When will the homework madness stop?

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An article about homework reminded me of the time my 7-year-old second grader brought home her first batch of homework. It arrived in the form two workbooks, one textbook and one worksheet. It took her nearly an hour to complete, and it consisted of mostly review-type math, grammar and spelling practice.

As I read the teacher’s school web page, which explains the homework, I was not too shocked to see that she strongly supports this workload, contending that it would help my daughter learn responsibility and build good study habits. My response to these posits, which certainly won’t surprise loyal B or I readers, was “Poppycock!”

Years later, my daughter is still inundated with piles of bad homework, which has me wondering when this madness will stop. How many books and exhaustive homework studies must be completed before teachers eliminate this archaic habit?

But doesn’t homework teach responsibility, I’m often asked. Definitely not. How can a child demonstrate responsibility, when given no choice in the task and threatened with punishment if the homework is not done? If I tell a student to copy the Bill of Rights or receive a zero on homework, and the student complies, does this make her responsible? Of course not. Responsibility implies moral accountability–doing something because you feel it’s the right thing to do and, more important, choosing to complete the task, based on free will.

Alfie Kohn, Sara Bennett, John Hattie and Etta Kralovek are all noted educators and researchers who have denounced the effectiveness of homework as a teaching tool. Even Duke researcher Harris Cooper, who tried desperately in two separate studies to find value in the practice, said there is no measurable correlation between homework and achievement in elementary school. Researchers like Kohn and Bennett also wonder about the value of traditional homework at the high school level.

Yet second graders continue to take home five pounds of books with hours of additional school work. But doesn’t the real world involve working at home? As I’ve written often, school isn’t the real world.

Our children need time away from a school routine that is mundane and monotonous. Encouraging learning outside of school is fine, and if in-class lessons and activities are engaging and thought-provoking, students will willingly go home and extend what they’ve learned in school.

So, will you invite students to learn independently? Will you encourage them to play outside, enjoy family activities and to explore learning as they see fit, when they leave your classroom?

Or will the homework madness continue?

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
  1. Jan

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