I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework. -Lily Tomlin
The debate has gone on for decades - should children be assigned homework? How much? And for what purposes? As the school year swings back into session and kids return to the classrooms, we’re following a developing trend that renders the debate moot: this year, the children of Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke, MA won’t be receiving any homework at all, as well as staying in school for longer hours than many. The move closely follows the decision by second grade teacher Brandy Young in the Godley Independent school district of Texas to eliminate all homework for her second-graders except work they didn’t finish during the school year. While many, from parents of the kids in these classrooms to followers on the internet, are applauding the steps being taken, there are some who remain unconvinced that ‘no homework’ is the best way forward, even for elementary schoolers.
Does Homework Really Work?
Whether or not homework really works depends on who you’re asking...and what it is exactly that you’re asking. Some common reasons for teachers assigning homework include:
- To improve skills learned in the classroom.
- To glean any additional questions students have.
- To help students learn better time management skills.
- To make sure all students are on the same page.
- To allow students to challenge themselves further than in the classroom.
...and for most, having done homework while in school implies that it’s the right way to go about things. Yet, there is a lot of research out there that examines the role of homework in student success, most of which is lacking in strong conclusions and some of which is contradictory. For instance, a metastudy (a study of a collection of other studies) completed in 2006 reported that homework for students did correlate with higher standardized test scores, but this correlation was much stronger for older students than for younger students. On the other hand, more recent studies found little to no correlation between homework and grades, leading back to a re-examination of the fundamental question ‘does homework work?’.
Whenever I hear ‘homework doesn’t work,’ my first response is, ‘Well what do you want homework to do?’ -Robert Pondiscio, senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Why No Homework?
For some teachers and parents, the goal when assigning homework falls into one of the categories listed above. For others, it’s simply the ‘way things are done’. And yet, there is a growing population that believes assigning homework, especially at such a young age, harms more than hurts. Not only are teachers not staying within the National Education Association accepted 10-minutes-per-grade guideline (so 10 minutes of homework in first grade, 20 in second, up to 120 minutes in tenth), but oftentimes the homework assigned is far beyond age-appropriate expectations. Furthermore, many, including author Alfie Kohn of The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, believe homework for kids at such a young age causes frustration, familial stress, and can even prompt formerly curious and excited kids to get overwhelmed and turned-off to learning itself.
Most kids hate homework. They dread it, groan about it, put off doing it as long as possible. It may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity. -Alfie Kohn
Of course there are still many who are unsure about whether or not homework ‘works’ and should be assigned, and the debate has no end in sight.
Meanwhile, in Holyoke…
Though educational activists, parents, and teachers will continue to debate about homework’s efficacy, elementary school students in Holyoke, MA will get to test the effects this year and beyond. The administration used a survey to gather opinions about the move before the beginning of the year and so far, it’s been well-received. Holyoke is an area where many of the families are of a lower socioeconomic status and many parents are working multiple jobs just to survive; homework, rather than leveling the playing field, increases the disparities between poor kids and rich kids. In other words, homework only helps the kids that have plenty of time, attention, and support from educated parents, and these are the kids who, most likely, were already doing well in school. For children without access to those supports due to environmental factors, homework can set them even further behind. Which is part of the reason for the extended school day for most of the Holyoke district: students going to school from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, rather than 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, the school is hoping its students will get the face-to-face time they need with their teachers and leave with their brain tired, able to focus on doing things that are correlated with student success: spending time with family, playing outside, reading, and getting a good night’s sleep.