St Joseph By The Sea
S.S Intro to Analytical Writing 2018
July 19, 2018
A Study on Homework
Homework has been a topic of controversary for many decades. There have been many studies conducted to assess homework. Studies have been conducted to assess the effectiveness, quantity and quality of homework by each successive school grade. Homework has been the topic of discussion in Parent magazines and in the news, year after year, for decades. Some studies and individuals are in support of homework; some are not. Homework has been affected by technology and social trends/environment. This article will bring together ideas from the past and present to show that homework may be an outdated concept that can be modified or eliminated altogether. Citing past studies, modified teaching styles, and technology, this article will explore and argue that homework may no longer be needed in a student’s daily life.
By inherent definition, homework is the work that is assigned to be completed outside of school hours, at home. It is an instructional guideline directing students to perform activities on subject material taught in the classroom and in the school. However, to clearly argue its purpose or usefulness, it must be further defined by its characteristic details, such type, quantity and quality.
The type of work in homework assignments can be described as review work, new work, and project or research work.
The quantity of homework can be measured in the number of pages, number of projects or the number of hours it takes to complete the task. When using the number of hours to benchmark quantity, one must consider the fact that all students do not work at the same pace, or the same environment. A student may be interrupted by other siblings or noisy neighbors or may be asked to take responsibility for preparing dinner. Students also do not learn in school in the same way or at the same pace, thus affecting their ability to complete homework. Empirical studies are most likely to benchmark the correlation of the quantity of homework, using homework hours, to student achievement, based on grades.
The quality of homework can be measured based on what benefits arise from doing the homework task. For example, does more homework lead to better grades. The quality of homework can also be measured based on its usefulness as an assessment tool to assess student retention or reinforcement. Measuring the quality of homework can be very difficult because all human beings learn and grow in different ways. As noted above, students do not learn in school in the same way or at the same pace, thus affecting their ability to complete homework.
Why do we do homework? Homework is predominantly used to assess student’s retention of material learned, and to re-enforce material taught. The concept of homework surfaced in the 1940s and 1950s, after World War I and II and The Cold War, due to the idea that the United States needed to grow its technology and economy through education, to be a World Power. Prior to that, homework was actually discouraged by households and schools as the economy needed children to work at home or on the farms. In the 1960s homework took a step back again as the focus during the time was freedom from time constraints and outdoor recreation. In the 1980s and 1990s, homework took the forefront again as a way to increase academic achievement so students perform better on standard tests and get higher grade scores. With the advent of computers and easier ways to quantify data, grades and test scores took a lead in quantifying the benefits of education. It made the case for government to allocate more resources and dollars to education. With the push from teacher’s unions for increased educator pay, schools were under more pressure to “produce”, in the form of increased test scores. Homework appears to have always be influenced and shaped by technology and by society or the environment around us.
Many studies have been conducted on homework and its effectiveness. Some studies suggest that there is higher correlation between upper grades and homework than lower grades and homework. In a study conducted by Cooper (1989), correlating homework and student achievement, he cites only a 6%-12% gain in grades 4 through 8, and a 24% gain in high school, when measuring the effectiveness of homework and grades. In the book, The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting our Children and What We Can Do About It, (Bennett and Kalish (2006), the authors critiqued both the quantity and quality of homework. They provided evidence that too much homework is detrimental to a child’s overall growth. They also explored how it affects parent-child relationships as parents push children to complete assignments with little thought as to whether they are useful or not. In another study, Good and Brophy (2003) suggested about 30 minutes of homework per day for high school students. More recent studies have shown there is no correlation between homework in elementary school and a student’s academic performance, with the exception of free reading. (Nierenberg, 2016). In one study of high school students, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, researchers concluded that the optimal amount of time for homework per week was four hours for all students around the world. In the same study, the OECD showed a decrease in the amount of homework hours from 2003 to 2012. It also showed that teacher quality and school system organization had a bigger impact in student test scores than increased hours of homework. (OECD, 2012) PISA in Focus 46, OECD.
Other studies suggest that some type of homework is beneficial. In The Homework Debate: How Homework Benefits Students (Fuglei,2013), the article sites four benefits to work assigned at home. The four benefits are responsibility, time management, perseverance, and self-esteem. Another study (Cooper, Robinson ; Patall, 2006) showed a 23% gain in grades in which homework was assigned, with the optimum amount of time for homework between 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day.
Caveats to research studies include the method in which academic achievement is benchmarked for example by grades or standardized test scores, each of which can alter the results of the studies. Other studies may have shown higher grades correlated to more homework assigned but those studies did not fully take into account the teacher quality and school system, which may have had a stronger affect on student achievement.
Perhaps we can look at today’s society values, environment and technology to eliminate the need for homework or revamp the definition of homework today.
