Too Often, Homework Doesn’t Work

In an article in The Washington Post, As Homework Grows, So Do Arguments Against It, a staff reporter writes that the controvery over homework is growing every year. “[E]lementary school students get no academic benefit from homework — except reading and some basic skills practice — and yet schools require more than ever.”

In the nation’s classrooms, teachers say they work hard to conform to school board policies and parent demands that do not always match what they think is the best thing for children.

Yet teachers themselves don’t uniformly agree on something as basic as the purpose of homework (reviewing vs. learning new concepts), much less design or amount or even whether it should be graded. And the result can be inconsistency in assignments and confusion for students.

In the same article, a veteran educator asks, “What should homework be? In the biggest parameter, it ought to help kids make better sense of the world. Too often, it just doesn’t.”

I found this article particularly interesting, coming as it did just a few days after a review in the very same newspaper, The Washington Post, criticizing The Case Against Homework and Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth. In Busy Work, the reviewer dismissed both books by suggesting that “perhaps homework really is out of control in certain (generally affluent) schools and districts. But that would be a far narrower problem than the national epidemic these authors describe.”

31 Comments on “Too Often, Homework Doesn’t Work”

  1. Stephen says:

    Homework… is it really hurting our children. I personally don’t think so. I always believed that homework was assigned for further study on a subject. Speaking from my own experience it was just that. Now, I’m not the brightest person around, but i did pass highshcool. I don’t think that would of been possible if i was out playing and running around with my friends when i was younger. I just watched an interview with Sara Bennett on the news, and what she was saying made absolutely no sense at all. How could homework be bad. I did my homework and I am still an accomplished musician. I still played sports in school, and on top of all that i did at least 3 hours of homework everynight. Homework is not just busy work. Its not assigned to ruin your childs life. It is assigned with the intent of further study. Sara mentioned somethin about how kids were assigned a book to read and also had to do vocabulary words on that book. She found this to be proposturous. Vocabulary words are assigned to a book your children are reading to help them understand what they are reading. I know if I wouldn’t of done the vocabulary in most of the books i have read, I don’t think that I would of completely understood what I was reading. In closing, homework helps children. Just because your children complain about it does not mean it is bad. I complained my ass off when i was a child, and i also thank my teachers and my parents everyday for helping me along the school process and making me do my homework. I now understand why, I look a society and what it is becoming and i see nothing but a bunch of winers. Homework is there to help, not take your children from family and friends. I ate dinner with my family everyday and still did my homework. I also have a great social life. Homework did not hold me or anyone else i know back from experiencing life, if anything it helped us all. So quit your damn wining.

    September 14th, 2006 at 4:43 pm
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  2. Kati says:

    Most of the homework that I recall doing — admittedly many years ago — was busy work. I only did as much as I had to in order to get it completed. It takes a great deal of imagination and openness to make homework relevant and meaningful. Vocabulary lists and definitions memorized were meaningless in the long run. It was a rare vocabulary word that “stuck” in my brain unless I could nail it in there with some other relevant bits of information. Playing with that vocabulary in different contexts and usage did a better job. The best assignments where I learned the most were pretty open in allowing us to follow our own interests. When it came to homework and such busy-work (also known as assignments), even my son ( labelled as having a reading disability in elementary school) became very proficient in figuring out how to get the exercise done, filling in the blanks quickly with the required variations and permutations of the language skill involved, without ever really integrating the actual concept the homework was supposed to drill. In other works, it drilled nothing in. He just filled the form, got the work done. When I pulled him out of school to work with him at home, I discovered that a kid who supposedly learned best visually, loved hearing Farley Mowat’s stories being read to him. To this day, he thanks me for the “work” we did on language this way. He may not be the best speller in the world, but is very capable of expressing himself well and recently received a promotion in a large multi-national company. His new position, ironically enough, involves developing teaching methods and educating adults in the operation of very technical machinery. As a writer myself, I fully anticipate that when we return from our upcoming trip to Africa, my son will be writing about it — and I the writer feel just a little threatened by that. All the homework-touting teachers he had over the years would, most of them, not have predicted that from him.

