Putting the work back in homework
With the school year getting under way, we have some
good news for all parents: When your children come home each night from
school complaining about how they have so much homework, don't listen to
them. They're lying.
OK, maybe they're not lying, per se, but recent
research has gone a long way to debunk the long-held notion that
American schoolchildren are chronically overworked. Remember the piece
in Time magazine entitled "The Homework Ate My Family"? Or People
magazine's article, "Overbooked: Four Hours of Homework for a Third
Grader?" Don't believe them.
Scholars at the Brookings Institution's Brown Center
on Education Policy have proven that, if anything, American
schoolchildren need more homework. ... Sorry, kids.
Among the findings: Students spend only 19 to 27
minutes per night studying, on average. Students spend more time each
day playing, eating, tending to personal care, playing sports, shopping,
visiting and performing household duties than they do on homework. And
they spend six times as much time watching television. Only a third of
high school seniors spend an hour or more on homework each day (compared
with other nations in this category, the U.S. is tied for last place).
Of course, kids will be - and always have been - kids,
so this new research shouldn't give any cause for moral crusading
against distracted, unfocused youth. There's some good news in these
findings. While it is true that students spend a pathetic amount of time
on homework, part of the reason may be that today's students are
presented with greater equality of access to opportunities in the arts,
technology, athletics and community service. There is reason to believe
that while our children may be getting less studious, they are becoming
more and more steeped in activities and hobbies than ever before. Twenty
years ago, students couldn't converse with a teenager from China at the
touch of a keyboard. Twenty years ago, few girls had both access to and
interest in their junior high soccer team. While these may not be
construed as homework specifically, they certainly count in an
individual's overall education.
Although this research may come as a surprise, it's
actually not news at all: Historically, excessive homework has never
been a problem in America. The only significant increase in work levels
in the past 50 years occurred after Sputnik in 1957, when competition
with the Soviet Union triggered a corresponding academic achievement
Homework could, and should, be improved, however.
Educators, in order to make homework more of a priority among their
students, need to reassess the design and implementation of homework,
making it more interactive and productive, instead of simply making it
review and practice.
Homework should be about quality, not quantity.
Although the Brookings research highlights the small amount of time
American students spend on homework, the focus shouldn't really be on
time at all. Ultimately, the objective should not be having students
spend more time on homework. Instead, we should be shooting for homework
that creates better-educated students, regardless of time spent. Becaue
68 percent of fourth-graders failing basic reading proficiency and
roughly 83 percent of our high school seniors not proficient in math and
science, the implications could be dire for both our children and our
Of course, most teachers believe that President Bush's
No Child Left Behind Act isn't helping the situation. The act, signed in
January 2002, represents the federal government's largest involvement
ever in education and calls for 100 percent proficiency in reading, math
and science in 12 years - no small feat. How, then, are schools to reach
such lofty goals without more of that dreaded thing: homework? In
school, there is only so much that can be done before the buses show up
to whisk everybody home. With these new standards (and therefore more
work to be done), it seems that households will become even more of an
extension of school than they already are, and that's not an entirely
desirable situation (just ask parents who find themselves acting as the
teachers of new material at home, rather than facilitators).
Politicians, teachers and parents need to work
together in order to assure that we are educating our children as best
as we can. That may or may not mean more homework. In the meantime,
parents, don't let Johnny and Susie fool you: They don't "have a ton to
5 September 2005 The Examiner