What if there was no homework for the entire school year?
A Texas teacher wrote a letter to parents of her second grade class telling them just that.
Brandy Young of Godley Elementary School, in Godley, Texas wrote, “Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance. Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”
Here & Now‘s Meghna Chakrabarti speaks with pediatrician Dr. Jeffrey Brosco, a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, about the idea.
Interview Highlights: Dr. Jeffrey Brosco
On Young’s claim that research has been “unable to prove that homework improves student performance”
“That’s true, although it depends on the age of the child. There’s been 30 or 40 years of research looking at this. If you look at elementary schools kids, up until fifth grade or so, there really is no evidence that homework improves academic outcomes.
If you measure kids who get homework, who don’t get homework, compare them — their reading, writing, math skills are pretty much the same at the end of the year. So from that point of view, she’s absolutely right. There’s probably some reason to start doing homework in middle school and high school, probably one to two hours seems to be the right amount for, especially high schoolers. That does seem to improve academic outcomes.”
On other possible benefits of homework, like focus and discipline
“These are all ideas that homework might be useful for. Again, there’s not research showing that it does. I’ve heard parents say this is a good way for the school to communicate what a child is learning because they see what the worksheets show. The problem, of course, is to the degree that parents take on the homework as their own, then that chance of independence and organization and responsibility can get lost.”
On alternatives to traditional homework
“I should point out that there are entire school systems, like in the country of Finland and Sweden, where there is absolutely no homework and the kids academic outcomes are really superior. So we should probably be rethinking school a little bit, especially in the elementary school years.
We want to encourage curiosity, we want to encourage a love of learning, a good relationship with trying to figure out what’s happening in the world, rather than making it all about worksheets. If you’re learning about math, the assignment might be like talk to your parents at home and figure out ways they use math. So maybe you play a board game, or cook something with one of your parents or maybe you build something.”
On using homework as a strategy to close the achievement gap
“More homework is not the way to do it. We have to be careful about how we think about parent involvement, more generally. It turns out that things that are more important are for parents to have an expectation that their child will do well and go to college. That their parents are generally interested: ‘What did you learn today, what happened in school?’ Perhaps to some degree, that parents help make sure that children get the teacher that best fits their personality and learning style.
A lot of the other things that are routinely touted as important — going to the school, meeting with the teachers, joining the PTA, doing a whole lot of other things — probably don’t make as much difference. Sometimes we label parents as not being involved while it’s not clear it’s the best for their child.”
On what elementary education should focus on
“The natural curiosity of children really should drive a lot of what we are doing with learning. The idea is that math and reading and writing and those sorts of skills are just that — they’re skills to use in the world, not an end in of themselves.”