A simple Google search of the word “homework” might be a surprise for parents and others whose school days are now just a mere memory.
It seems that homework is getting a bad name — and not just from the kids who have to do it.
A growing trend in education, or so it appears from the search results, is that giving students homework can have a negative impact on them. In fact, many school systems have policies or even outright bans against homework for elementary-age students.
According to a variety of sources, giving students homework causes more stress, is a disadvantage to students in one-parent homes or those households that lack internet access and, perhaps most interesting, it doesn’t help younger students learn. Other criticism of homework is that it’s often onerous for students, particularly for those at the high school level who could have hours of it to do every night.
Proponents of homework point to how it improves student achievement for high school students, promotes good study habits and gives parents a chance to be part of the education experience.
In a nutshell, the effectiveness of homework seems to vary by age and by student.
All of this is worth mentioning because last week, at a scheduled, open-ended chat with Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Alban, several parents raised concerns regarding how some elementary schools have effectively banned homework for their children.
While we can only imagine that the prospect of a night without take-home work would be a reason for students to cheer, these parents saw the lack of homework as a lost opportunity for their children to learn the necessary study habits that will help them later as they move on to middle and high school, as well as college.
Compounding their concerns was that the homework policy differs from school to school, in some cases creating a disparity between the requirements of students whose schools fall in the same feeder pattern.
Alban, who said she is pro-homework as long as it is used and given out strategically, said she was unaware at the time of the inconsistency. But she said she would look into it.
“For me, it’s much more the type of homework we’re asking for and then how we’re using it,” Alban said to the parents. “I don’t like when homework is used as a punishment, and by that, I mean, ‘Oh, you didn’t do your homework. I’m going to give you a zero and I’m going to pull down your grade.’”
From our perspective, Alban’s focus on the intent and amount of homework is an important one. Asking students, for instance, to do a few math problems to reinforce what was taught in class that day or a chapter of a story to discuss the next day seems reasonable. Giving students work to make up for what should have been taught in a classroom setting might not be so useful.
“I want to make sure that the homework we’re using is very strategic and designed to improve learning and support the student’s achievement,” Alban said.
The challenge for Alban and, for that matter, all educators is that it’s nearly impossible to have a consistent “homework policy” for the entire school system, nor would we even suggest that we have one.
We are, however, sympathetic to the concerns that parents brought to Alban’s attention and would echo her beliefs that homework should be a strategic tool for teachers. We’d even go as far as saying that the older a student is, the more homework they could expect to receive. But then again, that can differ from student to student.
Ultimately, we’d hope Alban and her leadership team have deeper discussions on homework philosophy with parents. There’s no doubt homework has a place in the overall education process. The question is, how much makes sense?