Homework no more

A new movement to lessen and even eliminate homework is gaining momentum.

By Ann Sullivan-Cross

Web Editor at LeapFrog

Ann Sullivan-Cross is LeapFrog's Web Editor, and when she's not chasing after her three kids, she's out running in the woods.

A revolt is brewing in public schools across the nation—a revolt against homework overload and its detrimental effects on family life and children’s personal development, mental health and, in some cases, academic performance.

Finland has ranked at the top of the Program for International Student Assessment since the testing began in 2000. Finnish children enjoy short school days, extended recess, no standardized tests and virtually no homework until they are into their teens.

The US, on the other hand, is ranked 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading, according to a report by Harvard University's Programs on Education Policy and Governance. Our public school children attend full days, undergo standardized testing, and are given homework beginning in kindergarten and increasing sharply with age.

It is interesting to note that South Korea is right up there with Finland in terms of ranking yet the country is notorious for piling on homework and subjecting teens to late night study sessions. South Korean teenagers are also reported to be the unhappiest in the world.

Parents Speak Out

What are the implications, then, when it comes to how we approach and evolve the learning systems of our children? Some parents are beginning to sound the alarm of a school system that ratchets up the stress of homework and testing. In the wake of RACE TO NOWHERE and The End of Homework—two vehicles that question the status quo of homework as a main learning tool—parents and educators disillusioned with the burden homework has placed on their children and family life, are beginning call for change. They are speaking up in PTA meetings, forming task forces and generating a dialog to address what they see as an outdated and ineffective mode of teaching our children.

Those on the side of reducing or eliminating homework, have some compelling findings and arguments to back them up:

  • A Forbes Magazine study compared the amount of hours of spent on homework against test scores in four countries and found a correlation with decreased test scores and increased homework exceeding 2 hours. After 3 hours the decrease was significant. A main culprit among others is sleep deprivation, a growing concern among our nation’s health community. 
  • Teachers forced to spend hours grading and correcting homework may be less able to expend energy preparing a dynamic learning environment for students.
  • Rote learning runs counter to creativity and critical thinking, skills vital for competition in the workplace.
  • An emphasis on homework automatically puts children of lesser means at a disadvantage as low income parents are less apt to monitor and help children complete homework. Many high school dropouts report falling behind in homework as a reason for leaving school.
  • Homework saps families of quality time and places parents in a teaching role, which creates conflict within the parent-child relationship. 
  • A traditional educational model that ‘teaches to the test’ fails to take into consideration the varied learning differences among students. This mode of education can undercut some otherwise bright and promising children. 
  • Hours devoted to homework takes away from children’s enrichment activities, such as music, sports, art, community and religious activities--not to mention time to simply relax, have fun and be a kid. 

Societal Implication of Less Homework

What is missing on both sides of the debate are adequate studies to prove the benefits or ill effects of homework. Those who believe more homework creates higher performing students do so from a prism of educational opportunity. Parental time and energy focused on children's learning is a natural positive, especially when fun is incorporated and parents do not fall into the 'strict teacher' role. However, relying on homework and parental involvement to fill gaps in public education does not serve society as a whole given the inability for many parents, especially lower income parents, to give the time and energy required to fit this role. Reducing or eliminating homework may also benefit teachers and students, as time spent otherwise rehashing worksheets can be devoted to a more dynamic learning environment. Without the need to grade and correct homework, teachers' afterschool time can be dedicated to preparing a more engaging curriculum.

While it is not expected that the president will enact an executive order to ban all homework as France’s president François Hollande did when he was elected, there are compelling arguments to back those who believe it is time to elevate classroom learning and dial back the amount of homework we require of our children.

Additional Resources:

Challenge Success
This program works with teams of educators, parents and students at schools to identify problems and implement best practices for school policies, curriculum, assessment, and a healthy school climate. http://www.challengesuccess.org/

This film calls us to challenge current thinking about how we prepare our children for success. Named by TakePart.com as one of “10 Education Documentaries You Don’t Want to Miss”, RACE TO NOWHERE brings communities together to spark dialogue and galvanize change in America’s schools.http://www.racetonowhere.com/home

End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids