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The Case Against Homework

If you think homework overload is interfering with your family life and jeopardizing your child’s wellbeing, you’re not alone. “We were surprised to discover that homework overload is happening from Montana to Mississippi to Maine,” write Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish in their book, The Case Against Homework. Of the one thousand plus parents, educators, and kids surveyed by the authors, more than one third of the families admitted to feeling “crushed” by the workload.

Bennett and Kalish claim the same questions prevail nationwide. “Are they spending too much time on projects that seem pointless and unrelated to the subject? Do kids need a tutor, or even medication, to help them deal with it? Do kids have any time left to play or follow their passions? Haven’t we reached the point of diminishing returns?” According to The Case Against Homework, we have.

Throughout my nineteen as an educator and nine years as a parent, I have seen a plethora of homework assignments. I certainly agree with Bennett and Kalish that there is a disconnect between the perceived benefits of homework and the actual results. According to Duke University professor Harris Cooper, his research indicates that “there is very little correlation between the amount of homework given and achievement in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school. Even in high school, ‘too much homework may diminish its effect or even become counterproductive.’”

So why does the amount of homework continue to increase? Bennett and Kalish explain, “The finger pointing goes in every direction: It’s the kids fault, it’s the school’s fault, it’s society’s fault. Almost always, it comes back to the parents and the prevailing belief that there’s so much homework because competitive moms and dads want their kids to get ahead.” Therefore, American parents might be surprised to learn that the most successful students around the globe actually receive less homework than our students.

“Many of the countries with the highest scoring students on achievement tests, such as Japan, Denmark, and the Czech Republic have teachers who assign little homework. On the other hand, countries such as Greece, Thailand, and Iran, where students have some of the worst average scores, have teachers who assign high quantities of homework, according to David Baker and Gerald LeTendre, education professors and authors of National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling.”

As a matter of fact, Bennett and Kalish enlighten readers to the fact that in the 1990s elementary schools all over Japan began instituting no-homework policies “so that children could pursue outside interests.” The Case Against Homework then points out that “contrary to what you might think, Japanese teachers assign less than an hour of math homework per week to seventh- and eighth-graders.” Compare that with American sixth graders who are actually “working” longer hours than the average adult, according to Bennett and Kalish typically 43.25 hours with homework and the school day combined, and it’s no wonder people are feeling overloaded.

Why don’t parents speak up? “One reason is that many parents have faith in the school system and assume that educators have good reason for subjecting our kids to so much work,” write Bennett and Kalish. But as The Case Against Homework points out the “overwhelming majority of teachers have never taken a course in homework.” And I can’t contest this point. While I received training in how to devise good assignments in relation to specific subjects, the only guidance I received in deciding how much homework to give was the ten-minute rule.

As The Battle Over Homework by Harris Cooper suggests, I was instructed that schools should follow a “ten minutes per grade per school night rule – in other words, ten minutes in first grade, twenty minutes per night in second grade, thirty minutes in third grade, and so on, up to a maximum of two hours per night in high school.” Unfortunately, with the intense focus on testing, many teachers disregard these guidelines, and since few schools even have a policy on homework, it makes it hard to contest their squeezing “in material and test-taking practice they weren’t able to fit into the school day.”

This fear for the future scares parents, too. “We hear all the news reports about how badly the schools are failing and, since we can’t do much about what’s happening in the classroom, we tend to focus on the one area of school to which we do have access: homework. We feel like we’re letting our kids down if we don’t do everything we can to help them – but often, our ‘help’ is actually harmful,” argue Bennett and Kalish.

This compulsion to do more isn’t the only area where our interference is negative. Our “anxiety and parent-to-parent peer pressure also make us compete in ways that aren’t helping anyone,” explain Bennett and Kalish, as it prevents us from honestly opening up about the trouble homework is causing in our homes. So if you’re tired of nagging, bribing, and micromanaging your way through your child’s homework, then look for Bennett and Kalish’s ideas on the real way to help with homework in my next blog post.


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Read my other blog Befriending Forty at and find out what happens when the person you thought you’d be meets the person you actually became.

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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