Homework apparently not the problem …


Over the past decade, there has been a bit of media coverage regarding how teachers don’t do enough … that American education isn’t rigorous enough, and that the state of education today is really bad compared to what it used to be.

I am not going to create an argument over that … but I will point out this article, which, if the Chicago area is typical, points to two interesting pieces of data.

1. Parents don’t have a big problem with the amount of homework given kids.

2. Kids today get a lot more homework than their parent used to.

I have to immediately disqualify my personal experience in school for determining when the amount of homework is too much. Some of my friends who read this blog will easily confirm that particularly in some of our math classes, the amount of homework was a lot by any standards. There were a few nights (not many, a few) when 100 problems was a homework assignment in accelerated algebra … 30-40 was a normal night’s load for math. I have regaled my students with these stories, and they usually respond by asking if I had to do it going uphill both ways to school in the snow.

I can’t be sure of the amount of homework has gone up, but I think there are a lot more kids who try to be involved in a lot of things. 2-3 sport athletes plus a school club … in some cases a club sport …. maybe a kid who is in the band, the orchestra, a jazz ensemble, and the speech team. So there is that.

I am also not going to jump on this as some kind of evidence that parents are being hypocritical … that is to say that they complain schools do so little in one breath, and then too much in the other. I have heard of (and cannot find) studies that show that when parents are asked about their school … they have a tendency to respond more favorably … but when asked to comment about “American education as a whole”, things are terrible. A finding like this is but one finding, but weekly supports that idea: my school works my kid a lot …

Another issue: quantity is not necessarily a sign of quality. Just because students get more homework does not mean that they are necessarily understanding anything more. As a matter of fact, I think something kids are having a hard time adjusting to is the idea that they are being pushed more and more to work cooperatively. At a young age (heck at an old age), people have a hard time drawing a line between “cooperative help” and “cheating”. So, with more and more homework, I really do think more and more kids are getting less and less out of it.

For what its worth, one of the things I have really tried to abolish (and according to my older students, I have been successful) in getting rid of so-called “busy work” … I try to give students the bare minimum to practice/demonstrate particular skills, and provide extra work for those who ask for it. The better students get more time to do other things, and the conscientious students who need more help, get it.


2 Responses to Homework apparently not the problem …

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I agree that there is too much homework, largely because there is so much busywork. In addition, there is “summer homework”, which I don’t remember ever having. (Well, I think I might have been told that I was supposed to read at least one book over the summer, but I’m not even sure about that – and it was about like telling me to eat at least one meal over the summer.) I much prefer your approach.

    That said, my daughter has just finished kindergarten. I might feel different by the time she is in high school.

  2. teganx7 says:

    One of the things that I am a little curious about is how much of this appears to be regional in nature. Having had talks with teachers from more rural communities, there appears to be a combination of community/administrative pressure and their own preference to keep things the same as they always have been … and I wonder if that means “busy work” is something that is more likely to happen there. It might also have something to do with the level of teacher experience. I gave more homework as a younger teacher … but then again I’m not sure if that was because that was what I was used to, or if it was because I was inexperienced (which might be saying the same thing).

    Professionally (as a science teacher), I see homework strictly as a chance to practice and to demonstrate a certain level of mastery. I understand that in areas of study like English it is a little different.

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