    September 14th, 2006 at 9:05 pm
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  3. Crazy Girl says:

    I hate homework it is stupid they learn more in class.

    September 20th, 2006 at 1:01 pm
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  4. Crazy Girl's sister says:

    Most of the homework that I recall doing — admittedly many years ago — was busy work. I only did as much as I had to in order to get it completed. It takes a great deal of imagination and openness to make homework relevant and meaningful. Vocabulary lists and definitions memorized were meaningless in the long run. It was a rare vocabulary word that “stuck� in my brain unless I could nail it in there with some other relevant bits of information. Playing with that vocabulary in different contexts and usage did a better job. The best assignments where I learned the most were pretty open in allowing us to follow our own interests. When it came to homework and such busy-work (also known as assignments), even my son ( labelled as having a reading disability in elementary school) became very proficient in figuring out how to get the exercise done, filling in the blanks quickly with the required variations and permutations of the language skill involved, without ever really integrating the actual concept the homework was supposed to drill. In other works, it drilled nothing in. He just filled the form, got the work done. When I pulled him out of school to work with him at home, I discovered that a kid who supposedly learned best visually, loved hearing Farley Mowat’s stories being read to him. To this day, he thanks me for the “work� we did on language this way. He may not be the best speller in the world, but is very capable of expressing himself well and recently received a promotion in a large multi-national company. His new position, ironically enough, involves developing teaching methods and educating adults in the operation of very technical machinery. As a writer myself, I fully anticipate that when we return from our upcoming trip to Africa, my son will be writing about it — and I the writer feel just a little threatened by that. All the homework-touting teachers he had over the years would, most of them, not have predicted that from him.

    Homework… is it really hurting our children. I personally don’t think so. I always believed that homework was assigned for further study on a subject. Speaking from my own experience it was just that. Now, I’m not the brightest person around, but i did pass highshcool. I don’t think that would of been possible if i was out playing and running around with my friends when i was younger. I just watched an interview with Sara Bennett on the news, and what she was saying made absolutely no sense at all. How could homework be bad. I did my homework and I am still an accomplished musician. I still played sports in school, and on top of all that i did at least 3 hours of homework everynight. Homework is not just busy work. Its not assigned to ruin your childs life. It is assigned with the intent of further study. Sara mentioned somethin about how kids were assigned a book to read and also had to do vocabulary words on that book. She found this to be proposturous. Vocabulary words are assigned to a book your children are reading to help them understand what they are reading. I know if I wouldn’t of done the vocabulary in most of the books i have read, I don’t think that I would of completely understood what I was reading. In closing, homework helps children. Just because your children complain about it does not mean it is bad. I complained my ass off when i was a child, and i also thank my teachers and my parents everyday for helping me along the school process and making me do my homework. I now understand why, I look a society and what it is becoming and i see nothing but a bunch of winers. Homework is there to help, not take your children from family and friends. I ate dinner with my family everyday and still did my homework. I also have a great social life. Homework did not hold me or anyone else i know back from experiencing life, if anything it helped us all. So quit your damn wining.

    September 20th, 2006 at 1:03 pm
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  5. Anonymous says:

    Some people that think homework is good show that they can’t spell. “I” is capitalized.An educated person does not use “ass”, and last, in society there are no “whiners”.( with an “h”). At 4:30pm when they come in through the door, feed them immediately, and sit down to do 30 minutes of reading, a math page, a reading page and a science page with two kids it’s about 6:30pm by the time they get done.Where is the time for family, a sport, to watch t.v. if they have to shower, prepare their work for the following day it’s about 7:30pm. It is then recommended that they get about 9-10 hours of sleep, so they can function and learn. They have to be in bed by 8:30-9pm at the latest. An hour to actually spend with parents? And have to get up at 6:30, bus them, and be ready to learn by 7:45? Come on they are kids not “little adults” with the work load they are getting. Then we wonder why kids are hating school, dropping out, and turning to crime. What ever happened to “childhood time”?

