Is Homework Good or Bad? Insight From a Teacher
After viewing the documentary The Race To Nowhere (twice), I noticed that homework was a huge topic of discussion in the documentary created by Vicki Abeles. All ages of children discussed homework, teachers of various levels discussed homework and parents found it particularly a sore subject in the lifestyle of their family. I have a definite strong opinion about homework that has shifted over the years as a teacher. As I grew in my professional development many of the ideas that I once held firm to my teaching philosophy shifted, molded and morphed into something with a piece of its originality. But my opinions about homework have taken a complete 180 shift in thinking.
When I was a third grade teacher, I firmly believed in homework every night. I believed students needed to practice the responsibility and routine of homework. I gave at least reading and spelling homework nightly and some other subject at least once a week. I was passionate about homework. As time has past, I began wondering what the purpose of homework really was? Was I assigning homework just for the sake of homework? Was the homework I was assigning teaching anything? Providing practice? A means of communication between school and home?
I began noticing a shift in behaviors in society. Children’s afternoons and evenings were jammed packed with activities or parents were working late hours, that by the time they got home there was barely enough time for dinner, bath and a decent bedtime. At some point I recognized that my assigned homework was making for a stressful home life for many of my students and I wasn’t even sure why I was assigning the homework.
As I became a gifted and talented specialist, I learned more about children’s brains and I began to drop my passion about homework. Today, I now think we should do away with homework altogether. I believe in family time, playtime and unstructured thinking time. That’s it.
In the film The Race To Nowhere, many teachers admitted that they assigned homework because there is so much course work to cover and not enough time to cover the material, therefore, the teachers had no choice but to assign homework just to cover all the material that might be on the test. This means that students were expected to complete work they had not been taught. The documentary showed high school students admitting that they would stay up all night several times a week just to finish homework, middle school students stating that they had up to 6 hours of homework a night and a third graders crying over homework. As a teacher, this makes me sick.
The truth is most districts or schools have a homework policy and schools feel obligated to give homework because they have a policy that says they give homework. There is no research that proves that homework is beneficial. Many studies have been conducted over the last 50 years and not one piece of research can definitively say that homework improves achievement, test scores or that homework was even beneficial. These results were consistent in both elementary and high school levels.
The most astonishing finding is when college level physics students were asked if their high school physics course homework had any relationship to their success or failure in college level physics course. Researchers Sadler & Tai found there was no relationship even after controlling their variables in the study. The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish has great resources on how homework is hurting our children, a great Q&A section on their website with suggestions on how parents can use their power to win in the battle against homework.
Even with all this evidence, the National PTA recommends that homework be given for 10 minutes per night beginning in first grade and you add an additional 10 minutes for each grade after. The National Education Association states that studies find that most children spend less than an hour each day on homework, which simply isn’t true. Ask any middle school student. The number one comment I receive when I ask my former elementary students and parents about middle school is, “There is so much homework!”
There are harmful effects of a child overloaded with homework:
- Sleep deprivation
- Emotional instability
- Drug use/abuse to help stay awake
- Attention & concentration problems
- Health problems (example: weight gain/loss)
- High stress levels
These are not things I want my child to feel, but I want to abide by school policy. Staying in contact with the teacher, raising your concerns and advocating for your child are essential. Doing 50 math problems doesn’t make you better at math. Try asking for a more manageable number of problems. Protect your family time and your child’s sleep. This will help in the family practicing time management. Lastly, get educated about your school’s homework policy. You may not feel this homework grumps this year, but you might in the future. Better to be prepared and armed with the right information.