What follows is a letter I wrote to my children's teachers regarding the homework my children are being sent home with from school - typically a series of worksheets.
While the quantity is not great, my position is outlined below.
HT to Alfie Kohn and his book "The Homework Myth" for several of the quotes and nearly all of the research. (Note, there are several books on this topic, but Kohn's is one of the better ones).
Dear Mrs. ____ and Mrs. _____,
We are so thrilled to have our daughter in your classroom. She seems to be extremely happy with the way this year is progressing at school, and we are confident that this will be a great year for her.
We are writing to share with you a (hopefully minor) conflict our family has with school policy. The issue is homework.
As you will probably see, we have put a lot of effort into this letter, and we hope that you will take it seriously, and also recognise that we wish to make things better for all parties, and not more challenging.
Barring two exceptions which we’ll mention in a moment, we do not encourage homework in our home. The reasons for this are as follows:
1. Scientific: For young children (under around age 14-15 years) there is absolutely no scientific research which supports the inclusion of homework in their extra-curricular activities.
Indeed, “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of [primary school] elementary students” (Cooper, 1989, p. 101). To be sure, in 2005 Cooper (one of the most respected homework researchers in the world) indicated that while he was personally pro-homework, there appears to be no academic advantage for children to do homework. Often the relationship between homework and “learning” (often defined as grades or standardised test scores) is negative.
2. Homework is a burden on you as a teacher. In fact, as we sat in the meeting for Stage 3 students, Mrs. _____ actually made a poignant comment about the “pain” and “groans” associated with homework. And several times each of you indicated the scheduling challenges you face in terms of dealing with coordinating homework, marking homework, giving homework feedback, and so on.
3. Homework creates stress for our children. It might be tough for teachers, but I believe it’s even tougher for children, even when only in small amounts. And research has demonstrated that it “overwhelms struggling kids and removes joy for high achievers.” A 2002 study found a direct relationship between time spent on homework and levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and other mood disorders and issues.
4. Homework creates an extra burden on us as parents.
5. Homework creates family conflict.
6. Homework diminishes the time our children have for other activities. With 4 children and a 5th on the way, you can imagine that homework has the potential to occupy a significant component of our afternoons. We have the children involved in music lessons, cycling, swimming, church activities, and more. Additionally, the children enjoy being children, by swimming in the pool, playing with friends, having free reading time, go shopping, contributing in our home with chores and cooking, and so on.
7. Homework is not inspiring. We are yet to meet a single child who enjoys homework. We believe that it may be the most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.
Homework, according to the best research available, neither enhances children’s depth of understanding, nor does it increase their passion for learning. And some research actually indicates that the provision of homework actually impacts negatively on some standardised testing (which I’m also not a fan of, but I’ll spare you my feelings on this one). =)
8. There is no evidence to support the belief that homework helps students develop the characteristics it is often suggested will be useful, such as ability to organise time, develop good work habits, think independently, and so on. It doesn’t seem to prepare them for “later” either. They can usually adapt pretty well when they turn 14 or 15 without having 8 years of practice under their belt before it all starts. Indeed, if we were to run with the “better get used to it” logic, there would be little point raising children with love because sooner or later life in the real world will not be loving. Hence they’d better get used to it. Obviously this is absurd, but hopefully it illustrates our point.
9. Our position on homework can essentially be summarised by the following quote from a respected US professor of education: “Most of what homework is doing is driving kids away from learning.”
We mentioned two exceptions to our homework rule and these are the following;
1. Reading. We strongly encourage reading in our home. The children are encouraged to read every single day after school and before bed. However we strongly discourage timing the reading or dictating the number of pages to be read. This removal of autonomy turns reading into a chore, rather than a pleasure. When we simply remind the kids that reading time needs to happen, they immerse themselves in books and often only resurface after our pleas to come to the dinner table reach a crescendo!
We have seen that the best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to us or others that they have read. On a related note, we discourage the use of rewards for behaviour – such as stars, goodies, etc. However, we DO let the children know that when they have completed a book we will gladly buy them another one immediately. This, they find, is highly motivating.
2. Our other form of “acceptable” homework is related to projects from school that interest the children. We actively encourage research, projects, and writing speeches. This helps the children in information gathering, critical thinking, logical formatting of content, and presentation skills. Plus it gets them actively “discovering” in their learning, and sinks much deeper than much other “busy” work.
The reality is, despite our feelings about homework, our children seem willing to complete it without our ever asking. However, we want you to be aware that we will not be actively encouraging homework unless it falls into the two categories described above. And this we do regularly anyway, whether you assign it or not. This is in no way meant to undermine you or make your job more difficult. In fact, we believe that it will make things easier for everyone and assist in the well-rounded positive developmental outcomes for our children.
Thanks so much for reading this. We hope that you can be understanding of our position, and are happy to discuss this with you if you have any concerns.
Justin and Kylie Coulson