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Homework

Too Much Homework?
Or the Wrong Kind of Homework?

    Much has been written in the last few years about homework. The most often asked question is whether there is too much homework nowadays. Parents in some communities have even organized against what they see as "excessive" homework.

    A better question is to ask whether children are getting the right kind of homework. All too often, the kind of homework being assigned today has more of the same "project" and "activity" flavor that is clogging the school day itself.

    J. E. Stone, Ph.D., founder of the Education Consumers Clearinghouse, says,

    "Instead of responding to the public call for better results and greater accountability with better use of the existing school day, the schools with which I am familiar are retaining the often ineffectual and inefficient practices to which they are accustomed and dumping the result-oriented exercises on students (and parents) as homework. ... The growing concerns about homework need to be redirected. Where parents see too much homework they need to ask what the schools are doing with the available school day. Is time being wasted on non-academic matters? Do the teaching methods used seem to be chosen on the grounds that they are entertaining for the students rather than effective in bringing about learning?"

    One suburban Chicago parent gives an example:

    "The key to homework is effect use of time. An example: My daughter in 5th grade had to do a Chicago Math (Everyday Mathematics) project on spending one million dollars. The project included a glitzy poster (parents have to help) and the learning objective is to essentially spend 1,000,000 by adding categories until they meet the target spending. As I remember, the project consumed several hours. By comparison my daughter did four lessons in her Saxon program (around 30 minutes each) and gained 100x the knowledge of arithmetic. Today's elementary schools are filled with project and discovery learning education which consume vast amounts of time, with minimal returns to our students. In my time we called this 'busy work.'"

  • "Homework: A Cruel Hoax" by Rory Donaldson. Excerpt: "Few activities drive more severe wedges between parent and child than homework. I know of no other activity that has destroyed more family unity or caused more cruelty and tears. All this, when there is absolutely no evidence to support the efficacy of what passes as homework at all. Homework not only drives wedges, most of it does not work. There are four common types of homework ... Wrongly, all four are almost always used to introduce the student to new material. Since the material is new, often requiring Mom and Dad to get involved in instruction, the chances of frustration, parent-child battles, and academic failure increase exponentially."

  • "The Right Kind of Homework", editorial, New York Post, Jan. 21, 1999. Excerpt: "The problem is not the amount of homework. What's wrong is the amount of quasi-educational busywork masquerading as homework."

  • "Bad-Homework Book Is Warm-Puppy Dogma" by Marianne M. Jennings. (Also available at this address.) The author takes on education theorists who want to reduce homework overall, blaming any homework "problem" squarely on the nature of the homework that is typically assigned in today's schools: "Not all homework is beneficial. Real homework hones. But busy work assigned as homework is, well, just busy work. There is a certain breed of teacher ... who insists on posters, presentations and panoramas as homework based on the odd belief that children learn from such inane tasks. My oldest and I spent her eighth grade year running to the party store looking for figurines and props for her American history class projects. It is her weakest knowledge area because there were no tests -- just crafts."

  • When parents complain their kids have "too much homework," seldom is the cause an assignment to learn the names and significance of the major Civil War battles, or to complete a worksheet on the parts of a cell, or to diagram a set of sentences. No, far more often the phrase "too much homework" comes up when dealing with massive, time-consuming projects, especially projects that have elements of art or crafts. If this describes what you are seeing in your children's homework, read our page on Projects vs. Learning.

Symptoms of Bigger Problems

    Is your child spending enormous lengths of time on "projects"?

    Instead of actually learning anything, is your child working on elaborate posters and displays?

    Is homework carved up among the kids in the class? Is your child spending weeks on a report about Bulgaria without learning much about Europe? Or, is your child making an enormous papier mache model of the main crop of Nebraska, without learning much about other states?

Not Enough Homework?

  • The homework gap, editorial, Washington Times, October 11, 2003. Excerpt: "The myth of boundless, unbearable homework assignments seems to be boundless in itself. Fueled by anecdotes and spread by journalistic sensationalism, the homework monster has become entrenched throughout the educational culture. There's just one minor problem: It has virtually nothing to do with reality. ...
    As a recent comprehensive review of the data by the Brookings Institution reveals, the horror stories about students "buried in homework" are essentially fictional. Moreover, because homework has been shown to make significant contributions to learning, the fact that students continue to spend little time doing homework probably goes a long way explaining why there has been little improvement in test scores over the past 20 years, particularly in reading. The same fact explains why U.S. students perform so poorly compared to their foreign peers."

  • Homework: An Easy Load? Brookings Institution, October 1, 2003. "The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released new findings today that contradict years of anecdotal evidence (and millions of student complaints) that American children are overwhelmed with school work. The report, authored by Brown Center director Tom Loveless, found that, on average, students spend less than one hour a day on homework."

  • Do Students Have Too Much Homework? A Report by The Brown Center on Education Policy, October 2003. "Several major newspapers and magazines have run articles describing a backlash against homework. The typical story is that dramatic increases in the amount of homework are robbing American students of their childhood, turning kids off learning, and destroying family life. A revolution is brewing. Kids are buried in homework. Parents are hopping mad, and they're going to do something about it. Except, almost everything in this story is wrong."
    Full PDF report: click here

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