Today’s post is a letter that appeared in the Sackville Tribune Post on May 8, 2007. I’ve been corresponding with the author, Amanda Cockshutt, since the publication of The Case Against Homework and Amanda and I were on a Canadian radio program together in the Fall. Amanda, who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, is the CEO of Environmental Proteomics, a small biotech company, and part time lecturer at Mount Allison University. She has 3 children, ages 12, 8 and 6. In the winter, Amanda persuaded the principal of her children’s elementary school to have two separate one-week trial periods without homework. When it was over, the school did not abolish homework, but it did institute some homework policy changes, including no homework the nights of major events and two weeks per year where there would be no homework other than reading.
Letter to the Editor
by Amanda Cockshutt
Children are assigned daily homework from the time they start kindergarten at the ripe old age of five. Is it really necessary? Does homework promote better learning or even higher test scores?
I have been bothered by homework for the past 7 years. At times it has been a nuisance, at other times it has elicited outright mutiny (complete with kicking and screaming) in my household. I started to seriously question the value of homework when our family spent a year in Sweden. My oldest child, then 7/8 attended a Swedish school that assigned one math sheet on Monday to be returned Friday as the only homework. School ran from 8:10 am until 1 pm. My child went from an English reading level of Curious George to beyond Harry Potter, went from only a few words of spoken Swedish to being a fluent speaker and reader of Swedish chapter books and she covered the entire Canadian math curriculum that year. The last spike in the homework coffin for me, was the discomfort I felt telling my kids to put down the book they were reading or come inside from playing and do their homework. It was time to do my own homework.
Reading a handful of books (“The End of Homework”, “The Case Against Homework” and “The Homework Myth”) and a number of research articles (including the review article “The Effectiveness of Homework”), I learned that there is no evidence that homework improves academic achievement for elementary school students. No published research has shown that time spent on homework causes an improvement in academic performance or achievement. Should schools have the right to infringe on home life in the absence of solid research to justify the practice?
All three of Sackville’s public schools assign nightly homework that students are required to do. Failure to complete homework is reflected on student report cards and often results in detentions at the discretion of the teacher. Most schools follow the “ten minute rule”, meaning that an average child would spend 10 minutes per grade level per night on homework. This ten minute rule was invented by educational researcher, Harris Cooper, who demonstrated that homework has no effect on academic achievement for young students, which is curious indeed. The ten minute rule is based on no research whatsoever.
Furthermore, administering and assessing homework consumes valuable teacher time. It also introduces the complexity of teaching a class where some of the students have completed the homework and some have not. This often translates into class time being wasted for the diligent students whose homework is completed.
Another serious consequence of homework is the physical strain of lugging it home every night. Physicians recommend that children carry no more than 10% of their body weight on their backs. A running tally of my oldest child’s backpack (including a modest lunch, and not including extra gym clothes and shoes) has her backpack weighing between 15 and 22 pounds, far in excess of 10% of her weight!
Given the lack of research demonstrating the effectiveness of homework, particularly at the elementary school level, combined with the urgent demands for increased physical fitness to battle childhood obesity, it is time that we demand accountability from our schools. Years of research show that time spent on homework is not leading to greater academic gains. Children should spend their precious spare time pursuing their own interests like practicing the piano, playing outside, reading for pleasure, or simply relaxing. Schools should refrain from meddling with family life for no valid reason and leave the choice of how to spend time at home up to the family.
Please tell educators and school administrators that it’s time to stop this foolishness.
Amanda M Cockshutt, PhD
Environmental Proteomics N.B. Inc.