Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Less-homework revolution...?

This morning I've come upon an interesting article in the Parenting & Family category on MSNBC called "The Less-Homework Revolution". Some parents of elementary and middle-school students are upset about the amount of homework assigned to their children. In the article an elementary school principal discusses her school's experiment to eliminate most homework, and claims that there have been no negative results in the classroom or on test scores. What's dismaying, though, is that conclusions are already being drawn even though the school is only in it's second year of this experiment. Furthermore, the conclusions are myopic: how will these kids fare later, when the concepts they need to develop rest upon their ability to quickly access and work with the fundamental concepts learned earlier in the educational stream? How will this affect the students' work ethic? Some of the anecdotes given in the article are certainly extreme - I do agree that it's hard to imagine an elementary student requiring four hours of homework on a regular basis, and I agree that homework competes in a skills ecosystem that also needs development in family and peer relationships that only come from time spent with family and time being social with friends. It seems, though, that a group of parents and educators are looking to throw the homework baby out with the bathwater, drawing hasty and myopic conclusions. A better choice, it would seem, is mentioned only briefly - a coordination of the amount of homework with the grade level of the student (though I'd be unsure that the relationship can stay linear, particularly in high school when concepts are many layers deep).

The lessining / elimination of homework is difficult to merge with, if not contradictory to, the concept discussed in my last post about the critical importance of time spent in practice in order to achieve mastery. That post is featured in today's edition of the Carnival of Education - check it out for lots of other thought-inspiring reading.


  1. Jonathan,

    I encourage you to read Alfie Kohn's book, The Homework Myth, if you haven't already done so.
    The negative consequences of indiscriminate homework assignments far outweigh the positive. The impact on family relationships and the effect on student learning (does it instill a love for learning?) can not be overlooked. And if a student already understands the concept, how does repetition, where everyone does the exact same number, reinforce understanding? And conversely, if a student doesn't understand what is asked of them, how does homework promote learning? For many kids, all it does is promote a feeling of "I must be stupid. I just don't get this."

    Homework has to have a purpose and be individualized if it is assigned at all. I applaud the school cited in the article for reexamining long established traditions.
    Thanks to Angela Maiers for directing me to your blog.

  2. Hi Karen,

    Thanks for stopping by - I'm thankful that Angela mentioned my blog on hers, and that you took the time to leave a comment to continue the discussion.

    I haven't read Kohn's book, but it's certainly rising to the top of my reading list as I become more interested in the issue of practice time and learning (whether via repetition and other memorization techniques getting time in the classroom, or via homework). I'm certainly going to look into Kohn's work, but I must admit that I'm skeptical about the claim that the negative consequences of homework outweigh the positive results to such a degree that some claim homework should not be assigned at all. I know that's not what you're claiming, but I'm also not claiming that any and all homework is good - I agree that it should be individualized as much as possible, just like primary instruction time, and I also agree that it's likely to have diminishing returns if overused. I do applaud schools that experiment with educational norms, too - and while it may be true that the long-term results at that school may be that learning remains the same (by whatever measure), I still have some concern about the impact on those students as they move forward in their educational process.

    I'm preparing another post for publication in the next few days that will continue my examination of this issue, featuring a response by Marzano to Kohn. I will be looking at some primary literature used by Kohn, as encouraged by Marzano, to bring my own understanding closer to the sources used by Kohn. I hope you'll keep checking in and initiating discussion - it's a valuable part of my learning and I appreciate meeting and talking with other educators!

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful response - I look forward to your next blog post that deals with the homework issue. It's an important conversation; too often, homeowrk appears to be assigned with no real purpose other than "TTWWADI" (that's the way we always do it).
    Just as an in everything in education, there needs to be a purpose that supports student learning and engagement.