// by Sue Bjorkman
Recently, a letter from Texas second grade teacher Brandy Young, declaring her classroom a homework-free-zone, made the rounds on social media. With her claim that “research hasn’t proven homework improves student performance,” she reignited a passionate debate.
The “Let kids be kids!” camp says homework causes stressed-out, over-scheduled, sleep-deprived, obese children. Pro-homework advocates say it’s essential for high educational standards and academic achievement. And on it goes. Researchers have never managed to give a clear conclusion on homework. But even when the national Center for Public Education concluded “Homework is not a strategy that works for all children,” they never said, “Get rid of it altogether.”
In local public and private schools, educators see both pros and cons.
Teacher Knows Best
"I can see why this [no-homework] decision was made,” says Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai P. Vitti. “Homework can certainly widen the achievement gap if parents are not prepared to assist their children.” Researchers argue homework improves “home-school relations,” but only if parents are involved.
Vitti says if homework is eliminated, the time at home should still involve reading, talking about current events, practicing math problems, etc., “not playing video games or watching inane TV.”
Vitti believes homework is beneficial when it is “relevant, engaging and thought-provoking. Homework should provide students the opportunity to refine skills, especially math. But if not done appropriately, homework can undermine learning and curiosity.”
Both Duval and St. Johns county schools include homework guidelines in their Student Progression Plan, then each school tailors its own policies.
“We don’t give homework just for the sake of giving it. Homework is only given to enhance and improve learning,” says Linda Thomson, director for Secondary Instructional Services for St. Johns County Schools. Guidelines recommend 10 minutes of homework per day, per grade. So, 10 minutes for a first grader, but up to two hours for seniors in high school.
Tyler Hodges, Associate Head of School for the Bolles School says their four private schools also provide homework guidelines. All Bolles’ academic teachers assign homework and independent reading. Journal writing and academic review are always encouraged. Upper school students average 30 minutes per class per evening (45-60 minutes for honors and AP classes), while younger students follow the 10 minute per grade guideline.
Hodges believes homework teaches students to prioritize and manage assigned academic tasks, preview upcoming content and practice and apply lessons in a different environment. But excessive homework is clearly counterproductive, he says. Too much work results in diminished love of learning, tension at home, stress and anxiety. Also, it can overtake time better spent on family meals, free play, activities, athletics and sleep.
Rescued by Resources
Ginny Sekula, director of Sylvan Learning Center in Jacksonville and Orange Park, says the main problem is students not understanding homework assignments.
“They understand while in class but haven’t memorized or internalized it,” Sekula says. Parents are often equally confused.
“The way it’s being taught is different from how parents learned. They can’t guide their child through the process,” she says. But parents can guide them to resources, from tutors to online programs.
Duval County Schools offers online resources, including a Math Parent Homework Help hotline and programs like Ready and Achieve 3000. The website urges students to actively take control of their own education by getting help when needed.
Stress and homework are often linked, but that’s not all bad. “Stress can be a very good sign that a student feels responsible and accountable and wants to do his best, even when it’s hard. Those are traits you’ll need your whole life,” Sekula says. That tenacity to power through uninteresting and difficult tasks is enhanced by homework, along with time management and organization skills.
Researcher John Hattie, author of Visible Learning, analyzed 800 studies to compile a list of 138 components that impact learning. Homework was ranked no. 88. Overall, research results are about as clear as those old upper level math problems you couldn’t figure out.
So, let the debate continue. Class dismissed.