Pros and cons of homework

3 Jun

Vicki Abeles directed a very popular documentary, “The Race to Nowhere.” John Merrow, education correspondent for PBS writes in the Huffington Post article, ‘Race to Nowhere:’ It’s no ‘Waiting for ‘Superman’, ‘ but it’s Honest:

By now it seems we have all reviewed “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” but what’s surprising is that WFS is just one of four or five movies about education now out. A few weeks ago I reviewed WFS, and now I’ve decided to review the rest of them, beginning with “Race to Nowhere,” the 2009 film made by first-time director (and angry parent) Vicki Abeles.

“Race to Nowhere” is a film about how schools and parental pressure are affecting students’ mental and emotional wellbeing. WFS portrays our schools as undemanding; “Race to Nowhere” says the opposite — that we are killing our kids, figuratively and sometimes literally….

Some moments in “Race to Nowhere” just jump off the screen. One that I found particularly compelling: a young woman speaking on a panel asks her audience to identify the worst question a parent can ask his or her child. Turns out, she says, it’s a one-word question. Just

“And?” As in this circumstance:
Child: “I’m taking three honors courses.”
Parent: “And?”
Child: “Well, I have the lead in the school play.”
Parent: “And?”
Child: “I made the volleyball team.”
Parent: “And?”
You get the picture. The parents are never satisfied, and the child can never relax. Life for these students is nothing but stress and unrealistic expectations. The world the film conjures up is all too familiar: students are expected to perform and produce but aren’t given time to play.

See, Why ‘Race to Nowhere’ documentary is wrong

Kenneth Goldberg, a clinical psychologist with 35 years of professional experience working with children, adolescents and adults writes in the Washington Post about homework. He is also the author of “The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.” In Why Some Kids Cant Do Homework And What Teachers Should Do About It, Goldberg writes:

Parents do not send their children to school planning to challenge the system. They are eager for their children to learn and they want to help out if they can. They expect their children will comply. Often, it works. Sometimes, it does not.

Too often, we look at homework noncompliance as a problem of motivation when the fact is that these children simply cannot do the work (or at least do all of the work). These children need homework relief, and, above all, they need for their parents to call the shots.

So teachers, go ahead and assign, and take some liberty in making school fun. If you step on some toes, offer an apology and go on. But also, honor the boundaries between home and school. If a child is making a lot of excuses, ask the parents for help, and look to them for direction about what to do. If that parent says her child cannot do the work, or can do only half of the work, or can only work for half an hour and then has to be excused, accept the fact that the class is your zone, the home belongs to the parent, and, in the home, the parents should have the final say.

You may also like:

Why homework is counterproductive

The insanity of too much homework

There are benefits for some children to have homework, with limitations to the amount of time needed to complete the homework.

Glori Chaika has written an excellent Education World article, Help! Homework Is Wrecking My Home Life!


“Check out the National PTA and the National Education Association guidelines,” University of Missouri psychology professor Harris Cooper, author of a pioneer study on the effect of homework on student achievement, told Education World. “For children in grades K through 2, homework is most effective when it does not exceed ten to 20 minutes each day. Children in grades three through six can handle 30 to 60 minutes a day. If educators and parents expect homework far out of line with these recommendations to result in big gains in test scores, they are likely to be disappointed.”

After reviewing dozens of existing studies on homework and researching hundreds of students and parents, Cooper found that although doing homework may begin to pay off in secondary school, little correlation exists between homework and test scores in elementary school.

Carol Huntsinger’s research, however, had different results. Huntsinger, an education professor at the College of Lake County, Chicago, also investigated the study habits of young children. She found that for her sample, work done at home did make a difference.

Huntsinger compared the homework habits of middle-class immigrant Chinese Americans with similar European Americans. The Chinese American first graders she studied spent more than 20 minutes per night on math homework — some of which their parents assigned. European Americans averaged just five minutes. When tested, the Chinese American children performed at higher academic levels than did their European American counterparts. In a longitudinal companion study of European American and Chinese American children from grades 5 through 11, Huntsinger found that those disparities continued through high school.

“Parents’ beliefs and practices are very important influences on their children’s academic achievement,” Huntsinger told Education World. “We got similar results for European American children in our study whose parents taught them in ways similar to those Chinese American parents used. … I looked at time spent on parent-assigned homework, school-assigned homework, and the formality of parents’ teaching methods. Most other studies have focused on time spent on school-assigned homework only.”


Cooper found the effect of school-assigned homework on standardized test scores for students in lower grades to be minimal or nonexistent; however, the homework completed by the students Huntsinger studied was not necessarily schoolwork but focused on themes the families felt were important. Just how big a difference is there between the quality of typical school-selected assignments and those parents tend to select?

To find out, researchers funded by the Consortium on Chicago School Research asked teachers to evaluate the quality of 1,400 math and writing assignments for third, sixth, and eighth graders from 12 different schools.

“According to criteria established by prior research, the teachers found fewer than 30 percent of the assignments evaluated even minimally challenging,” University of Wisconsin professor Fred Newmann, one of the study’s authors, told Education World. “It will take a significant commitment to staff development to help teachers … change their teaching sufficiently to promote more authentic intellectual work.”


However, when it comes to older children and math, quantity, or the number of assignments, is what matters, according to associate professor of economics Julian Betts of the University of California, San Diego. Betts examined surveys on the homework habits of 6,000 junior and senior high students over a period of five years.

“It appears to be the overall extent of (math) homework assigned and not the amount that is graded that matters,” Betts told Education World. For older children, the quality of assignments had absolutely no influence on math achievement!

Students who did an extra 30 minutes of nightly math homework beginning in grade 7 increased their achievement scores the equivalent of two grade levels by grade 11. Differences in achievement remained — though at a slightly depreciated level — even if students stopped doing the extra homework.

“Overall, the best advice for math teachers in middle and high school seems to be that homework can be very effective and helps the bottom kids just as much as it helps the top students in the class,” Betts told Education World. “As long as homework levels are maintained at a reasonable level, and teachers in different subject areas carefully coordinate homework assignments to avoid overloading students, an hour of assigned homework appears to be about as effective as an hour spent in the classroom.”


A review of the research in the field, Homework: What Does the Research Say?, published by ERIC’s National Parent Information Network, found that high school students who receive school-assigned homework perform 69 percent better on standardized tests and have higher grades than do students who don’t. Junior high students who receive homework perform 35 percent better; and elementary students perform about the same.

That does not mean elementary students should have no homework, only that grades or results on standardized tests do not measure the benefits of homework.

Currently, the prevailing feeling is that students need homework to stay competitive in the global market — that the extra work and responsibility give kids an edge. There is a problem, though, if family time is minimized and children no longer have time to play or if students don’t graduate because of failing homework grades. Experts suggest approximately ten minutes of homework a night, starting in first grade, with an additional ten minutes each year. They also stress, however, the importance of teachers’ addressing the issue of assignment quality….

So the experts agree: Homework can have a positive effect on achievement as children grow older. Despite the experts’ stress on monitoring the quality and quantity of homework, many students are left trying to cope with a huge, often boring, homework load. They wonder — is anyone out there listening?

The key is the quality of the homework and the relevance of the homework to the education objective or plan for a particular child. See, Is homework a necessary evil?


Homework Help                                                                     

Homework Tips for Parents                                                  

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

4 Responses to “Pros and cons of homework”

  1. rjrodriguez18 June 3, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    The CON is wasting precious paper. Save trees! Save the earth!


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