Archive for Thursday, September 14, 2006

Students, parents, teachers agree: Homework not a problem here

September 14, 2006


The nation's best-known researcher on homework has taken a new look at the subject, and here is what Duke University professor Harris Cooper has to say:

Elementary school students get no academic benefit from homework - except reading and some basic skills practice - and yet schools across the nation are requiring more than ever.

High school students studying until dawn probably are wasting their time because there is no academic benefit after two hours a night; for middle-schoolers, 1 1/2 hours.

And what's perhaps more important, he said, is that most teachers get little or no training on how to create homework assignments that advance learning.

Reasonable balance

But the Lawrence school district apparently has avoided much of what Cooper found wrong with America's approach to homework.

Here, according to students, parents, teachers and administrators interviewed by the Journal-World, there is a reasonable balance that seems to work well for most involved. Teachers receive no special training and are given broad latitude in how they assign homework. But complaints are sparse, and the students randomly interviewed Wednesday by the Journal-World either had no homework assignments or tasks that fell within the range of Cooper's recommendations.

Hillcrest School second-grader Alexis Kriegh, 7, and her mother, Mary Ellen Kriegh, work on Alexis' homework Wednesday evening to get her prepared for school today. Lawrence students say their homework load isn't unmanageable.

Hillcrest School second-grader Alexis Kriegh, 7, and her mother, Mary Ellen Kriegh, work on Alexis' homework Wednesday evening to get her prepared for school today. Lawrence students say their homework load isn't unmanageable.

"It's never more than an hour and a half to two hours - never too much. It's enough to deal with," Joel Bonner, a ninth-grader at Central Junior High School, said after school let out.

"Some teachers give half an hour to an hour a day, every day of class. So, I think that's a fair amount," Bonner's schoolmate Matt Goering said. "I don't mind. I just get it done."

Free rein

Lawrence teachers are given a free hand in how much homework they assign and what it entails.

"We talked to our teachers about making sure that it's relevant and appropriate for the lessons being taught and it reinforces what they're doing and it's not just busy work," Supt. Randy Weseman said.

But beyond that it pretty much is up to the teachers.

That relatively relaxed approach seems to have worked well for the district. If it hasn't, few are saying so.

"I have not heard from parents on that topic," said Sue Morgan, school board president.

Morgan said there are always differing opinions about how much homework is needed or effective but that teachers know many students are busy after school with extracurricular activities, ranging from sports to music. With that in mind, they temper their homework demands.

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"I think teachers, by and large, recognize that and understand it, and I think some of the extended learning opportunities that go on after school probably supplant some of the homework," she said.

Older students

Weseman acknowledged homework can be a problem at the junior high and high school levels, because students aren't with the same instructor all day, he said.

"Teacher A is unaware that they're assigning homework on the same day as Teacher B," Weseman said. "But I think that's something we all went through as high school students and there's no mechanism in the system right now to act as a clearinghouse for teachers to coordinate that."

Weseman said Cooper's research shows too much homework might hurt, rather than help, some elementary students. Assigning homework to students with lower abilities - who can't do it anyway - doesn't work, Weseman said.

"It isn't about just giving them more work. The issue with those students is providing the correct instruction," he said.

Developing skills

Chris Bay, principal at Sunset Hill School, said that in his seven years at the school parents have complained very little about homework.

"On occasion we get complaints from families who say, 'Boy, we'd like to have more.' On occasion you get families who say, 'Boy, I'm working a double-shift and it's really difficult for me to support my child and get that work done at home.'"

Bay said the best model for elementary homework is practicing what the student has already learned and keeping the lessons short.

"I think one of the faults of education as a whole is to start giving homework for homework's sake," he said.

Talking about homework

Students and Lawrence school administrators discuss homework and how it's used locally. Enlarge video

At Sunset Hill, students leave class with homework packets that have a specifically designated skill that a kindergartner or first-grader is working on, Bay said.

The homework takes about 10 minutes a night, he said.

Once the children have demonstrated proficiency on the designated skill three times, they get to move on to the next skill level, he said.

The purpose is to practice skills. But it also gets the parents involved, Bay said.

