Homework: Good, Bad…Necessary?

Homework: Good, Bad… Necessary?
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Homework seems like a fact of life for most people—something that students and teachers alike accept as an essential part of teaching and learning. But is homework necessarily a good thing? While some parents and teachers insist that it is an important way to reinforce what goes on during the school day, persistent questions are being raised about how much homework students should get (and whether they need it at all).

In 2016, Eric Sheninger, a senior fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education, penned a nostalgic opinion piece for The Huffington Post. His topic? “Why Homework Practices Need to Change.” In his piece, Sheninger fondly recalled running free after school, unburdened by mounds of homework. He wrote, “Part of why I believe my childhood was so great was that there was a distinct balance between school and life.” As soon as the bus dropped off Sheninger and his brothers at their New Jersey home, Sheninger felt sure that playtime was paramount, while at school, the “focus was on learning.”

These days, Sheninger believes that the “life of a child...has changed dramatically.” Sheninger recalled having occasional, minimal homework as a kid, but noted that today’s students—including his own children—are often required to complete an hour or more of homework each night. Still, Sheninger said he is not entirely opposed to homework, he just thinks it should be limited to no more than 30 minutes per night for students through seventh grade, an assertion that he claimed research supports.

A front-page article in The New York Times also looked at the topic of homework, tapping into something it called a national “homework revolt.” The newspaper cited examples from school districts across the United States in which parents, teachers, and administrators were implementing new policies about homework. For instance, one school in Georgia that serves advanced learners decided to make homework optional, although the principal acknowledged that helping children with homework may allow parents to feel “connected” to the school.

In the Times piece, Duke University professor Harris Cooper stated that research shows small amounts of homework—such as 10 minutes per night—can “reinforce basic skills and help young children develop study habits.” A New Jersey parent whose school district was considering significantly limiting homework similarly expressed her support, saying she believed homework helps students understand that hard work can pay off. Should we teach them instead, she wondered, that extra work on a project or assignment is simply not necessary?

There is clearly more than one answer to the question of whether homework is a useful thing, and Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, said mandating how much homework to assign interferes with teachers’ “professional practice.” Telling teachers when to give homework and for how long turns teaching into an “assembly-line process,” she contended back in 2011. Many would still undoubtedly agree with Weingarten on this, supporting her belief that teachers need to use their own discretion based on the students in front of them.

Interestingly, high school student Amedee Martella wrote her own opinion piece about homework, which was published on the education-focused ASCD website and offered a balanced view on the topic. First, Martella delved into some of the research around homework, such as Cooper’s 1989 “Synthesis of Research on Homework.” Homework is acceptable, Martella concluded, when it is work students “can actually do within a reasonable amount of time” and doesn’t cause undue stress.


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