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I Agree: Ditch that Homework

I have been on both ends of the homework equation, teacher and parent. As a teacher, I have assigned it countless times, but it never felt right. Most of the time I felt guilty for assigning it but felt I had to.  I mean, kids spend six hours a day in school. Shouldn't we be able to get our job done in that amount of time?  Shouldn't kids get to go home and spend time with their families, play sports, go to youth group,  play outside, surf, and relax? As a teacher, I've been irritated and frustrated when students did not complete it. I've heard some of the following:

  • I lost it
  • I was sick last night
  • I fell asleep
  • I forgot how to do it
  • I had soccer practice until 9
  • My grandma is in the hospital
  • I had too much math homework
  • My maid threw it away
  • I forgot it
  • Our internet was down
  • My dog ate it (the student handed me paper with tooth marks)
Unfortunately, sometimes my lesson for that day was dependent on students completing their homework. If they didn't have it, they couldn't participate.  Now, who do you think is least likely to complete homework?  Yep! Those with busy parents (nobody to hover over them or assist them) and those who have never "done school" very well.  So what does assigning homework do? It allows those students grades to suffer. The students who do their homework are the students who will do well regardless.

  Many years ago I read a book by Alfie Kohn called The Homework Myth, and it supported everything I had always felt about homework.   I also read The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. Again, more validation! My current read is Ditch that Homework by Alice Keeler.  Numerous articles have been published giving credence to the claim that assigning homework does not propel students to academic success.  There is no correlation between homework and student performance.  There is very little evidence to support assigning homework in middle school either!  I would argue that homework is detrimental in all grades because of the negative effect it has on how students feel about school.  
Proponents of homework argue that it prepares students for college, teaches them responsibility, and allows them to practice what they learned in class. My son just finished his freshman year at San Diego State and managed to do very well academically. When I asked him how many hours a week he spent doing homework, he said that it was ten hours at the most.  That's less than some elementary school students! After I had my first baby, I was surviving on about four hours of sleep. Should I have started depriving myself of sleep in preparation for motherhood?  Heck no! In regards to teaching students responsibility, that is a ridiculous reason. I can teach my children responsibility just fine all by myself!  They can do their laundry, vacuum, pick up dog poop, and participate in a variety of activities (sports, church, jobs) that require responsibility.  Oh, but they need PRACTICE!  Okay, but why can't that be done in class?  That way the teacher is there to assist them with any questions!  Catlin Tucker, the author of Blended Learning, encourages teachers to try using stations in their classrooms. This allows the teacher to provide feedback to a small group of students and answer questions they may have.    

As a parent, I have always despised and resented my own children having homework, especially in elementary and middle school.  Many times the assignments involved me having to spend money at Michaels, scrounge up a shoe box, or sign a reading log (don't get me started on reading logs). Other times, one of my kids would be in tears at 9:00 at night because he was tired but still had ten more math problems left to do.   Here's another reason I don't like homework: it can lead to grade inflation.  Last year my son took chemistry. He completed all of his homework but earned Ds or Fs on almost all of his tests. He still managed to pass the class!  Does that seem right?  I think not!
Unfortunately, some students and parents equate homework with rigor.  For example, last year I told one of my students that he should take Honors English next year.  His response was, "I don't know. I don't want a lot of homework."  That is what some people think honors should be--more homework.  No, it should be different work!  In fact, if teachers were willing to personalize learning, we could eliminate honors and challenge ALL students. In my opinion, teachers need to rethink what we do in class, as well as how we do it.  This will allow our students more time for practice and feedback, as well as the possibility of eliminating homework!    

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