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Homework: Do Kids Need Less or More?

The Atlantic invited a variety of voices to weigh in recently on the value of homework, and they provide some interesting reading. Karl Taro Greenfeld decided to do his eighth-grade daughter’s homework for a week to find out what she’s doing for up to five hours every night.

Whenever I bring up the homework issue with teachers or administrators, their response is that they are required by the state to cover a certain amount of material. There are standardized tests, and everyone—students, teachers, schools—is being evaluated on those tests. I’m not interested in the debates over teaching to the test or No Child Left Behind. What I am interested in is what my daughter is doing during those nightly hours between 8 o’clock and midnight, when she finally gets to bed. During the school week, she averages three to four hours of homework a night and six and a half hours of sleep.

In response Robert Pondiscio, the executive director of CitizenshipFirst, a civic education initiative based at Harlem’s Democracy Prep Public Schools, wrote:

A loss of homework would be a minor inconvenience at worst for Greenfeld’s children, whose path through the American education system has largely been made straight by happy accident of birth (it’s heresy in education to say “demographics is destiny” but it remains the way to bet).  For the low-income kids of color that I have worked with, thoughtful, well-crafted homework, especially in reading, remains an essential gap-closing tool.

Former teacher Jessica Lahey described her own struggle over whether or not to assign homework, and if yes, what kind.

While I’ve read the research, and I know that there’s little academic benefit to homework before middle school, and even then, the benefit is limited, I’ve continued to assign homework all these years for a couple of reasons. One, students, teachers, parents, and administrators expect me to, and when I don’t I am labeled an “easy” teacher, viewed as less serious or rigorous than my colleagues. Parents may rage about the veritable avalanche of homework that threatens to suffocate their children, but in my experience, parents also view that avalanche as a badge of honor, evidence of academic rigor.

What do you think about the amount of homework that is assigned at your school? If you’re a parent of school-aged children, what do you think about the homework that they are assigned?

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