Stop giving mindless homework – a neutral, research-based view

Which would you prefer: Richard Feynman’s mum asking him “What did you ask at school today?” or “What homework have you got to do tonight? Can you get it done before supper.”

I am not pro-homework for its own sake. By and large I think much of it is a total waste of time and energy for all concerned. Worse than that, I think it damages what might be called the child’s “learning relationship” with their mum or dad. I am, though, keenly aware that parents (and teachers) can think many of the arguments are just cleverly-wrought excuses to try to get out of marking and assessing the children. (A little like a child trying to get out of having to homework). So I am always on the hunt for a neutral, research-based view.

I first read Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth a while back. It’s grounded in research but he’s a little overevangelical. If nothing else, I’d recommend it to teachers and parents to make them think about some easily made assumptions. (update:I’d recommend this shorter read in 10 minutes version first) Anyway, the two main points that stuck with me were that

  1. the burden of proof should be on those who claim homework helps and
  2. if homework is given it’s a good idea to co-design with the pupils.

Neither of which seem to cut the mustard with parents or teachers. Partly, I think, this is because when quoting Alfie Kohn it’s easy to feel a little “touched with fire” …

Anyway, more evidence at Time magazine or The Case Against Homework has pointed me in the direction of Harris Cooper.

  • The onslaught comes despite the fact that an exhaustive review by the nation’s top homework scholar, Duke University’s Harris Cooper, concluded that homework does not measurably improve academic achievement for kids in grade school. That’s right: all the sweat and tears do not make Johnny a better reader or mathematician.
  • Too much homework brings diminishing returns. Cooper’s analysis of dozens of studies found that kids who do some homework in middle and high school score somewhat better on standardized tests, but doing more than 60 to 90 min. a night in middle school and more than 2 hr. in high school is associated with, gulp, lower scores.
  • Teachers in many of the nations that outperform the U.S. on student achievement tests–such as Japan, Denmark and the Czech Republic–tend to assign less homework than American teachers, but instructors in low-scoring countries like Greece, Thailand and Iran tend to pile it on.

Cooper has written a book called The Battle Over Homework: Common ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents. Can’t wait for a neutral, research-based view.