Is Homework Beneficial Debate

A viral social media post has once again sparked the debate surrounding homework and whether or not it's healthy or detrimental to a child's learning.

In Texas, a Grade 2 teacher Samantha Gallagher posted a new homework policy she plans on implementing this year. In her post she said after spending the summer researching, Gallagher said she's unable to prove homework improves student performance. Therefore, students in her class will be delighted to know she won't be assigning any homework this year and homework will only consist of work that students don't finish during the school day.

A memo from a Grade 2 teacher in Texas to parents outlining her policy on assigning homework. (Samantha Gallagher/Facebook)

Callers into CBC Radio's BlueSky rallied support behind this Texas teacher's strategy saying homework has become too disruptive and interferes with family time in the evening.

One caller who said she grew up in Finland said homework is unnecessary and it's actually banned in her country. The caller added the Finnish education system also has shorter school days than Canada's.

Michael Riest is an educational consultant, author and former teacher. He told CBC News he could argue for both sides of the homework debate. On one hand, he said he's fine with a teacher going to a homework-free policy, but he said no homework means kids will likely end up watching television and being generally unproductive at home.

My main message to parents is don't let homework ruin your family evenings and don't let homework ruin your relationships with your children.- Michael Riest, education consultant

When he grew up, Riest said he and his peers only had television as a distraction. Today kids have tablets and video games, too.

On the other hand, Riest said homework can be a big turn-off for students, leaving them uninterested in the subject matter and uninterested in learning.

"I specialize in working with boys and for a lot of boys they figure they put in their six or seven hours [in at school] and when they come home and they have to do more, it turns them off school fundamentally, it turns them off literacy … and that's the negative side effect of too much homework," Riest said.

Another Bluesky caller said when homework is assigned, certain assumptions are made about the child's life at home, according to a former teacher. 

"In my experience we really need to keep the playing field level and there's a lot of research that shows if we sent children home with homework we're making all kinds of privileged assumption of who is home to help them," the caller said. "The gap that exists because of poverty is wider and we really need to realize it's not acceptable."

Riest added that homework can also be a bonding and relationship-building experience for kids and their parents. But it might also hinder a child's relationship with parents.

"My main message to parents is don't let homework ruin your family evenings and don't let homework ruin your relationships with your children," Riest said. 

He contends homework also helps keep parents in the loop about lessons.

"Without homework it's easy to lose sight of what children are learning in school and what parents know they are learning in school so homework helps bridge that gap."

Keeping a reputation as a firm teacher

Riest added assigning homework could be a symptom of teachers trying to maintain the reputation of being a hard teacher or an easy teacher— likening the practice of assigning homework as a sort of Public Relations exercise for educators.

"They are seen as tougher teachers if they give homework and they're seen as weaker teachers if they don't give homework so part of it is a PR thing too and we all need to have a discussion about it," Riest said. "Let's give kids a break and let's leave kids to be kids."

With files from CBC Radio's BlueSky
For Teachers Updated December 7, 2017

The Homework Debate: How Homework Benefits Students

By Monica Fuglei November 21, 2013

This post has been updated for accuracy and relevance as of December 2017.

In another of our blog posts, The Case Against Homework, we articulated several points of view against homework as standard practice for teachers. However, a variety of lessons, content-related and beyond, can be taught or reinforced through homework and are worth exploring. Read on!

Four ways homework aids students’ academic achievement

Homework provides an opportunity for parents to interact with and understand the content their students are learning so they can provide another means of academic support for students. Memphis Parent writer Glenda Faye Pryor-Johnson says that, “When your child does homework, you do homework,” and notes that this is an opportunity for parents to model good behavior for their children.

Pryor-Johnson also identifies four qualities children develop when they complete homework that can help them become high-achieving students:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Time management
  3. Perseverance
  4. Self-esteem

While these cannot be measured on standardized tests, perseverance has garnered a lot of attention as an essential skill for successful students. Regular accomplishments like finishing homework build self-esteem, which aids students’ mental and physical health. Responsibility and time management are highly desirable qualities that benefit students long after they graduate.

NYU and Duke professors refute the idea that homework is unrelated to student success

In response to the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education’s findings that homework was not conclusively related to student success, historian and NYU professor Diane Ravitch contends that the study’s true discovery was that students who did not complete homework or who lacked the resources to do so suffered poor outcomes.

Ravitch believes the study’s data only supports the idea that those who complete homework benefit from homework. She also cites additional benefits of homework: when else would students be allowed to engage thoughtfully with a text or write a complete essay? Constraints on class time require that such activities are given as outside assignments.

5 studies support a significant relationship between homework completion and academic success

Duke University professor Harris Cooper supports Ravitch’s assessment, saying that, “Across five studies, the average student who did homework had a higher unit test score than the students not doing homework.” Dr. Cooper and his colleagues analyzed dozens of studies on whether homework is beneficial in a 2006 publication, “Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987–2003.”

This analysis found 12 less-authoritative studies that link achievement to time spent on homework, but control for many other factors that could influence the outcome. Finally, the research team identified 35 studies that found a positive correlation between homework and achievement, but only after elementary school. Dr. Cooper concluded that younger students might be less capable of  benefiting from homework due to undeveloped study habits or other factors.

Recommended amount of homework varies by grade level

“Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?” also identifies the amount homework that serves as a learning tool for students. While practice improves test scores at all grade levels, “Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes a night. For high school students, the positive line continues to climb until between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.”

Dr. Cooper’s conclusion—homework is important, but discretion can and should be used when assigning it—addresses the valid concerns of homework critics. While the act of completing homework has benefits in terms of developing good habits in students, homework must prove useful for students so that they buy in to the process and complete their assignments. If students (or their parents) feel homework is a useless component of their learning, they will skip it—and miss out on the major benefits, content and otherwise, that homework has to offer.

Continue reading: Ending the Homework Debate: Expert Advice on What Works

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

Tags: Leadership and Administration, Pros and Cons, Teacher-Parent Relationships

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