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The Homework Hurdle Part II: Is it Worth It?

Columnist Jessica Yee explores the merits and drawbacks of homework.

This article is one of a two-part series. To read yesterday's discussion on homework, click HERE

Do students in the U.S. really have that much homework? Parents in Maplewood, New Jersey say yes. Based on research, parent and teacher surveys as well as recommendations from district officials, board members at Galloway Township Public School District will soon consider discontinuing weekend homework forever, and The Huffington Post reported

In doing my own research, I found a 2003 report stating that higher acedemic standards do not result in more homework. According to The Brown Center Report that examined this topic from various sources, homework has stayed relatively constant despite the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Over the last 50 years, the majority of U.S. students have spent less than one hour on homework daily among all grade levels. In the last 20 years, homework has increased only in the lower grades; this increase has had neutral and sometimes a negative impact on student achievement. 

The first question: How much homework should be assigned? The National Education Association and the National PTA recommend 10 minutes per grade level per day (10 minutes for first grade and 120 minutes for twelfth graders; high school students may do more depending on whether they take Advanced Placement or other rigorous classes). From my experience thus far, I have found that South Pasadena schools are pretty aligned with the recommended workload.

The second question: What are the benefits of doing homework? Studies have shown that homework can have a positive impact on learning. According to the research study “The Case for and against Homework,” there’s growing evidence showing homework can be useful when employed effectively. The authors, for instance, did find a link between homework and higher achievement.

Experts say that homework can provide the following benefits: review and practice of concepts, preparation for more complex lessons, development of study habits, additional time for a deeper dive of topics, enhancing and solidifying learning, developing time management skills, fostering independent learning and keeping families informed about what the child is learning at school.

The Department of Education states that homework can improve children’s thinking and memory while developing positive study skills and habits that can serve them well throughout their lives. The department also suggests that homework helps kids learn to be responsible for their work. Parents should be involved but too much involvement, on the other hand, can make children dependent on parental discipline. This takes away opportunities for children to develop independence and responsibility for themselves. 

The biggest challenge, I think, is instilling that sense of ownership and self-motivation. Kids don’t naturally gravitate toward work. With our own kids, we explain to them that everyone has a job and doing homework and learning is their job. They understand that homework is non-negotiable, because it helps ensure that they understand the materials taught at school. If there are areas they don’t grasp, homework highlights those areas while we try to provide reinforcement at home. We monitor their work, but we don’t do their work for them. If we see that they’ve done a poor job, we give the homework back to them to redo until we’re satisfied with the work product. 

One of the most difficult things for me is allowing my children to fail sometimes (for example, by getting a poor homework grade) where we think they have been particularly irresponsible (such as procrastinating endlessly or losing their assignment sheet). Permitting children to fail as a “lesson” is certainly not a common technique in Taiwan when I was growing up—that’s for sure!

For tips from the Department of Education on helping your kids with homework at home, click HERE.

Jessica Yee June 01, 2011 at 07:38 PM
Thanks. I looked up California and it appears that it only has two screenings available for now. Both at public schools - one in Long Beach and one in Tarzana. Unusual grass roots ,community driven approach to organize a screening.
SP Dad June 02, 2011 at 01:35 AM
Interesting subject for any parent. I personally don’t think much of the diorama assignments and other “project” type stuff that require a lot of parental input and help and seem to be advertisements for the teacher along the lines “Look parents, I made your kids do so much work!”. They seem to function as “conspicuous assignments” rather than serve a pedagogical purpose. The point should be for kids to do homework themselves with minor adult supervision.
Gary Rowe June 02, 2011 at 02:22 AM
Ob Server, I disagree strongly. "Waiting for Superman" champions the education reform movement, which (along with the statute it promoted, No Child Left Behind) has engendered two pernicious things in our schools. First, it has demonized teachers -- noble, hard-working public servants who work for appallingly low salaries -- blaming them for larger societal problems that inhibit learning. Second, it has brought us the strong emphasis on standardized testing that currently plagues our schools. As a result, we have all too often neglected the more intangible, but equally valuable, side of eduction: teaching the arts & humanities, fostering creativity & scholarship, and instilling a love for learning for its own sake. We need to move away from the current teach-to-the-test curriculum, rather than further embracing the educational reformers nirvana of "objective" measurement of learning. Thank you, Jessica, for these stimulating columns!
Gary Rowe June 02, 2011 at 02:25 AM
One more point: For a wonderful critique of the education reform movement, which "Waiting for Superman" champions, read the work of the person who has thought more deeply about education than anyone else, Prof. Diane Ravitch. Her book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education" (2010) offers a devastating critique of the "Waiting For Superman" approach. Her eviscerating review essay on the film can be found here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/ Her other recent short essays are here: http://www.dianeravitch.com/articles.html After Reading "The Death and Life," as you can no doubt tell, I've become an enthusiastic fan. I think our current emphasis on standardized testing is ultimately a disaster that detracts for real, humanistic education.
Jenny July 01, 2011 at 09:17 PM
I have heard some parents in my son's class complain that the teacher gives out too much homework and they have no time to monitor or help at home. I personally think homework helps reinforces learning at school and allows parents to better understand the curriculum that's being taught. This should not take away the teacher's focus on teaching arts, music, humanities and other important lessons. Also, teachers, with parents input, should make sure children are not give excessive homework that will create unnecessary stress on the kids.

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