"That's been real effective for us, especially at kindergarten. They're really excited about homework," he said. "That tends to wane as they move up through the grades."

Bay said he took a survey during Parent Night recently at the school, asking parents their opinions about homework, such as how much is reasonable.

Bay said he hasn't done his own homework yet - he still needs to go through the survey to find out everything the parents said. But he got a sense as to what the survey indicated.

"At this point, it really seems like a nonissue because we don't get much concern and our teachers are really pretty sensitive to not overdoing it," Bay said.


That's also the feeling of Jack Mercer, who has a son, Jackson, in seventh grade at South Junior High School, and a daughter, Chloe, a sophomore at Lawrence High School.

"I can't remember a parent coming up to me that said they're concerned about the amount of homework," said Mercer, past president of Hillcrest School's Parent Teacher Organization.

"I never hear anybody complain about homework. Maybe the children. But not the parents, that's for sure," Mercer said.

Mercer said the real concern parents have is over-scheduling.

"I guess, homework, just as a subject by itself, is not really a concern. It's how can a parent make sure a child gets their homework done and be in soccer, in volleyball and football and all those other extracurricular activities," Mercer said.

Going high tech

Weseman said homework has changed significantly with technology; students now regularly use laptop, desktop and even hand-held computers, and research papers often involve using the Internet at home.

Some teachers even create Web pages for students to access to get assignments or to study, he said.

"It's kind of changed the face of how they do research projects or homework related to gathering data," he said.

A history of the back and forth of homework

Homework was not always inevitable for American students, as shown in this timeline of how schools have handled the issue: 1800s: Not many children progressed beyond grammar school, but those who did go to public high school got hours of homework that centered on memorization and drilling of facts and material to recite in school. Late 1880s: Reformist educators became concerned that homework, sometimes done in dim light, was harming children's physical and mental health. In Boston, Gen. Francis A. Walker, a Civil War hero chosen as the city's school board president, questioned its effectiveness, as well as its effect on young people, and persuaded the board to lessen math homework. Early 1900s: Dozens of school systems jumped on the anti-homework bandwagon, with restrictions placed on the amount of homework around the country. A national debate about it unfolded in national journals, including the influential Ladies Home Journal, whose editor, Edward Bok, considered homework "barbarous," and wrote a 1900 article titled "A National Crime at the Feet of American Parents." California even incorporated restrictions on homework into its state laws in 1901, declaring that kids younger than 15 should not have to do any. 1940s-60s: National debate on homework moves to permitting homework that is creative and specific to each student's needs. The Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 prompted soul-searching about the U.S. education system, and homework got a boost from people who said the U.S. had fallen behind. 1980-90s: The 1983 release of a report called "A Nation at Risk," which denounced the country's school system, gave new impetus to the pro-homework movement. More schools started increasing homework. Today: It is unusual to find schools that do not give homework, and many school systems require it.

- Source: Partially adapted from "The Crusade to Abolish Homework, American Journal of Education, November 1996, by Brian Gill and Steven Schlossman.

The Washington Post contributed to this story.


middleoftheroader 11 years, 8 months ago

I have never been a proponant of homework. what children are at school for is to learn. what children are at home and elsewhere for is to be children. not in school away from school. kids need to be kids.

prioress 11 years, 8 months ago

Interesting and rational discussion of the issue. Educational research is always a bit "shaky" compared to harder sciences, but clearly homework is misunderstood and misused at times. The most telling comment........the "overscheduling" parents allow or encourage for their children. Kids need time to hang out and be kids.

common_cents 11 years, 8 months ago

Speaking as a parent of an elementary-aged child, I can attest that homework is beneficial to the learning process.

Contrary to popular belief, kids are kids at school also and really do need some structured "study time" in order to remain on top of subjects. That time is not always available at schools, considering the amount of subject matter they are required to ingest during the day.

Although our child studies during school and during the after-school programs, it's good to have one-on-one time with us to not only verify and understand what is being taught, but to reinforce that we care about what is going on in our child's life.

