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.”
Does homework help? Only if it's the right homework, expert says
By Jonathan Hepburn and Paige Cockburn
Posted August 24, 2016 19:47:50
Homework is not useless but its quality is far more important than quantity and schools should think very carefully about why they are setting it, an education expert at the University of South Australia says.
Over the past week an anti-homework note sent to parents by a teacher in Forth Worth, Texas, has spread around the world after being posted to Facebook by a parent.
"After much research this summer, I am trying something new," the note from Mrs Brandy Young, which has been shared more than 70,000 times, says.
"Homework will only consist of work that your student did not finish during the school day. There will be no formally assigned homework this year."
The note goes on to say that research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance.
Instead, Mrs Young urges parents to spend their evenings doing things like reading together, playing outside, and getting their children to bed early, which "are proven to correlate with student success."
Not surprisingly, the note was posted to Facebook with the comment "Brooke is loving her new teacher already!"
External Link: Facebook no-homework note
Good homework is 'purposeful, specific, and reinforces learning'
However, "she's not quite right," says Brendan Bentley, a PhD candidate and lecturer in the Education Department of the University of South Australia.
In 2006, a review of American research conducted between 1987 and 2003 found that "there was generally consistent evidence for a positive influence of homework on achievement."
The review, led by Dr Harris Cooper of Duke University, found that evidence was stronger for students in grades seven to 12 than for kindergarten to grade six, and for when students, rather than parents, reported how much time they spent doing homework.
On the other hand, in 2013, Australian academics Richard Walker and Mike Horsley published Reforming Homework, in which they reviewed international research and found that for young primary school children, homework is of little or no value and students are regularly given too much.
The issue is that although if you do something more often you get better at it, you have to be doing the right thing in the first place.
"Homework has to be purposeful, specific, and reinforce learning. If it's just to finish work, that may not help the student at all," Mr Bentley said.
In fact, too much homework can be worse than useless: It can be detrimental.
"For students in grades three or four, more than 20 minutes of homework can exhaust them. They go into cognitive load, and their ability to learn goes into a decline," Mr Bentley said.
"They can develop a negative attitude towards learning. It's about getting the balance right."
Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used: a heavy cognitive load creates errors or interference.
That 20 minutes is not a guideline for each day: "There needs to be a good argument for having homework every single night," Mr Bentley said.
"Schools have to understand why they are giving homework. Without a good purpose and a rationale: Reconsider it."
He says that homework can be ramped up as students get older, but even in grade 10, research shows that, "if it's more than an hour, it's a waste of time."
Designing effective homework also depends upon how much the student is able to learn.
"Adults can learn about seven things at a time. For young children, that's maybe two or three," Mr Bentley said. "You only need 20 minutes to reinforce that."
However, he says the benefits of homework are not just about reinforcing learning, and that if it does not turn students off, it can teach important study habits.
He agrees that family time and relaxation can be more important than homework.
"Developing good habits and attitudes through interaction with parents can be good — every time you interact with your children, you are teaching assumptions," he said.
On the other hand, too much homework can lead to conflicts with parents.
"Parents are keen for their children to be the best, so they may ask about homework, and may do it for their children, which defeats the purpose," Mr Bentley said.
Topics:education, children, secondary-schools, primary-schools, schools, youth, australia
- Academics agree that too much homework can harm learning
- Good homework is 'purposeful, specific, and reinforces learning'
- Time spent with family after school can be more important than more study