Homework falls out of favor

Public schools find themselves caught between two contrary demands: pressure to boost test scores and pressure to maintain student wellness (“Down With Homework, Say U.S. School Districts,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 13).  If the past is any indication, however, they will go to one extreme or the other rather than trying to achieve a balance.

I believe that homework done properly plays an important role in reinforcing classroom instruction.  The key to doing so is to use common sense.  The number of hours assigned each week needs to be adjusted to the age of students.  Elementary school children should not be given the same number of hours as high school students.  Moreover, homework should not be busywork.  It actually can be made enjoyable.  Too often, however, homework consists of sheets of exercises that bore students.

When I was in high school, my Spanish teacher routinely assigned daily homework that helped me master what was taught in class.  I saw the purpose and went to class the next day with renewed confidence.  I learned more in three years of Spanish in high school than I did in three years in college.  In fact, I was placed in an advanced class based on a screening test.  I owe that to how Spanish was taught, including homework.

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2 Replies to “Homework falls out of favor”

  1. Hard to separate one’s personal experience with homework from a rational analysis re the too-much/too-little homework issue. As I recall (we’re talking about looking back 50+ years), I rarely had too much homework and virtually never had what I then considered “busy work”. Perhaps my teachers were exercising excellent judgment in assigning homework; perhaps I was just naïve and/or a good order-follower.

    Likewise, my recollection of my kids’ homework load (in the 1980s and 1990s) is that they were rarely crushed by excessive homework but they did routinely have some homework; no idea whether their homework was “busy work”, but I don’t remember them raising that complaint at the time.

    Re the “too-much-homework” complaint — based on anecdotal evidence from friends re their children’s more recent high school years, my impression is that the problem is not so much too much homework as too many AP courses coupled with too many hours demanded by school-related or other extracurricular activities.

    I played interscholastic sports throughout high school, but my regular school day ended at 3:20 and I was almost always home (after practice or games) by 5:30. For today’s high school students, the regular school day ends at 2:30 but the students on interscholastic sports teams are rarely home before 6:30 or later + of course, today’s high school students are starting the school day an hour earlier than I did. Generalizing from this anecdotal evidence, today’s high school athletes are spending about 90 minutes more per day on sports than I was back in the 1960s.

    Also, back in the 1960s, high school students did not have any “public service hours” requirements. Today, in my community, all the students have to participate in some kind of public service activity for a set number of hours in order to earn a diploma.

    And, there’s the time that today’s students spend on non-academic internet activities — time that our generation obviously had to devote to other activities, including homework.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: You’re right that students today are overloaded with activities in the hope that such involvement will enhance their chances of getting into the college they want. I’m not surprised that so many feel burned out at such an early age. So perhaps it’s not homework per se that is the problem.

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