3 Things Every Parent Should Know About Homework

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Every night, across the country, a battle takes place in many homes.  No, not in every home, not with every family, but the number of parents and children enlisted in this war are growing at alarming rates.  But in this war, the recruits are drafted involuntarily.  Parents are put on the front lines, expected to ensure that homework is not only complete, but also done well.  Regrettably, the ever-increasing burden of homework sometimes leads parents and children into the battlefield with little training and resources.  Perhaps the ‘fight’ song for this new military branch should be Jack Prelutsky’s poem.

Homework! Oh, homework!
I hate you! You stink!
I wish I could wash you
away in the sink.
If only a bomb
would explode you to bits.
Homework! Oh, homework!
You’re giving me fits.
I’d rather take baths
with a man-eating shark,
or wrestle a lion
alone in the dark,

eat spinach and liver,
pet ten porcupines,
than tackle the homework
my teacher assigns.
Homework! Oh, homework!
You’re last on my list.
I simply can’t see
why you even exist.
if you just disappeared
It would tickle me pink.
Homework! Oh, homework!
I hate you! You stink!

Unfortunately, research on homework is showing that this war is unnecessary and may not be worth the price families pay.  The truth is, there is very little evidence to support the connection between homework and academic success. Although children are required to complete more and more work at home, many educators and parents are rethinking traditional homework assignments.

Below are three things every parent should know about homework in the 21st century.

1. The time spent on homework has increased dramatically in the last few years.  A University of Michigan 2004 national study of over 2,900 students showed the amount of time children spend on homework has increased by 51 percent since 1981.  The rise is especially noticeable in kindergarten through third grade.

In an age of increased accountability and pressure to do more with less, many teachers are using homework time to extend the school day.  There simply isn’t enough time in the day to get through all curriculum expectations.  Increased demands, coupled with decreasing resources, have pushed many teachers to rely on parents to help meet unrealistic expectations.

2. Homework expectations are not as systematic as you may think.  On any given night, your second grade child may receive 45 minutes of worksheets, while the second grader in the classroom next door, could be assigned 20 minutes of reading and research for the creation of a family tree.

Although some districts provide time recommendations and guidelines, most do not.  Teachers are on their own to make decisions regarding the amount of time and types of activities to assign students.  Decisions are made based off a teacher’s experience, philosophy, and if provided, school and district expectations.  Very few college courses or professional development opportunities exist to help teachers understand and design realistic, quality homework assignments.  In addition, homework decisions are heavily influenced by tradition.

In other words, when your children open their backpacks at the end of the day, what spills out is more varied and random than most parents expect. Say hello to your evening entertainment.

3. Homework does not guarantee a child’s academic success.  It may come as a surprise to many, but there is no evidence that homework is beneficial to children.

In The Case Against Homework, Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish discuss the findings of a review of over 200 homework studies conducted by Duke University professor Harris Cooper.

 “…according to Professor Cooper’s review…, there is very little correlation between the amount of homework and achievement in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school.  Even in high school, ‘too much homework may diminish its effectiveness or even become counterproductive’.”

Across the country, families are sacrificing large amounts of time to support their child’s education.  Parents sit down each night to help children complete homework that may or may not be benefitting their child’s learning.  It appears that homework can be compared to traffic school.  A student may serve the time required, but that time does not in any way ensure increased learning or academic success.

Educators and parents generally believe homework is an American tradition that reinforces new learning, teaches responsibility, and prepares children for college and the work field.  But the research is showing that the negative effects outweigh the positive.  See the second post in this homework series on “7 Homework Challenges Too Many Families Face”.  This post introduces seven of the many challenges that sometimes inhibit parents from best supporting their children.

As a parent, what are your feelings regarding the homework your children receive?  Are you surprised at the lack of research to support the need for homework?

  • http://www.motherhoodismessy.com Cheryl

    This post really hit home for me. I sat down everyday with my children after school cultivating good homework patterns, discipline, and organizational skills. I do think my son’s have way too much homework. My high school junior is in all AP and honors classes and has anywhere between 2-3 hours of homework a night. I do think that is excessive. However, my oldest is a freshmen in college and his first semester went really well and was so easy for him. He knew how to organize his time, his research and writing essay skills were well honed.

    That being said when my husband was teaching he really tried only to give necessary homework. Not just homework for homework sake.

  • Tammy Harris

    Hi Cheryl,
    Congratulations on successfully getting your son through the first semester of college. That first year is a challenge for sure and as a parent, it is a relief to get them past that hurdle.

    Although there has been considerable research on homework and its impact on academic success, including college admittance and graduation rates, further study needs to take place on other possible contributing factors. The reasons for your son’s current success may or may not be related to his average 10 hour a week homework practice. Many successful college freshmen come from home environments that support and encourage discipline and organizational skills in other ways. Other aspects that could affect college success are the following.
    • household responsibilities, such as chores
    • sports
    • music lessons
    • volunteer work
    • jobs/internships
    • personality
    Perhaps there is a bigger question to ponder.

    How much more varied would a child’s background knowledge be, if he or she were allowed to experience more of the above, instead of heavy homework loads?

  • Charlotte

    Torrance is in 1st grade and so far between this year and last year (Kindergarten) she only receives reading homework which is about 10women minutes per night. However, all of the lesson plans, daily assignment grades, and test dates are online for parents to see. Her spelling words are also loaded onto a website that provides games and practice tests to help her learn each week’s spelling words. I use all of this information to create my own homework for her if and when she needs it. If she seems to be struggling in one area I can check her progress daily and work with her on it at home. This individualized homework helps her a lot and would probably be more beneficial to students than doing more of the same classwork at home. Plus, as am added bonus she does not receive any homework(reading or other kind) on Wednesdays because of church. The advantage of Christian school and living in the Bible belt.

  • Charlotte

    Sorry for the typos. Sent from my phone.

    • Tammy Harris

      Charlotte,
      It sounds like Torrance’s teacher has a balanced approach to homework. My post focused on the growing challenge of increased homework demands. However, it’s important to note that many teachers work hard on assigning relevant, quality homework assignments. Reading is the most valuable way children of any age can spend their time working. It’s great to hear stories like yours in which teachers and parents are communicating and working together in productive ways. Kuddos to you both!

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