Homework may be the greatest extinguisher of curiosity ever invented
- Alfie Kohen, author of The Homework Myth
Sweeping our country is a new trend, which I love: No homework! Many parents are singing the praises of these policies, which remove the nightly nagging of “Have you done your homework?” Plus it frees up time where parents can genuinely connect with their child whether over dinner, or gardening in the backyard without the stress of impending schoolwork. Of course, the no homework program isn’t for every principal although I really think in early elementary school there’s no downside and research even reveals that, too!
In 2006, Harris Cooper shared his meta-analytic study, which found homework in elementary school (K-5th grade) does not contribute to academic achievement. Said differently: Homework has become just busy work in the United States, and children aren’t learning anything additional from it. And let’s be honest, at one point a child’s homework becomes a parents homework and even I’m regularly guilty of pulling my calculator out to double check my child’s work. But Cooper’s study isn’t black and white: There were modest gains for middle and high school students, so it looks like the developmental window of early childhood is the place where homework isn’t necessarily beneficial.
Recently, Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of Marion County in FL, which has 42,000 students made national news because she not only is banning homework, but is replacing it with 20 minutes of reading per night. Studies clearly show that young students gain from reading nightly, being read to and picking books of interest to them. Mark Trifilio, principal of the Orchard School in VT, eliminated HW last year and suggested replacing it with nightly reading, playing outdoors or even eating with your family. He reports students haven’t fallen behind, but now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions” (The Washington Post, Feb 26, 2017).
The subtext of a “no homework” policy in elementary schools is saying: We trust our teachers, we trust the curriculum, and we trust our students to pay attention as well as learn during the day. No homework for kindergarten through fifth grade doesn’t erase learning, but helps students tolerate an often long day better and encourages them to pursue their unique interests after-school from reading and writing to taking photographs. Abbey, age nine, is one of my child client’s without homework and she’s created a website to share her “nature photos through her eyes.”
Western societies often think “more is better” but when it comes to homework the exact opposite may be true for young and perhaps even older children. A study conducted at Stanford University in 2013 showed the amped up stress and physical ailments high school students face especially when spending too much time on their homework. So perhaps a “no homework” policy early-on can position students to find balance in their lives, which can serve them later on. I especially love replacing homework with reading because I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of reading with a child, and how books open a child’s mind to new worlds whether it’s Hogwarts or the Ice Age. And after all isn’t the point of childhood to have fun and learn in a multitude of ways?
By Maureen Healy
Maureen Healy writes and speaks widely on the subjects of children’s emotional health, education and parenting. She also continues to work directly with children and their parents globally. To learn more about her books, sessions or programs: www.growinghappykids.com or @mdhealy
The Washington Post – July 17, 2017
Why this superintendent is banning homework – and asking kids to read
The Washington Post - February 26, 2017
What happened when one school banned homework – and asked kids to read and play instead
Healthline – April 11, 2017
Is too much homework bad for kids’ health?
CBS News – Sept 26, 2016
Growing number of elementary schools now homework free
The Battle Over Homework by Harris Cooper (2007)
As kids return to school, debate is heating up once again over how they should spend their time after they leave the classroom for the day.
The no-homework policy of a second-grade teacher in Texas went viral last week, earning praise from parents across the country who lament the heavy workload often assigned to young students. Brandy Young told parents she would not formally assign any homework this year, asking students instead to eat dinner with their families, play outside and go to bed early.
But the question of how much work children should be doing outside of school remains controversial, and plenty of parents take issue with no-homework policies, worried their kids are losing a potential academic advantage. Here’s what you need to know:
For decades, the homework standard has been a “10-minute rule,” which recommends a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Second graders, for example, should do about 20 minutes of homework each night. High school seniors should complete about two hours of homework each night. The National PTA and the National Education Association both support that guideline.
But some schools have begun to give their youngest students a break. A Massachusetts elementary school has announced a no-homework pilot program for the coming school year, lengthening the school day by two hours to provide more in-class instruction. “We really want kids to go home at 4 o’clock, tired. We want their brain to be tired,” Kelly Elementary School Principal Jackie Glasheen said in an interview with a local TV station. “We want them to enjoy their families. We want them to go to soccer practice or football practice, and we want them to go to bed. And that’s it.”
A New York City public elementary school implemented a similar policy last year, eliminating traditional homework assignments in favor of family time. The change was quickly met with outrage from some parents, though it earned support from other education leaders.
New solutions and approaches to homework differ by community, and these local debates are complicated by the fact that even education experts disagree about what’s best for kids.
The most comprehensive research on homework to date comes from a 2006 meta-analysis by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, who found evidence of a positive correlation between homework and student achievement, meaning students who did homework performed better in school. The correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades, for whom there was a weak relationship between homework and performance.
Cooper’s analysis focused on how homework impacts academic achievement—test scores, for example. His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills. On the other hand, some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. At the end of his analysis, Cooper recommended further study of such potential effects of homework.
Despite the weak correlation between homework and performance for young children, Cooper argues that a small amount of homework is useful for all students. Second-graders should not be doing two hours of homework each night, he said, but they also shouldn’t be doing no homework.
Not all education experts agree entirely with Cooper’s assessment.
Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, supports the “10-minute rule” as a maximum, but she thinks there is not sufficient proof that homework is helpful for students in elementary school.
“Correlation is not causation,” she said. “Does homework cause achievement, or do high achievers do more homework?”
Vatterott, the author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, thinks there should be more emphasis on improving the quality of homework tasks, and she supports efforts to eliminate homework for younger kids.
“I have no concerns about students not starting homework until fourth grade or fifth grade,” she said, noting that while the debate over homework will undoubtedly continue, she has noticed a trend toward limiting, if not eliminating, homework in elementary school.
The issue has been debated for decades. A TIME cover in 1999 read: “Too much homework! How it’s hurting our kids, and what parents should do about it.” The accompanying story noted that the launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to a push for better math and science education in the U.S. The ensuing pressure to be competitive on a global scale, plus the increasingly demanding college admissions process, fueled the practice of assigning homework.
“The complaints are cyclical, and we’re in the part of the cycle now where the concern is for too much,” Cooper said. “You can go back to the 1970s, when you’ll find there were concerns that there was too little, when we were concerned about our global competitiveness.”
Cooper acknowledged that some students really are bringing home too much homework, and their parents are right to be concerned.
“A good way to think about homework is the way you think about medications or dietary supplements,” he said. “If you take too little, they’ll have no effect. If you take too much, they can kill you. If you take the right amount, you’ll get better.”