30 April 2010
Vague Averages Dominate the Homework Debate Without Providing Specifics
Are American students burdened with too much homework? This question has been debated hotly for several years in the media. This is because some parents have become vocal about their “belief” that their children are overworked and do not have enough time for play or family (Viadero).
The word “belief” is important to this debate because there is extensive variation from family to family and researchers depend on surveys to study this question. Consider this quote: “Not only does homework cut into family time, it becomes a primary source of arguments, power struggles and is disruptive to building a strong family, including putting strain on marriages. Bruni said it even negatively affects family holidays” (Rushowy).
Indeed, the title of the article containing these lines is “Homework the Homewrecker.” This almost makes homework seem evil.
On the other hand, “studies” have been reported that claim American students are doing less homework than peers in other countries and that they do “an average” of one hour of homework per day in high school (Feller).
What then, is the truth about homework and the American student? In researching this topic, two themes continually came up. First, the “studies” claiming students do little homework reported “average” number of hours per day or week. Secondly, the reports claiming that students had too much homework, tended to be from upper income parents – parents with time and money to have their kids participate in various other after school activities.
A University of Michigan study last year found homework increasing overall from 1981 to 1997, with the biggest increase falling on students aged 6 to 8, whose homework load tripled. Piscataway is one of many school districts to ban or severely limit homework across the country. The school board in this district of about 7, 000 students limited it on weeknights, from 30 minutes in elementary school ...
The fact is answering this debate cannot be accomplished based on surveys which report “average” number of hours spent on assignments completed at home. The facts that seem to be important are: 1) what types of courses are the students enrolled in? 2) what is the economic level of the family? 3) how quickly does each individual student work? 4) what type of homework is assigned (practice and drill or projects)? In other words, “averages” will not indicate whether homework is helping or hurting a particular student or family. The specifics need to be known.
What types of courses are the students enrolled in? A student in Honors Algebra would be expected to complete much more homework than a student in Modified Algebra (Skinner).
Studying the students in these two types of classes might provide more information on the effect of homework than comparing the average time spent by all students taking different classes from different teachers. Even more informative would be to analyze two Honors Algebra classes, one in which the students receive a lot of homework and one in which there is little. Then the effect of hours of homework done can be compared.
What is the economic level of the family? Upper income families tend to oppose the large homework loads assigned by their children’s school (Skinner, Jackson).
They claim that spending time with friends and family is a more meaningful use of time. These families have the money to have their kids participate in activities such as horseback riding, archery, karate, soccer, baseball, ballet, etc. In addition, they can afford expensive tutoring services if their children need academic help. However, lower income parents cannot afford the costs of after school activities. And in many urban neighborhoods, playing outside is too dangerous. Therefore, without a good homework plan, the children end up watching television or playing video games. Homework is an important way that these students can catch up with the academic achievement of middle class peers (Jackson).
3/24/05 Critical Incident I had the opportunity to look over the teacher's grade book today, and noticed something disturbing to me: the homework section in the grade book were mostly blank spaces with marks down only a few names. For over the passed months, most of the students have not turned in their homework. There are a few that turn in their homework consistently and the rest have done ...
The relationship between economic level of the family and the effect of homework seems to be a very complex one. In his essay, David Skinner describes some of the history behind this debate over homework. In the 1980’s a book entitled Bobos in Paradise stated that children were overworked with homework and activities after school (Skinner).
This author studied upper income families. At about the same time, another book was published, The End of Homework, which studied high school dropouts from lower income families and concluded that homework did not have a positive outcome for these students. These books are presenting opinions and stories from former students that do not prove a link between the homework assigned and the negative outcome. Again, it seems that other variables need to be taken into consideration.
How quickly does each individual student work? “One standard that many school districts are turning to is the “10-minute rule” created by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper. The rule, endorsed by the National PTA and the National Education Association, says kids should get 10 minutes of homework a night per grade” (Wagner).
