Moms Talk: Homework in a Handbasket

Is there any value to homework?

Recently, the French president François Hollande has stated his intention to end homework in France.

Hooray! It’s not often that I’m on the side of Alfie Kohn, but I have to agree that homework is vile. 

My daughter moved from a standard public school to a choice school a little over a year ago, cutting her homework from over 90 minutes a day to zero. The difference in her life has been amazing. Her relationship with me has changed dramatically for the better. Her self-esteem has shot up as well, and she’s passing spelling tests right and left where she struggled before. She reads copiously and by choice. She has time to have playdates and after-school activities and still sleep.

So yay! Someone else on the homework sucks bandwagon, on the international stage, no less.

So which reason convinced him? That it takes away from necessary time to play? That it strongly negatively impacts family life, especially the families of struggling students? That it has no proven impact on test scores or benefit to children at all until the last three years of high school?

What’s that? Hollande wants to ban homework not because of any of these data driven reasons, but for some vague idea of increased equality? Because kids who do homework in front of their parents have an unfair advantage over kids whose parents work late?

That’s almost the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, and I follow politics. Even in election years.

I don’t think that my child ever benefited from having me stand over her and force her to do busywork. I think my child benefited from having my attention, and I think she does so even more now that it’s not purely academically focused. 

I think that equality is an amazing goal. I don’t think that you can achieve it by trying to block people from helping their kids. Parents whose greatest desire is to help their children succeed academically will do so in spite of their schedules, and regardless of the presence of homework.

I know parents who give their kids extra homework because what is sent home is not to their standards. I know parents who take the school district’s recommendation of 10 minutes per night for kindergarten and 10 extra minutes per additional grade to heart, and put a line under where their second grader was at the 30-minute mark. I know parents who get home just in time to kiss their kids and send them to bed, who just have to pray that they got their homework done with their other caregiver.

I know parents who think homework is vital, even giving it to their kids over the summer. I know parents (many from my daughter’s school among them, obviously) who think that homework for young kids is poisonous to both the children and families and do what it takes to find educators who agree with them.

I know no one who believes that the right thing to do is to keep the same busywork worksheets and giving them to kids to do at school instead of at home because otherwise some might have the advantage of adult help that isn’t paid.

No one except François Hollande.

What's your take on homework? Does it help or hinder the education process? How involved are you in your children's assignments? Tell us in the comments section.

Kim Estes -The Savvy Safety Mama October 19, 2012 at 03:58 PM
I agree with everything you wrote. Everything.
Jennifer October 19, 2012 at 08:05 PM
I totally agree that homework for younger kids bites. In fact I've been meaning to read the book, The Case Against Homework. Having said that, my kids do have homework... but so far it's less than 20 minutes a day, usually more like 5-10 minutes. And I am not a stickler for the 20 minutes of reading a day. I find that to be total nonsense. Some days are busy, and some days are not. If my kid doesn't read for three nights and then reads a bunch over the weekend, that's good enough for me. Fortunately the older one's teacher has assigned a book a month - something meaty that is appropriate for their level. And it doesn't matter if they read it all in one weekend, or spread it over the month, and then we ask them about some questions about the book that they just answer orally. I find this much more preferable than me having to sign a stupid form saying my kid read for 20 minutes everyday.
Sherry Dedman October 19, 2012 at 08:24 PM
I never had homework until I was in 7th grade, i.e. Junior High School, unless it was a special project, extra credit or something I failed to complete due to illness. I don't think elementary school students need to do homework. It's especially irritating to me because in the Bellevue School District, Wednesdays are half day - but still have a lunch period and two recesses & sharing time. I think if there is not enough time to do all the work at school, maybe they should make Wednesday a full day - it seems like a waste of a day having 2 recesses and a lunch period & sharing on a half day. When do they have time for actual school work on that day? Makes the homework they send home with my son that much more irritating.
Julie Valvano October 20, 2012 at 05:49 PM
So what is the method of changing the ridiculous and detrimental practice called homework? What can we do? Our superintendent is too bogged down with overcrowded schools to bother. I homeschool my kids and one reason is so the have more time to be kids. If homework were eliminated public, choice or private school may be an option.
Michelle Smith October 20, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I believe that homework is WAY over assigned. It should be limited to an occasional project or to practice a specific skill, like a musical instrument. I have three children and the youngest has just entered middle school. Her homework this year is considerably lighter, which I am glad to see. I can understand homework more for a high schooler but I don't see any place for it for kids in elementary school. I know kids who are struggling with a subject so they are overburdened with homework to "catch up." Often this just leads to frustration and resentment for the child. Jennifer, I am going to look for that book "The Case Against Homework." Julie, I share the same question as you: How do we change this practice of excessive homework?
Debra October 21, 2012 at 08:42 PM
I too see little value in homework in elementary school unless it is a project or spelling list, something concrete. It seems the teacher should be able to cover the material in class, and allow for time to read for pleasure, enjoy play and family time. I feel held hostage to homework at night. My older son went to a private high school and a benefit was they coordinated so major assignments had staggered due dates, et.
T Fortune October 22, 2012 at 06:26 PM
There is a difference between homework and busy work. It is up to the parents to work with their children's teachers to determine the purpose of the work being brought home. Having been in a local public school, a choice school and now a private school, teachers are more than willing to work with parents on "homework" to help it fit the needs of your student.
Anne November 07, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I'm not a parent, but hope it's okay that I jump in here, because I'm a new elementary teacher (currently subbing). These comments are extremely helpful to read! I think that you all would be great advocates for other families, and would also have ideas to support families whose students actually do benefit from things like drills to work on at home. I'm going to check out the book mentioned (The Case Against Homework), because I'm guessing it may have a section about educating other parents/ working with teachers. As you know, teachers usually have families with a range of preferences, and are skilled at (but drained from the high volume of) accomodating for individual needs.
Caitlin Moran November 07, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Thanks for offering your perspective, Anne! It's always great to hear from teachers on educational issues.
Jeanne Gustafson November 07, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I second Caitlin's comment. I think most parents will be happy to know that teachers are paying attention to a conversation such as this. I have mixed feelings on homework, but I find for my son it's a good opportunity to learn study habits and taking things bit by bit to make it less overwhelming, and I think it will help him later when he doesn't have a parent standing around to help him organize. I can help him learn how to deal with what may seem like a big task, and despite some concentration issues, he almost always gets 100 percent on spelling tests thanks to the practice.
Anne November 07, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Thanks Caitlin. I just followed the top link of this story to read the Washington Post article about the French president's "intention to end homework." The comments following the article show how issues of educational practices are personal & mixed together with adult feelings on public policy. It's great to see the passionate responses. I view them as showing a helpful competitive feeling, which aspires to help kids develop skills by giving assignments that they see as rigorous. I think commenters to that article may become more skillful advocates for children if they heard themselves say in their own words, how children develop critical thinking skills through play & feeling safe instead of feeling stressed. So, my 'optional enrichment opportunity' I'm assigning myself & inviting others to try is: to listen for concrete examples of how people learn better when they feel safe and have room to try things out.
Anne November 07, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Jeanne, thank you for your example.
Michelle Smith November 07, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Great suggestion, Anne! Thanks for your input on this subject. Everyone - parents, educators, community member - should have an interest in the success of our children in school. I'm so happy to see another bright and passionate person enter the teaching field. My stepmom recently retired from teaching and is a stellar example of the type of dedication and perseverance it takes to be a great teacher. I hope you find it as rewarding and enjoyable as she did.
Anne November 07, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Michelle, thank you!


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