The subject of homework is one of the most controversial issues in education today, particularly in K12 education. As a high school principal, I struggled with this issue for a long time. There is only a limited amount of time in the school day to cover everything on the K12 curriculum, so from that perspective it makes sense for teachers to issue some homework for their students, so they can solidify the topics that were covered in class and allow students to further their understanding of various topics. However, homework can put a lot of stress on students, and if young people are spending their free time on directed learning, they miss out on chances to have fun, learn in their own way and find out more about their strengths and weaknesses.
Is Homework Necessary?
The reason that homework is one of the most hotly debated issues in education today comes down to the question of necessity. Some teachers will claim that homework is essential – that it is simply not possible to cover everything that should be covered in the limited number of classes offered in the academic year. While this may be true, the average amount of homework assigned per week for high school students can be as high as 17.5 hours. Combine this with the number of hours that a student spends in school and on extracurricular activities, and the schedule of a K12 student can end up being busier than that of an adult with a full-time job.
Can Homework Improve Academic Performance?
According to a survey conducted by the University of Phoenix College of Education, 98% of teachers believe that homework does improve academic performance. Common benefits cited by teachers include that it helps the teachers evaluate their student’s understanding of their lessons, it improves problem solving skills, teaches time management, and helps students learn how to apply the information they have learned in new circumstances.
While these benefits make a lot of sense, those who are against homework feel that the load is too high. Some families struggle to balance homework with other demands on their time, and families in deprived areas may struggle to complete homework because their children do not have access to computers, the internet, or a large library. Families where there is more than one school-age child may struggle if both children have problems completing the work, since the parents may not have enough time to help both children understand the topic assigned for the day.
A Waste of Time?
Another reason that homework is sometimes criticized is because so many young people are tempted to cheat or skimp on the work that they do at home. Freely available internet access means that plagiarism is easier today than ever before. A child that simply rewrites a Wikipedia article, or purchases a pre-written essay and rewords that, is not learning a lot about the subject at hand. Some teachers are good at identifying plagiarism, and can turn that into a teaching moment in and of itself, but not all teachers at the K12 level have the experience required to do this.
Homework that involves rote memorization, coloring in, or solving textbook problems is considered boring by the students and is of limited benefit compared to bigger, more complex projects, especially in situations where the answers to the homework are easy to find online. Advocates for a no-homework policy believe that creative, engaging learning is a much better way to convey a syllabus than textbooks and question and answer assignments.
How Teachers and Parents Feel About Homework
Many teachers dislike giving homework, but feel that they must because parents expect it. A lot of parents worry that if their children are not being issued homework, then they will fall behind compared to students at other schools that are given a lot of homework each week. Some teachers are breaking the mold, however.
Mary Jane Cera, an academic administrator at Kino School in Tucson, Arizona, has a no-homework policy at her school. The policy is popular with students, and academic performance has not deteriorated. Since students are not constantly faced with demands on their spare time they are better able to concentrate on classes when they are at school. The net effect, when it comes to the absorption of knowledge, is the same.
A Useful Compromise
It is a good idea for parents to talk to the headmasters of the schools their children go to, and find out about the homework policy at the school. Don’t be embarrassed about asking the headmaster about homework – it is one of the most important issues in education today.
- If the school does not use homework, don’t assume that this is a bad thing; it could be that the teachers are very efficient at scheduling their classes and working through the curriculum.
- If homework is given sparingly, then make sure your child takes it seriously when it is set.
- If there is a high volume of homework, ask if it is actually required – if the homework interferes with sports, band practice or other important extracurricular activities then the school may be willing to compromise and allow students to opt out of non-assessment related assignment.
Educators may want to reconsider their approach to homework.
Depending on the schedule at the school and the ability of the students being taught, there may be some need to issue homework just to ensure that the whole curriculum for the year is successfully covered. However, there are benefits to keeping homework to a minimum. Instead of issuing homework for the sake of homework, make sure that each assignment has a clearly defined learning goal; one that could not be met in class. If every piece of work serves a purpose then the class will be more entertaining and the students will perform better.
By reducing the homework burden, you reduce the stress placed on students, and ensure that they are more likely to put effort into the assignments that they are given. Adults resent make-work from their employers; why would anyone think that young people are any different?
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