Earlier this week, Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss kicked the homework beehive with a column that included homework among a list of items that supposedly don’t help students learn. Last fall, a Today show story revealed that some schools have decided students are spending too much time on their studies and have banned homework. Apparently, schools from Rockville, Maryland to Aliso Viejo, California have either stopped assigning homework entirely or adopted policies that restrict the amount of work schools assign students.
University of Arizona South professor Etta Kralovec, who wrote a book on the topic, asks, “Kids are at school 7 or 8 hours a day, that’s a full working day and why should they have to take work home?”
Perhaps it’s not the homework load that we should be worried about, but what is happening in those seven to eight hours kids spend at school. After decades of funding increases and trendy reforms like smaller class sizes and new academic standards, 17-year-olds’ average test scores haven’t changed in math or reading for more than 30 years.
American students still woefully lag their peers in other countries – including Poland, Estonia, Ireland, and Singapore, whose students all report spending more time on homework than do American students. The latest international comparison finds that students in 18 countries had higher average scores than American students in math, science, and reading.
Moreover, research shows American students are not, in fact, overworked. The Brookings Institution’s review of homework assignments finds claims that students are overburdened with homework are “unfounded.” Brookings Senior Fellow Tom Loveless does not discount parents’ stories—such as those cited by the Today show and elsewhere—about the stress that homework causes at home. But data suggest these anecdotes are “atypical.”
“The question is whether strong empirical evidence confirms the anecdotes about overworked kids and outraged parents,” says Loveless.
Considering the test results cited above for 17-year-olds, it should come as no surprise that nearly 40 percent of those in a U.S. Department of Education survey said they had no homework at all or did not do it. Students were asked how much time they spent on homework the previous day, which, when tracked over multiple years, is an indicator of how much schoolwork students are bringing home.
For those who think senior year should just be a rest stop before college, think again. In Kralovec’s home state of Arizona, research from the state board of regents found that in half of the state’s high schools, just 5 percent of graduates went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in six years. Overall, only 19 percent of Arizona high school graduates that entered a four-year college finished during that time period.
What research exists on homework and student achievement suggests the extra work, at a minimum, does students no harm. In their international research, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found, “Schools whose students spend more hours on homework or other study set by teachers tend, on average, to perform better, even after accounting for the socio-economic status and demographic background of students and schools and various other school characteristics.”
The OECD also explains that when comparing national education systems, the number of homework assignments from one nation to the next does not explain the differences in student achievement. This means that homework, by itself, is not the answer to America’s education woes. Too many students are assigned to failing schools, especially in urban areas, and too few families have choices about where or how to educate their children. More take-home worksheets aren’t going to fix that.
However, evidence indicates our students are not overworked right now. Parents and schools in the U.S. should be looking for ways to help students succeed, even if it means more work.
Parents and educators should be less concerned with homework levels and more concerned with using homework and other assignments to inspire students for the future.
Less homework does not translate to worse academics or less challenge. Children are still challenged for the eight hours a day they are in school. Kids can still learn all of the required information without having to go home after school and work an extra three to five hours. Honestly, I would enjoy school if I did not have homework. I like to learn new information, especially if I am interested in the specific topic. However, after going to school, track practice, and then getting home at seven, I really do not want to sit down at my desk for another four hours and do my homework. I would rather take a shower, eat dinner, maybe watch some television or read an enjoyable book, and then go to sleep. This way I get enough sleep and am excited to go to school the next day and learn. I want to learn at school, and relax when I get home at the end of the day. I would prefer, even, If school was maybe an hour or two longer instead of receiving homework. Many jobs are done at a workplace, and not at home. Kids are deprived of their childhoods with school and homework leaving them no time to be kids.
“54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression” and “80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety,” are the results from an anonymous survey of two-thirds of Irvington high school by Dr. Slavin, a pediatrician and professor. The level of homework students are given, ranging from kindergarten to college, is absurd causing even “5-, 6-, 7-year-olds” to come in “with these [depression, anxiety, stress] conditions,” (Lawrence Rosen). Students are forced to go to school for eight or more hours a day, take tests, turn in assignments, and learn new material, only to have assigned five or more hours of additional work to be completed before the next day. The rest of students’ days are filled with extracurricular activities, which most of the time are activities that just look good on college resumes. The stress levels of students are sky high. Most students are pressured to pack their school schedule with as many AP and honor level classes so they can get into a good college, which leads to a good job, which leads to a good life. The high levels of homework, starting at an age as young as five, causes the child to become stressed, have anxiety, and “ at least two hours less sleep each night than recommended” (“Is School Making Our Children Ill?”). The stress levels of students leads me to believe that school should be done at school, while extracurriculars, family time, and sleeping should be done at home.
“Homework is all pain and no gain,” says Alfie Kohn who has spent the last few years researching this subject. Homework worksheets, assignments, and project can be tedious and repetitive. Students do not want to come home to sit at their desk and learn, after a whole day of doing just that. Contrary to popular belief, “most of what homework is doing is driving kids away from learning”, says literacy expert Harvey Daniels. Parents have to become the enforcer, always asking if their child about homework and school instead of playing games, riding bikes, or baking. The joy of being young and carefree is stripped from students after getting loads of homework after loads of work at school. Students need a break from learning, and that is what going home from school should be.
Valerie Strauss explains how her five year old kindergartener has homework and projects nearly every night. After her son gets home from a busy day at school, all he wants to do is play with his sisters, run around, and sleep. However, Strauss is forced to sit him down in front of his work and make sure he finishes it. Some nights her son will go to his room and fall asleep right after getting home from school; even before eating dinner, doing homework, or taking a shower. Her son is exhausted after a day of learning at school, and should be able to come home and relax, maybe even play with his siblings. On other occasions, her son has has to “to learn new concepts” (Strauss) at home, which really means that she will be doing all the work, as it is nearly impossible to teach a five year old new concepts and ideas after 8 hours at school. The whole night is filled with trying to get her son to finish the worksheets he has for homework, instead of being a kid. Strauss’s finally states, “let the teachers teach at school and the parents parent at home,” which is what should be happening but is not. Strauss and her husband are not the teachers, and do not want their job of a parent becoming having to make sure her son, exhausted and tired, does his homework or finishes his project. Her idea that school and work should be done at school and family time should be done at home is what is healthy for children.
The amount of homework does not correlate with less rigor or easier academics. Students still learn, grow, and mature without spending literally their whole day working. Gaithersburg Elementary School in Rockville, Maryland eliminated homework all together in 2012 (Pawlowski). Students, Parents, and Teachers, all still say the policy is working fine and all the material is still getting covered (Pawlowski). Students can learn at school, and then come home and be free to have a few hours of free time before forced to repeat the same cycle over again. Children are stripped of their childhoods, carefree and adventurous. “There are many ways to succeed in life and many paths to a sufficient and satisfying livelihood” (“Workaholic Students”), besides sitting in front of a computer all day cramming information into our children's’ tiny brains. . When children do not appreciate learning, school becomes a hardship and burden. The rigor of an average student’s day in this time leads to children getting burned out and losing complete and utter motivation.
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