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Is Homework Helpful or Harmful?

September 09, 2008 01:25 PM
by Jen O'Neill
The return of students to the classroom raises the question of whether homework is an effective educational tool, or an unnecessary stressor and burden on students.

The Danger of Homework in Education

According to a study, math scores do not necessarily improve when homework increases. Researchers from Binghamton University and the University of Nevada conducted a study showing that although homework may benefit some students—particularly high- and low-achieving students—it’s counterproductive for students who are average learners. The authors believe classes “could be better served by using other methods to improve student achievement with a more effective tool for improvement.” National statistics have shown that teachers are attempting to remedy low test scores by loading students with homework.

Ultimately, “umbrella policies”—those that use one approach to teaching students of varied academic backgrounds—negate individual students’ abilities, and teachers should assign work that encourages quality over quantity.

In recent years, educators have debated the value of homework, since the amount of time being spent on it has almost tripled since 1981. Spring Branch Independent Schools are rethinking the debate that has had many educators puzzled: does homework enhance or hinder students’ academic achievement? Although there is no clear-cut answer, some say that homework is good for time management skills and is useful for reinforcing what students learn in the classroom.

Though others believe that “assigning hours and hours of busywork can backfire, depriving a child of the free time he needs to develop.” Many educators are perpetuating the message of moderate but meaningful homework, so students can discover their own intellectual curiosity, without being forced to learn.

According to Education Week, an online survey of over 1,000 teachers, 500 parents and 2,100 students, conducted by MetLife, found that “77 percent of students and more than 80 percent of teachers and parents say homework is important or very important.” The study also found that 75 percent of students said they did at least 30 minutes, while 45 percent said they spend more than an hour on homework each “regular school day.” Yet, 90 percent of students surveyed reported that homework caused them additional stress, specifically students who received “average” or “below average” grades.

Parents also felt homework-related apprehension; the survey showed that 40 percent of parents indicated that most homework is “busywork” and one-third critiqued their kids’ assignments to be “fair” at best, and “poor,” in many cases.

Reactions: Addressing homework overload

Some school districts are moving toward eliminating or banishing homework altogether. This past spring, a board of the Toronto School District looked at several possibilities such as excluding homework during vacation periods, abolishing homework at the kindergarten level and not punishing students if their homework is not turned in on time. The district recommendations went a step further to make homework more fun for the student and the family by integrating everyone through games and family fun nights.

Meanwhile, students, schools and parents are readily embracing homework enhancement through the Internet. Also, Web-based applications such as Zoho, social network tools and Google Docs are being used to streamline homework efforts and to increase classroom collaboration.

Reference: Homework guidelines

The homework debate continues, but for now it’s still a prominent part of students’ educational lives. The National Education Association (NEA) suggests that parents work with their kids to make homework more meaningful, and provides guidelines on how to effectively help students with their homework.

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