Books flying, pencils being broken in half, shouting, tears…no it’s not a visit to the doctor for the flu shot…it’s 4:30 PM and it’s time for your child to get their homework done. Perhaps one of the more contentious topics in education, homework is an often-debated, never-agreed-upon mainstay of the majority of children’s educational experience.
Depending on the age of your child, the school they go to, and their academic ability, homework can be something you dread, something you wish your child had more of, or something in between. Before we get into my own views on the topic, I want to share some very, very brief research with you on the topic.
- According to the Washington Post, in a longitudinal study on high school students’ time spent doing homework and test scores, one to two hours of homework every day resulted in “two to three points” on a standardized test score. I mention high school here because it is often argued that homework is given at the elementary level as a preparatory tool for high school.
- Alfie Kohn, a prominent education author and researcher, and writer of the book “The Homework Myth,” has reviewed countless studies on elementary homework and has yet to find statistically significant evidence supporting the “myth” that homework boosts academic achievement and builds study skills.
- Anecdotally, and particularly in the earlier primary grades, parents and guardians take on the majority of the responsibility of homework completion, and not the child.
So with all of that in mind, what’s the point of homework?
Frankly, I’m not sure.
It really depends on how you define it. If homework is playing math games to further develop operational fluency (the ability to perform math operations quickly and without too much thought), homework can be beneficial (and even fun). If homework is playing a matching game with flash cards containing different Hebrew letters to support quick recall, homework can be beneficial. If homework is reading a book, either with or without an adult that builds fluency, vocabulary and just general knowledge, homework can certainly be beneficial. But beyond that? In most cases, it’s usually not worth the effort from the child, teacher or parent.
Let’s look at it from the child’s perspective. After spending 7 hours in a Jewish Day School, often almost an hour more than their public school peers, giving a child more strenuous homework is already extending a long day of learning well past their ability to maintain focus, energy and care. If the child is completing a worksheet that they can do, it feels boring or repetitive. If they’ve already mastered double-digit addition, what’s the point of doing it at 5:00 PM? It’s the equivalent of having an after-hours meeting with your boss after already sending them an email reporting on the very topic of the meeting itself. Relevant? Yes. Helpful? Definitely not.
Let’s look at it from the parents’ perspective. After spending hours at work, in addition to the hours spent making lunches, running errands, and schlepping to appointments, giving their child strenuous homework just makes parenting that much more emotionally taxing. Providing constant reminders, let alone academic support and instruction, is more than just exhausting; it sends home the complex teacher-student relationship to the parent that is, in most cases, not trained for this type of dynamic. Parents – in addition to many, many others – were certainly at-home learning heroes…but that job should have ended the moment kids were back in the classes.
Finally, let’s look at it from the teacher’s perspective. After spending 7+ hours working with children, in addition to the hours spent lesson planning, marking, answering emails and possibly eating lunch while on recess duty, giving your child homework means more to plan for, assess and give feedback on what takes place outside of their classroom. Was the homework done independently, or did the tutor feed them all the answers? Did they complete the work after hours of screaming and tears, or was it too easy? It’s hard to tell when it happens at home.
You can see the problem. It often just doesn’t make sense. So the next time you’re dodging thrown pencils and looking for kleenex to wipe up tears, it might finally be time to talk to your child’s teacher about if this really makes sense for your child. At least with the flu shot, though perhaps equally as painful, you know you’re getting some benefit for your child’s long term success.