Updated: Apr 8, 2020
One of my educational spirit guides, Gary Stager, once wrote:
How would we feel coming home from 7 or 8 hours at the office or wherever we work and have to keep working at home every single night in addition to our other family responsibilities? Every day." Welcome to the life of a teacher and/or a student. The issue is not about big projects, but our incessant, need to egocentrically assume jurisdiction over a kid's family and home life. As a parent, there are times I'd like to see a warrant.
In this post, however, I'd like to address the efficacy of homework. There are NO scholarly studies showing that assigning homework before (or even, in many cases, during) middle school improves academic performance. Cause-effect is even sketchy as old as Juniors and Seniors in high school. In fact, several large scale studies (e.g. U of Tenn., Stanford) have actually concluded that there are negative returns to assigning homework to younger students. Among the many negatives, is the creation of an atmosphere where we are actually destroying a child's natural love of learning by narrowly defining it through state standards and grade level indicators.
How many homework assignments are time-wasters? And how many actually advance LEARNING? As a high-school teacher, I've had many discussions with students about homework in other classes that are copied, thrown together last minute without any thought, not even their own work/handwriting - simply done because students have become very adept at DOING school, instead of actually having to think.
Next, I have a hard time accepting the idea that homework promotes independence and good work habits. Aside from my own suspicion as a de facto expert in education that it doesn't, no one really has any idea if it does, because there have been exactly zero studies done to look at the relationship between homework and work habits. Again, we have NO empirical data that shows how homework affects work habits. (My source is the definitive Encyclopedia of Education Research) My own experiences tell me that the way a person learns to be responsible is by giving that person responsibility, not assigning them mere exercises in compliance.
What distresses me almost more than anything, is that I'm not sure most teachers really have ever thought about why they assign homework. As a former field professor for OSU's school of ed., (supervised student-teachers/interns) I can tell you that at no time did our interns ever have a class in assessment or what homework was or meant. They either learned from whomever they student taught with, or adopted whatever their own school experiences were. Many interns I asked about this simply told me they assigned homework because that's what they thought they were expected to do. Other conversations I've had with experienced teachers over the years have led me to believe that many assign homework merely as an exercise in compliance than anything else.
Who are homework policies really for?
Homework policies I think are for keeping parents off teachers' backs by feeding into and propagating old myths about the benefits of homework that parents grew up with. Even though they have no basis in, and are refuted by research. If parents want some puritanical educational experience where compliance, obedience and basic skills are the core values, cool. I just don’t want any child I love going to that school.
If teachers are putting no more thought into homework than this, then why should students?