Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Homework brouhaha

It's an annual rite of fall: the veritable journalistic orgy of discussion over homework. Too much? Too little? Too much busy work? Two recent Washington Post articles highlight the debate on this evergreen topic.

In "As Homework Grows, So Do Arguments Against It," Valerie Strauss takes a look at what the US' best researcher on homework has to say about the current state of homework in K-12 schools. According to Duke University professor Harris Cooper:
Elementary school students get no academic benefit from homework -- except reading and some basic skills practice -- and yet schools require 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... is that most teachers get little or no training on how to create homework assignments that advance learning.

Ah-ha! So those complex projects students bring home to cut, color, paste, and accessorize probably add little value to learning, but add considerable frustration to parents' lives.

Ben Wildafsky opened the whole can of worms with his article, "Busy Work," which examines the claims of two hot books in today's edusphere: The Case Against Homework, and The Homework Myth. Both books posit that today's students are buried under a mountain of homework that is not only of little value, but also is actually causing them physical harm.

But Wildafsky points to research that indicates these claims are overblown. For example, scholar Tom Loveless at the Brookings Institution released a report in 2003 that:
found that even in high school the typical American student spends less than one hour studying per day. While there has been a marked increase in homework among younger students in recent years, the average amounts are still modest -- about two hours per week for kids ages 6 to 8, and under four hours per week for those ages 9 to 12 -- and the rising average is largely driven by a decline in the proportion of kids who had no homework at all. What's more, studying is far outpaced by time playing sports, and is dwarfed by -- surprise -- hours devoted to watching television (13 and a half per week among 9- to 12-year-olds, for example).
It's a subject worth thinking about, no matter which side of the debate you favor.


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