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Is Homework in Trouble?

Columnist Deb Robi writes about the changing views on homework.

I have a love-hate relationship with homework. As a parent, I sometimes cannot believe how many hours my high school student devotes to it.  I often have work-related homework myself, and I value the ability to time-shift and study up on a work-related matter in my own time and space.

So does my spouse, who telecommutes from his laptop and Blackberry on a daily basis. It's the kind of homework that can seem endless.  But it often means we are rarely disconnected. In our 24/7 wired world, I wonder, how does homework fit in?

The director of the critically acclaimed film, "Race to Nowhere" and the author of "The Homework Myth" wrote in this week's New York Times that eliminating homework altogether has shown "encouraging results."

It’s a hot-button topic. I urge parents and their students concerned about the stress caused by homework, to see the film "Race to Nowhere," and join the discussion on the film's Facebook page about making homework the very best extension of the student's learning day, instead of a painful exercise in memorization. Both sides of the issue are fascinating. Either homework is a giant burden, or it’s a crucial after-school activity that ought to be a rich experience for every learner.

Next month, a respected education publication will report that U.S. students who spend more homework time in English, Science and History showed little to no improvement on test scores. But, if they spent an average 75 minutes more on math homework, scores did improve.

But it remains frustratingly unclear whether homework should continue to be assigned as education policy lurches into the future. Also unclear: whether students can benefit from group studying, even whether technology can lend itself to homework: what we call Skype-studying.

Did you know that while the amount of homework our kids receive has risen, academic rankings are dropping? I'm not an educator, but those that I know and respect do not want homework to go away completely. They DO want to see the quality and type of independent work that is done away from school to change, however. Our students need more research-based strategies for doing homework that will engage them when they return to their classrooms.

Ursula King September 20, 2011 at 09:20 PM
I my opinion homework is overrated and decreases opportunities for other types of learning, experiential, constructivist,. I have a 11th grade Japanese exchange student this year. He comes from a very rigorous private HS in Japan. He has no homework there, but a 7 hour school day and mandatory physical exercise after school, sports, running, whatever. He is astounded at the homework demands here (and is trying hard to keep up in a second language). My daughter just graduated WHS, she was a stellar student but homework made life outside of school work limited and I worried that she could not experience the many things that make people whole and teach us so much outside of book smarts. I think we've lost track of what a good knowledge base really takes to build: thinking, time to think, discussion, reflection, quiet reflection, analysis and pondering. To quote Wallace Stevens, "Sometimes I think the truth is revealed in a quiet walk in the woods." When do kids have time for that with all the busy work they are given in the name of homework?

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