    November 11th, 2006 at 2:07 pm
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  6. Danny says:

    u go girl i am a boy and i say homework can be 100% boring it takes 100% of family time dosen’t it and homework sucks too.

    $$$$ Danny $$$$$

    February 5th, 2007 at 7:30 pm
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  7. Danny says:

    no more homework$$$$$$$

    February 5th, 2007 at 7:31 pm
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  8. Anonymous says:

    no homework @ all

    February 7th, 2007 at 7:26 pm
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  9. Anonymous says:

    Homework is a waste of valuable family and winding down time.

    My children are constantly tired and grumpy due to having to stay up late for many nights on end, to complete several assignments.

    Fair enough, I say, that teachers want to fit as much learning in as possible.
    However class time is often wasted by teachers making students write things off the board which they aren’t learning anything from.
    It goes in one ear and out the other as they struggle to keep up with the work load.

    Class time should be used more effectively with teachers explaining things to students and giving less work.
    Then our children can relax and refresh themselves at home for a new day of learning.

    Nothing is being achieved from forcing loads upon loads, endlessly on our children. If anything it gives a negative outcome, resulting in moodiness and a hate for school.

    So I say stop this endless madness now and give these poor kids a break.
    Afterall they are just kids, they should be enjoying their lack of responisbility while they still can.

    April 18th, 2007 at 5:46 am
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  10. Sara Bennett says:

    Thanks for posting a comment. This blog post is so old, though, that I don’t imagine many people are going to see your comment. I suggest that you write in one of the forum topics instead or post a comment on a more recent blog entry.

    April 18th, 2007 at 1:11 pm
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  11. Thomas says:

    I am 12, and i’m in year 7. My homework does not work, all it does is show your teacher your bounderies. My teachers never mark my homework, i just know these things.

    March 27th, 2008 at 2:28 pm
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  12. hobo says:

    teachers sucK

    June 26th, 2008 at 6:35 pm
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  13. Rachel .D says:

    Hi my name is Rachel.D, and i really hate homework so bad i am only in 6th grade and i only get about 1 hour of math a day and i go home thinking WHAT DO I DO! :*(
    but on tuesday i goto a math class and i get my math HW. done but i only get 2 hour o math class and i still dont understand!

    MATH IS ALL ABOUT RANDOM NUMBERS!!!! >:I
    IM SICK OF IT AND I HAVE HOSHIMOTO THROYDIS ( I THINK THATS HOW TO SPELL IT ) and that mean i have a hared time understanding things!
    AND ON EVRY TEST I FROM MATH IS a F , F, F, F ,F
    >:o

    I HATE IT, HATE IT ,HATE IT
    AND I HAVE TROBLE SLEEPING SO WHEN I GET TO SCHOOL I FALL ASLEEP ! zzzzZZZZZ AND I GET IN TROUBLE!
    GOD!
    STUPID HOMEWORK!!!!!
    >:o

    *PLEASE BAN OR KILL HOMEWORK FROM ALL SCHOOLS IT TAKES AWAY FAMILY TIME AND COMPUTER TIME!
    D:

    December 16th, 2008 at 3:12 am
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  14. Anonymous says:

    Homework doesn’t get you a job, you do.

    § drj85 §

    March 14th, 2009 at 11:21 pm
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  15. Anonymous says:

    im in school right now and i hate homework it is the worst thing in the world there is no point for it they just want us to think that it helps

    My science teacher gives us a sheet with a paragraph on the back of something that we have not learned in class and then expects us to do it right.

    April 23rd, 2009 at 11:17 am
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  16. Anonymous says:

    I do my homework, but it goes in and comes out, because I am in a rush to finish it. So i might of learn 10% of what I have been given. I am also expected to do it when I come home from school and by the time it is finished it is dark outside and i can’t play with friends and neighbours. Sure sometimes, you need to finish stuff off that you haven’t finished in school, or you need to catch up, but to me homework doesn’t always help.

    August 19th, 2009 at 9:22 pm
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  17. a strange teen says:

    NO HOMEWORK!!!!!!!!! IT DOSENT EVEN HELP!!! I HARDLY DO ANY OF IT AND I STILL GET A’S AND B’S!!!!!HAHAHAHA teachers….