There are plenty of hours during the day and night for kids to be kids AND for kids to take care of educational responsibilities. Our child is quite kid-like and does well in school. I think proper balance is the answer, in addition to parental involvement.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 8 months ago

some homework yes but kids today are complety overwhelmed with homework the teachers need to get together and decide what classes on what days should give homework, not everyclass every day of over 1-2hrs worth per class.

Confrontation 11 years, 8 months ago

"Assigning homework to students with lower abilities - who can't do it anyway - doesn't work, Weseman said."

So, just because some kids are slow, that means other students shouldn't have additional learning? Lets make all kids learn less so the slow kids can catch up to them. That makes no sense. Parents who want their kids to be smarter should work with their kids after school, regardless of whether or not they have homework assigned to them. Let the other kids stare at video games.

Hilary Morton 11 years, 8 months ago

Confrontation: This is the whole idea of NCLB. I'm glad you're not a fan, either. This is the way a lot of teachers are being forced to teach. Those kids in the lower bracket HAVE to do well on their assessment too, to make AYP. There are many programs set in place now to help them be successful AND help the other kids learn more.

mom_of_three 11 years, 8 months ago

One of my kids has a learning disability, and frustration goes both ways. She is very bright, it just takes her a little longer to learn the information. She takes the same tests as the other students, but she gets help in reading the questions, and sometimes, someone writes the answers as she dictates. Her homework assignments are sometimes shortened, as long as she understands the work, but it takes her as long to do it as the other students. It is getting easier as she gets older.
But don't blame the slower kids...they are doing the best they can under the circumstances.

letsgetwise 11 years, 8 months ago

I have had a variety of experiences in the Lawrence school system from elementary to high school. NEVER have I felt the need to complain that my children were NOT given enough homework. I HAVE complained however when homework is for homework sake and nothing else. ex: color this picture. This is not the best example, but we have had our share of what I call ridiculous. I have had an elementary student that spent anywhere from 1 - 3 hours a night doing homework. When I complained the principal was very helpful, but nothing changed. My children score A's and B's consistently, and perhaps a couple of nights a week shouldn't be an issue, but every night of the week until you have an A student basically "give up" is over kill. I have asked the question, without what I feel is an acceptable answer, what is the real purpose for giving the homework? Learning to budget your time, and realizing there are other sources outside of school is fine, but up to a point. And as far as, "Teacher A is unaware that Teacher B is assigning, blah. blah. blah... I thought that was what early dismissal was for, at least that IS how it was explained to me. ALSO, late arrival was explained that teachers didn't have enough time in their day to coordinate their projects. (Unfortunately, I BELIEVE this)

letsgetwise 11 years, 8 months ago

And just in case...I have several friends who are teachers and are very caring and can be very overworked, so...I'm not trying to just bash teachers. I simply think homework should be the exception, and not the rule.

classclown 11 years, 8 months ago

Posted by sybil (anonymous) on September 14, 2006 at 7:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think kids need to heve oppertunity to appy acedemics to real life. I cannot tell you have often I have quted literature in day to day living. Haven't used much Algebra but....


Any chance you can apply literacy to real life?

ForThePeople 11 years, 8 months ago

Posted by sybil (anonymous) on September 14, 2006 at 7:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think kids need to heve oppertunity to appy acedemics to real life. I cannot tell you have often I have quted literature in day to day living. Haven't used much Algebra but....

Yikes.....looks like you skipped over second grade spelling!

SteelHorseRider 11 years, 8 months ago

Whenever my wife and I inquired about the amount of homework we were told by teachers in grade school and junior high that one of the reasons they assigned homework every night was to prepare our child for what was to come in the future. The "to come" part they were talking about is homework. Not concepts, formulas and information. Just the exercise of homework for homework sake. I don't get it.

A May 31, 2005 article from about a study conducted across 50 countries.

"......Their findings indicated a frequent lack of positive correlation between the average amount of homework assigned in a nation and corresponding level of academic achievement. For example, many countries with the highest scoring students, such as Japan, the Czech Republic and Denmark, have teachers who give little homework. "At the other end of the spectrum, countries with very low average scores -- Thailand, Greece, Iran -- have teachers who assign a great deal of homework.......These figures challenge previous stereotypes about the lackadaisical American teenager and his diligent peer in Japan."

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