“There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”
— Duke University professor and researcher Harris Cooper (salon.com)
As we near the end of the school year, a lot of parents are finding they need to give their kids that extra push to complete assignments and finish homework. With standardized tests behind most kids, and AP exams and finals approaching for high school students, pretty much everyone is beginning to look forward to those hot-and-hazy, lazy days of summer. But there is still work that must be done, classes that must be attended, assignments that must be turned in over the final 4-6 weeks that are left on the academic calendar. (Students in my township will be going to school into the last week of June due to a teachers’ strike. Bummer!)
Homework has always been a staple in American education. Even kindergartners might bring home a brief weekend assignment from time to time. Heather Shumaker examined Professor Cooper’s research, which finds that any academic benefit of homework is age-dependent:
For elementary-aged children, research suggests that studying in class gets superior learning results, while extra schoolwork at home is just . . . extra work. Even in middle school, the relationship between homework and academic success is minimal at best. By the time kids reach high school, homework provides academic benefit, but only in moderation. More than two hours per night is the limit. After that amount, the benefits taper off. “The research is very clear,” agrees Etta Kralovec, education professor at the University of Arizona. “There’s no benefit at the elementary school level.”
Shumaker says that giving young kids homework at night results in negative attitudes toward school and squelches the emerging love of learning we want children to acquire in the early grades. Maybe you have experienced some of these issues surrounding homework with your kids:
Then there’s the damage to personal relationships. In thousands of homes across the country, families battle over homework nightly. Parents nag and cajole. Overtired children protest and cry. Instead of connecting and supporting each other at the end of the day, too many families find themselves locked in the “did you do your homework?” cycle.
When homework comes prematurely, it’s hard for children to cope with assignments independently—they need adult help to remember assignments and figure out how to do the work. Kids slide into the habit of relying on adults to help with homework or, in many cases, do their homework. Parents often assume the role of Homework Patrol Cop. Being chief nag is a nasty, unwanted job, but this role frequently lingers through the high school years. Besides the constant conflict, having a Homework Patrol Cop in the house undermines one of the purported purposes of homework: responsibility.
For young children, Shumaker feels there is no place for all this extra busy work. What the research makes clear, she says, is that less is more: homework should be banned:
Homework supporters say homework teaches responsibility, reinforces lessons taught in school, and creates a home-school link with parents. However, involved parents can see what’s coming home in a child’s backpack and initiate sharing about school work–they don’t need to monitor their child’s progress with assigned homework. Responsibility is taught daily in multiple ways; that’s what pets and chores are for. It takes responsibility for a 6-year-old to remember to bring her hat and lunchbox home. It takes responsibility for an 8-year-old to get dressed, make his bed and get out the door every morning. As for reinforcement, that’s an important factor, but it’s only one factor in learning. Non-academic priorities (good sleep, family relationships and active playtime) are vital for balance and well-being. They also directly impact a child’s memory, focus, behavior and learning potential. Elementary lessons are reinforced every day in school. After-school time is precious for the rest of the child.
We’d love for teachers who read The PediaBlog to add their thoughts about the importance of homework in their student’s learning. Please add your comments below.