Is Homework Harmful or Helpful?
Pros & cons of homework
The value of homework has been debated for ages, oftentimes with kids and parents taking opposing sides. Policies differ among schools and even individual teachers about the amount of time kids should spend on homework each night, whether or not to grade at-home output and if parents should be encouraged to help.
Why homework is helpful
“Homework is important because it’s an opportunity for students to review materials that are covered in the classroom. You need to practice in order to become proficient,” says Sharon R. Stallings, principal of Signal Hill School in Voorhees, NJ. When students are unable to complete the homework, “that lets the teacher know they need more help in the classroom.”
“If teaching and learning is effective, the opportunity for application of classroom learning should happen outside of school hours as much as in school,” says Jean Wallace, CEO of Philadelphia’s Green Woods Charter School. Green Woods mom Megan Keel is all in favor of her kids getting homework: “It’s never too much and it reinforces what they learned during the day.”
Keel has seen both of her sons, 7th-grader Grady and 4th-grader Otis, struggle at times with homework, but she’s also witnessed “aha” moments. “When they’re just learning to read, homework can be a challenge,” she says. “But once the kids are confident in their schoolwork, they can do it more independently.”
When homework is harmful
Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, is an outspoken critic of at-home assignments. “Homework is frequently the source of frustration, exhaustion, family conflicts, a lack of time for kids to pursue other interests and, perhaps most disturbingly, less excitement about learning,” he insists. “It may be the greatest single extinguisher of children's curiosity.”
Kohn points out that no research has ever found any advantage to assigning homework — of any kind or in any amount — in elementary school. “It's truly all pain and no gain,” he believes. “There is little reason to believe that homework is necessary and no support for the assumption that it promotes good work habits, independence or self-discipline.”
Wallace disagrees. “A gradual increase in the amount of homework over the K-through-8 or K-through-12 years can better prepare students for building necessary skills of time management and the responsibility for their own learning,” she says.
NEXT PAGE: Steps to take when homework loads start to overwhelm.
Parents and homework issues
If homework loads start to overwhelm your child, it’s time to take the following steps.
Check the policy. Compare how much homework your child is being assigned with district guidelines and teacher estimates. Don’t hesitate to speak up if that time frame is being overshot (or isn’t being met).
Focus on quality, not just quantity. Homework issues aren’t limited to excessive length — the assignments themselves may not be reasonable. If kids are being required to do something that fails to help them think more deeply and excite them about learning, there could be a problem.
Keep homework in perspective. The well-being of your child matters more than whether a worksheet is filled out or a report is written. Your job is to support your child’s emotional and intellectual development, not to be the school’s enforcer. If homework becomes too much on a stressful or busy night, write a note to your child’s teacher explaining the situation.
Don’t do the homework yourself. Stallings believes that children should largely be able to do their homework without assistance, though she recognizes that sometimes a child will need parental support. However, not all parents are able to help their children effectively in every subject.
When one of Keel’s sons struggles in an assignment she doesn’t feel she can help with, he takes advantage of school assets. “He can go in early for extra help from his teacher, and there are online resources that provide help for both of us,” she says. “I don’t want homework to become so frustrating that he gives up.”
Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.