Not every student completes the same assignment in the same amount of time. If the 5th grade teacher is to assign 50 minutes of homework to her students, is she basing her assignments on those students who work quickly or those who work more slowly? When “average” number of hours of homework is surveyed, it may be that the same assignment would have a positive effect on the quick student and a negative effect on the slower-working student and their families. It may not be possible to determine the value of homework if the rate at which the students complete it is widely different (Rushowy).
What type of homework is assigned (practice and drill or projects)? Educational researchers have shown that homework in high school raises “achievement”. Achievement means higher grades and test scores (Wagner).
“In terms of class grades and standardized test scores, he found that the average student doing homework in these studies had a higher achievement score than 55 percent of students not doing homework” (Skinner).
More and more children and students these days seem to be more preoccupied with their schoolwork than ever. With new curriculums and testing in progress we have to stop and think how much stress students are in these days. Not many people stop to think about the younger generation. The amount of homework assigned to students should be reduced. First, the amount of homework should be reduced ...
Note the word “average” – what does he mean by an average student? However, as the author points out, 55% is just 5 points above random, or 50-50. Does this narrow advantage justify the stress placed on families to finish night after night of assignments at home?
Some subjects such as science and history are naturally subjects that require projects to understand. However, projects cannot be done on a weekly basis. Perhaps it is these types of subjects where worksheet-type homework assignments are not useful to the student. Again, surveying students about how many hours of homework they do and comparing that to achievement may not be the link between cause and effect.
But debates exists between teachers and parents over whether practice-type homework is “busywork” and therefore of no value or “skill-building” and useful for elementary students. However, the research appears to be clear for elementary students: “In fact, studies have shown that reading with, or to, children every day is the only conclusive way to boost their academic success, and Cameron believes that should be the only “homework” for younger children” (Rushowy).
Consider this claim: “Ironically, the literature suggesting a positive correlation between physical play and academic performance is stronger than the correlations for homework. For that matter, eating regular meals with your children is a better predictor of academic success than elementary school homework” (Buell).
This fact is fascinating and again supports the idea that studying “average” amounts of time doing homework is not relevant to the question of whether it helps students.
Here is a typical description from the articles on the homework debate:
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reports that a significant number of 9- and 13-year-olds are assigned no homework at all. Between 1984 and 1999, at least 26 percent and as much as 36 percent of 9-year-olds reported receiving no homework assignments the day before filling out the questionnaire. Among 13-year-olds, the numbers show a relatively large and increasing number of students assigned no homework: 17 percent in 1988, increasing to 24 percent in 1999. As for older students, the 1999 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 12 percent of high school seniors said they were doing no homework during a typical week. Of the remaining 88 percent, most said they spent less than 5 hours a week doing homework (Skinner).
The Relationship between a Students Social Lifestyle and First Year Average Exam Grade Alternate Hypothesis: There is a relationship between a Students social lifestyle and their first year average exam grades Null Hypothesis: There is no relationship between a Students social lifestyle and first year average exam grades Introduction The aim of my investigation is to find a significant ...
Phrases such as “significant number…relatively large….increasing number…most” are vague. They do not describe the type of student, the type of courses he takes, and the economic status of his family. And although the numbers of students “receiving” homework is less, the numbers are not huge: 26-36% of 9-year olds. And the increase from 17% to 24% of 13 year olds receiving no homework is “relatively large” only when compared to something else which makes it relative. But what is he comparing it to? He doesn’t say. When it comes to the high school students, the author says “most” of the 88% of students who are “doing” homework do only 5 hours per week. This does not tell us if more was assigned and not done or if all that was assigned was done. Are these students just not doing some of their homework?
It is possible that both groups in this debate are right. Some students and families may be overburdened with too much homework which does not raise achievement. And some students and families may be doing less homework than they did years ago. It appears that the effect of homework is specific to the individual student. Too many variables affect the impact of homework on a student. The point is, that if the reports continue to analyze “average” number of hours and “average” increases in achievement, there will be no closure on this debate.