Everyone is connected to technology. Technology affects education because we use e-books, computers, I pads, and laptops for schoolwork and homework assignments. Most individuals use computers or hand held devices more than two hours per day. This technology is less than 30 years old and empirical data on the use of these devices for extended periods, over the long term, has not even been assessed yet. There are some studies that show the blue light emitted from computer screens pass through to the retina and could, over long term, contribute or cause macular degeneration. There are, however, blue light filters for computer screens that can be used to block some of this light, in the same way sunglasses are used to protect eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Since there may be long term health effects with the increased use of technology, limits must be place on its use and technology should only be used when the benefits outweigh the costs, over the long term.
One way in which technology may be used to eliminate the need for homework as a benchmarking tool, is the use of MAP testing. MAP Growth is a computerized test that is designed based on the student’s own performance in answering the questions given. As the student takes the test and answers questions, the test changes, and questions become easier or more difficult as the student answers questions incorrectly or correctly. This test is given 3 to 4 times per year and quantitatively informs the teacher not only the student’s progress but also the subject areas the student excels at or needs more help with. Teachers would not need to assign homework or review homework to assess this. Teachers could use this as a curriculum development guide, individualized for each student’s ability. The frequency of tests given, whether on paper or computer, may also be reduced or eliminated as MAP Growth testing grows in popularity and use.
Society and our environment can be used to assess the need or usefulness or homework as well. The messages from media are all around us every day and in every way due to the proliferated use of the internet. Whether we realize it or not, we learn a lot from the television, the internet and society around us. What we learn from our environment in our daily course of life, may have an even stronger impact on our lives, than anything we learn doing homework or even learn in school. Performing structured homework assignments limits us when compared with learning from the school of life. In fact, education in the later grades such as high school, should focus on this. Work in school should begin to mimic career choices and opportunities so that students can begin to think about a working career. When career work or trade development work becomes the focus, homework is no longer needed. Students begin to think long term, about time management, about their life and self-worth in general. The definitive line between home and school ceases to exist and learning becomes life itself. Students cease to think short term, cease to think about passing that test tomorrow and cease to think about finishing a homework assignment that may not be useful to them in the long run. Students begin to focus on their life journey into adulthood.
In the article, The Homework Debate: How Homework Benefits Students, cited above, there were benefits derived from assigned homework, such as building self-esteem, responsibility, perseverance and time management. However, one can argue those benefits can more easily be obtained from doing tasks other than homework. For instance, volunteering at an animal shelter and saving a life to build self-esteem, preparing dinner with a family member to learn responsibility, or having a small part time job to learn budgeting, perseverance and time management. Doing assigned homework will prevent a student from having time to do anything else. When our eyes are opened to society and the world at large, we can see how skills learned in school can be applied to real life. It is when this occurs that we become students of life, which is far more important and useful, than merely being a student.
Montessori style teaching, which became popular in the United States in the 1960s, encourages a student to learn at their own pace and at their own direction. It is already in practice and has eliminated the need for much, if any, homework. It focuses on a love of learning that individuals can take with them through life. It also fosters self-reliance and innovation. Students are allowed to develop their own class curriculum, guided by the teacher. It encourages individuals to think outside the box and notes that textbooks and e books, are limiting. Math is taught through hands-on concepts and visuals, using beads and pencils strung together to explain the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This style of teaching does not need homework to re-enforce concepts because subject matter is not taught by rote or concepts but by visuals and understanding. Once a student understands the underlying reasons for something, they can apply it more readily in their environment, not only in school. Is this not what education is about? For those concerned that the Montessori style teaching does not adequately benchmark student achievement, student assessments are conducted in a different manner. They are conducted by personal narratives, portfolios and teacher observation, as opposed to tests and homework. Parents are asked to be more involved as they discuss their child’s performance qualitatively, instead of quantitively.
Since 2009, schools in California, Virginia, Texas, Vermont, Florida and NYC have begun to implement no homework or reduced homework specifically for elementary schools. Instead of assigning homework, one school in Brooklyn, NY, assigned cooking time with family or writing a letter to a character in a book they read. (Bland, M. 2016). Over time, studies will be conducted to assess the long-term effectiveness of these changes. In the short term, there was no indication that grades dropped in response to a no homework policy or to a reduced or modified homework policy, that was adopted.
Through the decades, the necessity and popularity of homework has had its ups and downs. It has not been consistent or constant, as history shows. When something cannot stand the test of time, we must begin to question whether it is truly necessary any longer. Research has shown that there is little conclusive evidence of the effect of homework on student achievement, especially in elementary school. With the advent of technology and the use of the internet, our society has changed. This technology and society/environmental change has affected education and homework. Educators and society must look for ways to redefine education and learning within the constructs of these changes. Homework may no longer be needed in the strict sense of the word, as part of education, and its past perceived benefits can be obtained in other manners as noted above. In modern day society, educators and society must look toward technology and the world around us, to assist in redefining education. They must begin to accept the fact that homework, in the traditional sense, regardless of quantity, may not be necessary for a well-rounded education.