Thinking About Homework

Posted October 26th, 2012 by Elaine in Child, Parenting

My older child started second grade this year. Second grade seems to be serious business. So serious, in fact, that he has nightly homework. I’m not a believer in homework. I’d rather my child build forts in the backyard, balance on the stumps my husband installed last year, and pursue things that interest him at the moment. A synthesis of the research from 1987 – 2003 by researchers at Duke University found only weak correlations between homework and standardized tests for student in grades K – 6. The same research found no strong evidence for a correlation between homework and grades. In other words? Our young students are not benefiting from homework in an academic sense.

Yet, every parent I’ve talked to tells me their young students have homework. Is it because teachers are being asked to do more than can be reasonably accomplished in the already long school-day so they’re forced to punt the job of teaching to me? Is it to instill some sense of achievement and responsibility in students (even though playing can do the same thing)? Or are we just so worried that if our students don’t have homework, they’ll look weak compared to others?

Whatever the reason for homework, it boggles my mind. Two weeks ago, for example, my son completed math tasks that were banal and probably did more damage to his love of math than we’ll ever know. To my son’s teacher’s credit, she picked up on this pretty fast and has now provided “differentiated” math homework for him. This, of course, is both a win and a loss. It’s a win since he’s now doing cool math tasks. Tonight’s homework involved figuring out how many total points Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar had scored in their careers by being told how many points Jordan scored and how many more points Abdul-Jabaar had scored than Jordan. That, for a second grader, is a pretty cool application of some basic math principles.

But the new homework is simultaneously a loss, because I was hoping to get a free pass on not doing math homework that seemed rudimentary in the future. But alas, that’s not to be for now.

I talk to other parents about this all the time. And the most common answer I get? Well, it doesn’t take that long (guideline in Arlington for a second grader is maximum of 30 minutes, minimum of 20 minutes on average, four days a week – plus being read to or reading). Are we that cavalier about our own time? There are few parents I know who would willingly participate in a task for 20 – 30 minutes a day that wasted their time. So why expect our children to do so?

Am I nuts here? Do you actually see value in your early elementary child’s homework?

When not supervising nightly homework, Elaine blogs about her children at Connor and Helen Grow Up!

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7 Responses to “Thinking About Homework”

  1. Therese

    I agree with you and thankfully the principal of my kid’s school agrees with you too though this doesn’t stop homework coming home. We don’t put much emphasis on it and it’s over and done with quickly. One thing I do want to do is instill some good habits for the future.
    Things is, our kids get it, so they don’t need that extra mundane practice but what if they didn’t? Wouldn’t the extra 10 or 20 mins be beneficial then?

    • Elaine

      I do often wonder what I’d think if my child wasn’t getting it. It’s a good point you make. However, the research doesn’t bear out that it helps, so I’m falling on the side of thinking that if my child didn’t get it, rather than repeating work s/he wasn’t getting during the day, I would need to think of ways to help her/him get it using different methods. All theoretical though, so if the rubber ever met the road on this, who knows what I’d actually do!

  2. Dawn

    I’m right there with you, too. My first-grade daughter is just entering the world of mindless work-at-home, and thankfully it’s really light and she completes it at after care before she even gets home. I’d much prefer that she have those 15 minutes to run around outside, though.

    My oldest is in seventh grade this year, and when we mentioned at a meeting with his teachers that some nights he works on his assignments for 3 hours or more, they all just nodded their heads in agreement. “That’s expected for middle school” was the basic response we got. I was shocked. What kind of life is this that we hoist upon our children?

    (In related news– have you seen the documentary RACE TO NOWHERE? It’s fabulously done and terribly depressing.)

  3. Elaine

    I did see Race to Nowhere and thought it was an outstanding film. Related is the film Waiting for Superman, which I also recommend to people interested in schooling issues.

    I’m fearing 7th grade. You have described my nightmare.

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