To Homework? Or Not to Homework?

By Juan Cabrera

Recently, in a conversation with a parent, I got asked about my opinion on homework. I immediately thought back to the teacher from Texas last year who shared a note informing parents that she was not going to give any homework (see Down With Homework: Teacher’s Viral Note Tells Of Growing Attitude). The note went viral and I recall feeling surprised that this was such a contented topic.

Personally, as a parent, former classroom educator and now Superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District, I can think of several reasons homework doesn’t always make sense. Let me explain.

The research. A Stanford researcher found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance and even alienation from society. More than two hours of homework a night may be counterproductive, according to the study. Stanford research shows pitfalls of homework. There have been very few studies to show any benefit or correlation that it helps with achievement.

The NEA indicates that 10-20 minutes in first grade and 10 more minutes each year is appropriate. They also share that usually homework is given for practice, preparation or extension. If you are interested in reading more, check out this summary of research on homework from Edutopia or an article from the Time’s about both sides of the issue.

The time. Let’s be real – educators have a lot on their plates. Creating, assigning and grading homework is an added task. I’d much rather educators spend their time creating engaging lessons, taking time to have conversations with students or finding ways to take a break themselves. As a parent, I have seen my kids work for hours on homework and feel stressed out or anxious about assignments.

Homework image

The alternatives. While you may still call this homework, what if students were asked to explore something they are interested in at home instead of regurgitating facts? In a small study at the Orchard School in Vermont, educators and parents found that by asking students to just read or go play that there were positive outcomes. “Students have not fallen back academically and may be doing better, and now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”

Am I saying we should ban all homework? No, there are certainly times it makes sense and students may benefit from learning independent study skills, how to collaborate with peers while at home or be able to give parents more insight into what they are doing during daily instruction. I also realize that at the higher grade-levels, there may be a greater need to provide students with work to complete outside of the regular classroom hours.

With that said, I do think we ought to consider the purpose and meaning behind what we are asking students – at all ages and grade-levels – to do for homework. I encourage you to rethink homework assignments to be reflective of the active, engaged learning that goes on in the classroom. Or better yet, give it a try and go a week without homework and see what happens.

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