What if we were concerned about children as whole human beings,…not merely as achievers or producers? How would truly nonacademic considerations bear upon the question of homework? Concerns about an excess of self-discipline, as I’ve already mentioned, may remind us of very different goals, such as emotional health and well-roundedness. The more seriously we take those goals, the less likely we should be to accept a regimen of daily homework.
Overall, the available homework research defines “beneficial” in terms of achievement, and it defines achievement as better grades or standardized test scores. It allows us to conclude nothing about whether children’s learning improves.
Research makes a difference only if we know it exists, understand it correctly, and take it seriously. On many topics, even the first of these three conditions isn’t met.
…the fact is that after decades of research on the topic, there is no overall positive correlation between homework and achievement (by any measure) for students before middle school or, in many cases, before high school. More precisely, there’s virtually no good research on the impact of homework in the primary grades—and therefore no data to support its use with young children…
Often homework feels like an endurance contest….The psychological costs can be substantial for a first grader who not only is confused by a worksheet on long vowels but also finds it hard to accept the idea of sitting still after school to do more schoolwork.
More than a third of fifth graders in one study said they “get tense working with their parents on homework.” And in a survey of more than 1,200 parents whose children ranged from kindergarteners to high school seniors, exactly half reported that they had had a serious argument with their child about homework in the past year that involved yelling or crying.
Educational quality is assumed to be synonymous with “rigor,” and rigor, in turn, is thought to be reflected by the quantity and difficulty of assignments.
Who benefits when people are taught not to question the value of what they have been told to do but simply to toil away at it—and to regard this as virtuous? Follow this query where it leads and what initially looked like uncontroversial claims on behalf of homework turn out to reveal a very specific, very debatable set of cultural values.
Among the reasons homework is seen to be useful is that it develops “work-related skills that can transfer to adult occupations.” So perhaps all the talk about homework’s value at promoting good work habits is actually less about what children need than about what their future employers need.
As a rule, the point of homework generally isn’t to learn, much less to derive real pleasure from learning. It’s something to be finished. And until it is, it looms large in conversations, an unwelcome guest at the table every night.
…most of the explosive growth in homework over the past decade or two has taken place with younger children, even though this is the age-group for which studies most clearly fail to show any positive effect. It would be difficult to imagine more compelling evidence of the irrelevance of evidence.
Today it is the rare educator who is brave enough to question whether first graders really need to fill out worksheets at home.