    December 15th, 2009 at 3:16 pm
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  18. David says:

    I’m going to be perfectly honest. I am in 11th grade, and I find that when I don’t do homework, I don’t do well in school, but when I do my homework, I do well in school. My physics homework takes 2 hours a night, so I never used to do it. However, when I started doing my physics homework, I started doing well. I take 4 AP courses (for those people unfamiliar with AP courses, they are college courses taken in high school), and I would be doing very poorly in them if I did not do my homework.

    Perhaps it is just me.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 1:24 pm
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  19. PsychMom says:

    David, I’m a Mom to a child who is only in Grade 3. But my question to you is…what’s the rush? Why is someone in Grade 11, doing college level work? What will you do in college?

    The research shows that kids your age and older do see some improvement in scores when you do homework, but if you get overburdened, you don’t do so well. I was a student once too and I did lots of homework. I was certain I needed to do it…it’s what good students do.

    But I’m on the verge of age 50 now and my take on it is that I DIDN’T do alot of the things I should have done at 17 and 18 because I was SO wrapped up in school work. I think my life would have been richer if I had spent my teen years having more fun, because you can’t go back and do it again.

    But you’ll never understand this because I didn’t listen either when I was 17.
    No one’s transcript is ever appears on their tombstone…..it’s never chiselled into stone what college you went to.

    Sorry to talk about tombstones on the verge of the holidays…but over this break, don’t pass up any opportunities to be with people you love for the sake of homework. It’s just not worth it.

    Happy Holidays

    December 23rd, 2009 at 2:18 pm
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  20. HomeworkBlues says:

    David, be careful not to confuse homework overload with learning. I’m all about learning but serious overload leads to serious sleep deprivation which then leads to a dimunition in learning, actually. Your brain does not retain what you learned (or tried to) on little sleep.

    You say your grades go up when you do homework. Well, yea, since homework counts for a large part of the grade. At least it does at my daughter’s school and likely most like hers. So yes, you get better grades when you do homework. But it doesn’t mean you learned more. It simply means your teacher marked you up for having done it.

    If your classes were structured so that more got done in class and you got all the sleep you needed, your learning would go up, not down. Most students like you can’t imagine a program that gives you both, challenging courses and sleep. Try it. Close your eyes and visualize it. You can’t even begin to conjure up how good that would feel and how much more you would learn and remember. After all, you go to school to learn, not just to burnish your college resume.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 2:33 pm
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  21. HomeworkBlues says:

    David, a further thought. You say you are taking four APs as a junior. Not unusual at my daughter’s school, many take even more. But I’ve pondered this conundrum many times. When I was a student, we did high school in high school and college in college. And my generation is wildly successful.

    AP courses were once the domain of highly gifted kids,those who needed much more challenge than regular courses were offering. Now there’s a push to get everyone into AP and many students are in way over their heads. Many many students are not learning deeply and conceptually but are scrambling to do too much of what I call “a little bit of a lot,” Even if a student gets a five on the AP exams, many colleges report the kids did not master the material and are not ready to move on to sophomore college work.

    Many colleges are now becoming very reticent about granting credit because the high school AP courses have gotten so watered down. Principals are pushing more and more kids into AP and don’t have sufficiently trained teachers to handle the advanced course load. Many teachers are learning material right along with their students, without any particular expertise in the subject. I ask myself, wouldn’t my child be better off taking these college courses in college?

    I’ve always been passionate about meeting the needs of highly gifted children, given that I have such a one myself at home. But the AP race has run out of control. Too many students are not enjoying their high school years, burning the candle at both ends and getting burned out in the process. Many report resorting to cheating when it’s 1:30 am and they still have miles to go before they can sleep, to paraphrase Robert Frost.

    I’m all for challenge and stimulation. But I tell my daughter’s friends, if more APs mean you will get much much less sleep, ask yourself if it’s worth it and what you are giving up in the process.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 2:42 pm
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  22. PsychMom says:

    Hey HomeworkBlues…I’m signing off til the new year…have a nice break…

    December 23rd, 2009 at 2:55 pm
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  23. HomeworkBlues says:

    Me too. With everything I have to do, this is a diversion, a break. If distress could be quantified as such. But you know, since we never get a break from schoolwork, stopping homework is always on my mind.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 3:14 pm
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  24. FedUpMom says:

    Could we start a Stop Homework Reading Club? No logs required!

