As an elementary/middle school teacher, I hear constant complaints about the issue of homework. There are valid points against overdoing it and even studies that suggest, in some cases, it doesn’t always help. There’s a big difference between busy work and assignments that are meaningful. Some researchers, like Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, propose that homework is a hidden cause of childhood obesity. Others, like Alfie Kohn, believe that the quality and quantity of assignments done at home should be addressed, pronto. So, why do students today still have to do this archaic activity?
Although some teachers assign busy work, that is not always the case. Often times, the assignments students bring home are not only continuations of what was done in class, but are activities that help apply the knowledge learned earlier in the day. Homework does, in many cases, offer some benefits:
Although there is an ongoing debate about the merits and necessity of homework, the bottom line is that it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. Sure, parents should question teachers and make sure that the homework is relevant and not going to last five hours, but the best possible action a student can take at the elementary age is to accept its inevitability. This will lead to time management strategies, allowing them to learn how to juggle a variety of activities on a daily basis, just like parents and all other adults do every day.
Studies at Duke University under Harris Cooper found a positive connection between test scores and homework. “The results of such studies suggest that homework can improve students’ scores on the class tests that come at the end of a topic. Students assigned homework in 2nd grade did better on math, 3rd and 4th graders did better on English skills and vocabulary, 5th graders on social studies, 9th through 12th graders on American history, and 12th graders on Shakespeare.” Of course, when it is overloaded, there’s the case of diminishing returns.
Life in the working world is more competitive than ever before. Children need to learn the methods that will allow them to be successful in the life that’s just ahead. Kohn suggests that homework doesn’t help elementary school students, when research states otherwise. He is also a proponent of eliminating grades. Kohn’s ideas generate excellent debate topics, but are not practical in a world that uses rankings for everything. So, even if you don’t buy into the fact that homework will make a child a higher academic achiever in the short term (even though research states otherwise), realize that it just might create a human being with good habits, a rich work ethic, and a success later on in the world outside academia.