A Teachers Defense Of Homework

An elementary school teacher in Texas has decided to do away with homework.

In a letter that has been shared thousands of times on social media, Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher at Godley Elementary School in Godley, Texas, wrote that after "much research over the summer," she would not assign her students any homework other than any work that was not completed in class that day.

"Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance," she wrote in the letter, handed out to parents during a meet-the-teacher night on Aug. 16. "Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success."

In her letter, Young suggested that parents eat dinner with their children, read together, play outside and get their kids to bed early.

Samantha Gallagher, whose 7-year-old daughter, Brooke, is in Young's class, posted a photo of the letter to her Facebook page. It has been shared more than 68,000 times.

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Gallagher said she and her husband "love" the policy because it will allow Brooke more free time to practice gymnastics, read and play outside, she told ABC News.

Without the looming prospect of nightly assignments, Brooke has started the school year with a "positive outlook," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said she and her husband feel "very fortunate" that Brooke has such an "amazing" and "innovative" teacher.

No, we didn't get bribed by a set of stressed-out students to write this article. Plenty of educators and pundit-types have been dissing on homework and its supposed value in the educational world for some time now. And we're guessing they weren't bribed by students either.

"Too Much Homework is Bad for Kids." The Case Against Homework, in book or website form. "Is Too Much Homework Bad for Kids' Health?" Whoa, they got doctors in on this? It must be real.

But doesn't homework help cement lessons in those kids' heads? Keep them off the street at night? Teach them about a work ethic?

Hey—we're not here for the defense. This is the zone for airing the reasons people give for eliminating or at least limiting homework at all grade levels.

Let the prosecution speak.

  1. Too much homework has a negative impact on students' lives.
    Stanford researcher Denise Pope found that students who receive too much homework (more than two hours per night) report negative impacts such as high levels of stress, health problems, and a lack of balance (as in work-life or school-life balance…not unable-to-walk-in-a-straight-line balance). Come to think of it, sometimes grown-ups complain about balance, too. Maybe the struggle shouldn't have to start so early.
  2. Homework creates homework-potatoes.
    We know, it sounds delicious. But what we mean is that kids spend most of the school day sitting, and then they come home and (you guessed it) sit down to do their homework. In their book The Case Against Homework (hm…that title sounds familiar), Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish argue that one of the many problems with homework is that it exacerbates the issue of childhood obesity. Imagine kids putting on one pound per algebra problem. Now that's some heavy math.
  3. There's little to no academic benefit associated with homework.
    In a review of the Bennett/Kalish case, the author writes "all the credible research on homework suggests that for younger kids, homework has no connection with positive learning outcomes, and for older kids, the benefits of homework level off sharply after the first couple assignments."
  4. The positive effects of homework are like unicorns: largely mythical. (That's right, largely.)
    According to Alfie Kohn, author of the book The Homework Myth, "there is absolutely no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn't even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied. Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits."
    You tell 'em, Alfie.
    Kohn expands on this thinking in his 2012 article "Homework: An Unnecessary Evil?," which calls into question the legitimacy of studies that claim homework is beneficial. We hope they don't try to pull that kind of stuff on the unicorns.
  5. Homework punishes economically challenged students for being poor.
    According to Etta Kralovec and John Buell, co-authors of The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning, homework, in addition to its many other ills, unfairly targets students living in poverty, setting them up for failure.
    Why? Because while "some students go home to well-educated parents and have easy access to computers…others have family responsibilities, parents who work at night, and no educational resources in their homes." And when that sort of thing is stacked against you, you don't even need lines like "the dog ate it."
  6. Homework is completed in a black hole, making its worth difficult to gauge.
    Another argument presented by Kralovec and Buell is that because homework is completed "in a black hole"—i.e., in a place where teachers don't see it happening, and rarely hear specifically about how the process went—it is impossible to assess its value. Teachers have no way of knowing how students completed their homework or whether or not they've actually learned anything from it.
    As K&B state,
    "When work goes home, teachers have little understanding of the mistakes that students have made on the material and little control over who does the work.…Did the students do their own work? Did they exchange answers with friends over the phone or before school?….Did they download the paper they are handing in? Homework is a black hole in the learning process, leaving teachers unaware of each student's true educational level or progress."
    Feel like doing a little extra homework? Check out the New York Times blog post "Do Teachers Assign Too Much Homework?" The article gives a brief history of the homework issue and then asks students to comment.
    Which they probably do when they're procrastinating on their real homework, but hey—it's some tasty food for thought. And even if you don't go the route of the total homework naysayers, it still may feed you for some schemes that can work in your class.

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