    I’m reading this:

    Making the Grades, by Tod Farley.

    It’s about the author’s experience working for the standardized testing racket, uh, business. It’s a bombshell. Let’s hope Arne Duncan reads it.

    On a somewhat related note, my daughter’s first choice for her next school doesn’t have AP classes anymore. Sweet.

    Everybody, have a terrific break. Enjoy time with your family and friends.

    December 23rd, 2009 at 8:02 pm
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  25. HomeworkBlues says:

    FedUp, I can’t wait to read that book. As for eliminating APs, some private schools have gone in that direction. Here’s a New York Times piece that elaborates on some of the themes I wrote about. Can’t wait to read the opinion of the College Board voice, defending APs. Isn’t that a little like the fox guarding the hen house?

    The Advanced Placement Juggernaut

    Room for Debate: A Running Commentary on the News
    New York Times, 20 December 2009

    Yet in a survey of A.P. teachers released this year, more than half said that “too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads.” Some 60 percent said that “parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don’t belong there.”

    That means that advanced placement courses are no more “preparation for college” than throwing a child in the deep end of a swimming pool is ‘preparation for swimming.

    http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/the-advanced-placement-juggern
    aut/?scp=2&sq=AP%20tests&st=cse

    December 23rd, 2009 at 11:51 pm
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  26. Anonymous says:

    grrrrrrrr home work is evil i wanna go c a movie w/ friends but i gotta do hw

    April 23rd, 2010 at 11:06 am
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  27. Principal of Egerton Primary (jokes) says:

    Homework is 100 percent relevant. it is needed to make young minds better at obeying orders. We must manipulate the next generation.
    UP WITH MANIPULATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111111111111111!!!!!!!!!3273484673fghyifvtcnmgxcfdghjk cfsdvxnz

    LOLZZZZZZZ
    (jokes)

    August 11th, 2010 at 7:20 pm
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  28. angrymonkey says:

    I get straight A’s and I know some people are just complaining because they are lazy, but from my experience, homework really doesn’t help. I barely had any homework until 7th grade and then I started to get really grumpy and depressed all the time because of all the homework I was getting. It doesn’t help at all. I can’t remember a single thing I learned from homework other than it is wasting children’s lives and causes parents to have to cancel vacations, parties and family time. I see all these people who hate school and I always wondered why people hate school. Now I have to do meaningless projects and endless amounts of paperwork. I hate school too now.

    August 31st, 2010 at 10:47 am
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  29. Anonymous says:

    I am in high school i just failed a maths test because i was up till midnight doing history homework this fail means i can’t take INT2 maths (scottish grade) and can’t get the job i have wanted since age 9 i am 14 at that age i should not be thinking about that no were in homework does it say what time you have to do it just at home i have now droped history to take 2 maths classes thats 8 maths lesons a week so i will ask the question is homework bad yes homework is bad no adult should try and aswer it not there place children should adults should ask

    May 20th, 2011 at 12:15 pm
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  30. Monochrome says:

    Personally I hate homework! Its never helped me whats so ever. When I did homework and I THOUGHT I knew it but turns out it just made it harder(especially with the instructions that made no sense). It never has helped me and when I did get it I usually only guessed the answer simply because I only it see it as a thing that gets in my time. And my family aren’t exactly genius’s so yeah,no help there. And I can’t just call a teacher and have her tutor me over the phone for like an hour. I don’t see the point and never have. Which is why I always rush to finish in class. Why not just do it in class? I mean can’t everybody listen and write? I know I’m probably not going to be able to see the importance now but maybe I will later.
    Really for those who passed school,did it ever help you in real life,all that homework. And what does rocks have to do with real life,in science we had to learn about rocks…and I will need rocks where in real life? Sorry if I sound ignorant or anything but really…homework only got me more confused.

    July 22nd, 2011 at 1:24 am
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  31. Anonymous says:

    i hate homework

    May 13th, 2015 at 7:18 pm
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