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What Are the Benefits of Not Giving Homework?

by Julie Alice Huson, studioD

While there is extensive research on the pros and cons of homework, such as whether it improves student achievement or erodes family time, new voices need to be brought into the debate about how time is spent by students when they are not engaged in study after the school day ends. Some educators suggests that less time spent in frustration over extended classwork may actually encourage potential drop-outs to stay in school.

Inconclusive Research

Convincing data to prove the value of homework is lacking.

"What reason is there to think that any quantity of the kind of homework our kids are getting is really worth doing?" asks reporter Alfie Kohn, an education expert and researcher. Kohn insists that "data don't show that homework is responsible for higher achievement," concluding that the negative aspects of homework, such as frustration, family conflict, time lost for other activities and maybe a loss of children's interest in learning, are all valid reasons to be critical about whether the institution of homework should be abandoned altogether.

Burdens for Families

Homework assigned doesn't equal homework completed.

John Buell, coauthor of "The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning," conducted interviews with high school drop-outs in Maine. He reported that every student interviewed cited homework demands as a major reason in the choice to leave school. The students spoke of incomplete assignments and conflicts with parents that grew as their homework demands grew. While Buell can't claim that homework was the single determining factor that led students to leave school, he and his researchers concluded, "our own ethnographic research shows that extensive homework assignments have played a major role in school dropouts."

Misconceptions About Homework's Value

Increased tutoring support may not reflect true student learning.

In a 2009 book published by ASCD, Cathy Vatterott makes the case that there is a common belief that "lots of homework is a sign of a rigorous curriculum." Vatterott concludes, based on her research, that "more time [spent doing homework] does not necessarily equal more learning." As well, because after-school tutoring has become a 6 billion dollar business in America, Vatterott suggests that if many students are receiving help from adult tutors, teachers may have the misconception that "students know more than they really do." This may make students appear to be ready for more challenging content and the teacher can ratchet up the expectations unknowingly, setting more students up for possible failure.

Is Any Homework Beneficial?

Evidence is needed to support the routine of homework for children.

Researchers Good and Brophy, in their 2007 book "Looking in Classrooms," make some cases for when homework may actually be beneficial: "Especially useful...are assignments calling for students to show or explain their written work or other products...Such assignments cause students and their parents...to become engaged in conversations that relate to the academic curriculum, and thus extend the students' learning." However, medical and mental health experts don't often study the value of the homework, and parents should question the benefits of homework based on tangible research before placidly accepting that homework helps their children become better thinkers. Parents and teachers may want to think more about what else could be engaging students if they were not bogged down with hours of nightly homework.

About the Author

Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.

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