Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Homework Isn't Helpful

In a study which must be a shock to the education establishment but comes as no surprise to most parents, two professors in Toronto have discovered that "Homework is of little benefit to students from junior kindergarten to Grade 6 . . . (and) it is often the source of stress and burnout in children, as well the cause of conflict – even marital stress – for many families." It's the first time the Canadians have studied homework, and much to their surprise, they've found the same kind of results we have here in America. An article in Saturday's Toronto Star highlights the findings of the study.

In their study, more than 1,000 parents were surveyed and said while they like the good work habits homework promotes, as well as how it helps parents be involved in their children's academic lives, the amount students are getting is interfering with family time, play time, causing stress and even marital troubles.

I've felt for a long time that with 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, schools ought to be able to give children the basic education they need. After all, as a homeschooling parent, my children generally get the basic subjects out of the way in 2-3 hours a day. Even my 6th-grader manages to do English, math, history, and science, along with logic, Latin, and Bible, in no more than 3-4 hours 4 days a week; the remainder of her school topics are covered in outside classes and activities and include: P.E. (swim team), music (keyboard lessons), art, band, drama, and sign language.

Unfortunately, most schools spend much of their time doing a lot more than giving children a basic education. Many schools seem to think it's their job to feed our kids, keep them off drugs, motivate them to care for the environment, provide them with s-x education, prevent them from becoming prejudiced, cure them of any religious notions, and generally counteract the careful training in values their parents are giving them at home. Little wonder, then, that they can't find time to teach them such insignificant things as reading, writing, math, and a love for learning during school hours, but have to send those things home for the parents to teach.

I have a friend who told me she started homeschooling when her son was in first grade. She found she was teaching him most of his "schoolwork" as homework at night. She finally decided if she was going to have to teach him at home, she might as well do it during his best hours, rather than in the evenings when he was exhausted and wanted nothing but to eat, play, and rest.

The study also found:
- Not only does homework cut into family time, it becomes a primary source of arguments, power struggles and is disruptive to building a strong family, including putting strain on marriages. Bruni said it even negatively affects family holidays.
- A large number of children in kindergarten are assigned homework, most of it "drill and practice."
- 28 per cent of Grade 1 students and more than 50 per cent of Grade 2 students spend more than 20 minutes on homework daily.
- More than three-quarters of parents with children in Grade 4 and under help their children with homework. But, by Grade 4, only half of parents feel they are competent enough to do so.
- Parents are unsure about the benefits of homework; by Grade 5, just 20 per cent of parents feel it has a "positive effect on achievement."
- Half of children in junior kindergarten are enthusiastic about homework; by Grade 6, it drops to just 6 per cent and by Grade 12, just 4 per cent.

The elementary-school children in our neighborhood get on the bus at 7:45 am and don't get home until close to 4:30 pm. During all of that time, they are almost completely structured. "Don't talk," "Stay in line," "Wait for the rest of the class," "Sit quietly," "Listen," "Raise your hand," the list of admonitions goes on and on. By the time they get home, they are exhausted and ready to be unstructured for a few hours. But at 4:30, how many hours do they really have? By the time they do homework (even if it's only half an hour, and for many it's a lot more than that), eat dinner, and get a bath, it's almost bedtime. When are they supposed to play, spend time with their families, or just sit and think?

As homeschoolers, I feel like our kids are so incredibly blessed. They have the one thing most kids today lack - the luxury of time. No wonder so many of our society's greatest achievers were homeschooled - they are the only ones who have time to really ponder how life works. Maybe it's time for parents to rebel against the workings of the machine - to say, "No, we are not going to run our entire lives by the values of the educational establishment." There's more to life than school!

We need to give our kids back the gift of time. Homeschool is one great way to do that, but even if you can't homeschool, you can set boundaries. You can tell teachers, "This far, and no further." A single parent alone may have trouble accomplishing this, but if we band together based on the research, maybe we can make a difference.


Anonymous said...

I'm doing a speek-off on this topic and It will be very helpful. Can you e-mail me and tell me where you got this info? My e-mail is chelsea_drodge_20@hotmail.com


Marcy Muser said...


The only info I have is what I linked in my post. Everything else, as far as I know, came from my own head. If you need more, please let me know what kind of information you're looking for. Thanks.

Shawna said...

A topic we agree on 100%! LOL And I have read some great books on how to handle teachers and schools regarding this. I'll post the titles in a bit...(have to run now.)

John Hopkins University had such a study years ago with the exact same results. I forwarded it to all of the schools in my District--nothing changed.

As a former teacher, we know that homework most often is busy work, but District mandates we give it. And having taught highschool, it was a nightmare. One-hundred-fifty students a day, 150 pieces of homework to grade a night, plus classwork to look at , plus lesson plans, plus all the other stuff that needed doing. Part of the reason I left teaching--it was pointless!

My only point of diverging with your points... teachers don't try to steer kids from any God (religious) inclination. Almost all the teachers I had as a child and worked with were either members in my church, my children's church or another church in our community. I never knew one atheist or agnostic teacher until college.

Melinda S. said...

I have been reading a book by Alfie Kohn called The Homework Myth: Why Our Children Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. He has a lot of similar information and studies, though this particular one appears to be new. I just got it at my library, so you may be able to find it for free.

Marcy Muser said...


I definitely relate on the homework issue - it tends to be such a burden on teachers, not just on kids. It's hard for a teacher to plan good lessons when they have to spend so much time grading homework, especially at the middle school and high school levels. When I taught, I often graded homework (and even tests) as a class, collecting it only to quickly check it over and record it in my gradebook. (I made the kids put away their pens or pencils and switch to red when we were grading, so I could be sure they weren't changing answers.) That doesn't work so well with essays, though.

I'm glad to hear so many of the teachers you had contact with went to church. That seems to be more common in some parts of the country than others. I didn't mean that all teachers spent their time doing all of these things; only that many do some of them, and none of them are all that relevant to the task they are supposed to be doing.

Marcy Muser said...


That sounds like a good book. I will check our library and see if I can get it.

Shawna said...

The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It

by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish

Very good book by two parents who fought the homework battle--one is an attorney. Good data and studies and lots of practical/doable advice.

Shawna said...

Oh, and I have heard lots of good things about Alfie Kohn...thanks for the title. I definitely will be picking that one up!

Marcy Muser said...

OK, ladies, I've reserved both books from our library system. Looks like I'll be doing some more reading on the topic! ;)

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