children benefit from playing.
Being in a classroom can be a good thing, but so ca being on a playground. With too much homework, a child doesn’t have enough time to play and that can impact their learning and social development. Low levels of play are associated with lower academic achievement levels, lower safety awareness, less character development, and lower overall health.
2. It encourages a sedentary lifestyle.
Long homework assignments require long periods of sitting. A sedentary lifestyle has numerous direct associations with premature death as children age into adults. Obesity levels are already at or near record highs in many communities. Homework may reinforce certain skills and encourage knowledge retention, but it may come at a high price.
3. Not every home is a beneficial environment.
There are some homes that are highly invested into their children. Parents may be involved in every stage of homework or there may be access to tutors that can explain difficult concepts. In other homes, there may be little or no education investment into the child. Some parents push the responsibility of teaching off on the teacher and provide no homework support at all.
Sometimes parents may wish to be involved and support their child, but there are barriers in place that prevent this from happening. The bottom line is this: no every home life is equal.
4. School is already a full-time job for kids.
An elementary school day might start at 9:00am and end at 3:20pm. That’s more than 6 hours of work that kids as young as 5 are putting into their education every day. Add in the extra-curricular activities that schools encourage, such as sports, musicals, and after-school programming and a student can easily reach 8 hours of education in the average day. Then add homework on top of that? It is asking a lot for any child, but especially young children, to complete extra homework.
5. There is no evidence that homework creates improvements.
Survey after survey has found that the only thing that homework does is create a negative attitude toward schooling and education in general. Homework is not associated with a higher level of academic achievement on a national scale. It may help some students who struggle with certain subjects, if they have access to a knowledgeable tutor or parent, but on a community level, there is no evidence that shows improvements are gained.
6. It discourages creative endeavors.
If a student is spending 1 hour each day on homework, that’s an hour they are not spending pursuing something that is important to them. Students might like to play video games or watch TV, but homework takes time away from learning an instrument, painting, or developing photography skills as well. Although some homework can involve creative skills, that usually isn’t the case.
7. Homework is difficult to enforce.
Some students just don’t care about homework. They can achieve adequate grades without doing it, so they choose not to do it. There is no level of motivation that a parent or teacher can create that inspires some students to get involved with homework. There is no denying the fact that homework requires a certain amount of effort. Sometimes a child just doesn’t want to put in that effort.
8. Extra time in school does not equate to better grades.
Students in the US spend more than 100 hours of extra time in school already compared to high-performing countries around the world, but that has not closed the educational gap between those countries and the United States. In some educational areas, the US is even falling in global rankings despite the extra time that students are spending in school. When it comes to homework or any other form of learning, quality is much more important than quantity.
9. Accurate practice may not be possible.
If homework is assigned, there is a reliance on the student, their parents, or their guardians to locate resources that can help them understand the content. Homework is often about practice, but if the core concepts of that information are not understood or inaccurately understood, then the results are the opposite of what is intended. If inaccurate practice is performed, it becomes necessary for the teacher to first correct the issue and then reteach it, which prolongs the learning process.
10. It may encourage cheating on multiple levels.
Some students may decide that cheating in the classroom to avoid taking homework home is a compromise they’re willing to make. With internet resources, finding the answers to homework instead of figuring out the answers on one’s own is a constant temptation as well. For families with multiple children, they may decide to copy off one another to minimize the time investment.
11. Too much homework is often assigned to students.
There is a general agreement that students should be assigned no more than 10 minutes of homework per day, per grade level. That means a first grader should not be assigned more than 10 minutes of homework per night. Yet for the average first grader in US public schools, they come home with 20 minutes of homework and then are asked to complete 20 minutes of reading on top of that. That means some students are completing 4x more homework than recommended every night.
At the same time, the amount of time children spent playing outdoors has decreased by 40% over the past 30 years.
For high school students, it is even worse at high performing schools in the US where 90% of graduates go onto college, the average amount of homework assigned per night was 3 hours per student.
12. Homework is often geared toward benchmarks.
Homework is often assigned to improve test scores. Although this can provide positive outcomes, including better study skills or habits, the fact is that when children are tired, they do not absorb much information. When children have more homework than recommended, test scores actually go down. Stress levels go up. Burnout on the curriculum occurs.
The results for many students, according to research from Ruben Fernandez-Alonso in the Journal of Educational Psychology, is a decrease in grades instead of an increase.
The pros and cons of homework are admittedly all over the map. Many parents and teachers follow their personal perspectives and create learning environments around them. When parents and teachers clash on homework, the student is often left in the middle of that tug of war. By discussing these key points, each side can work to find some common ground so our children can benefit for a clear, precise message.
Quantity may be important, but quality must be the priority for homework if a student is going to be successful.
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.”