Today’s guest blogger, Jeff Valure, a math teacher with 12 years’ experience, the last 10 at a public middle school north of New York City, is the father of two boys, one of whom just started nursery school. He’s upset to find out that his local kindergarten assigns homework four nights a week and is “dreading” next year. Jeff has started a petition for a homework-free week to coincide with TV Turn-Off Week at homeworkfree.org.
A Math Teacher Speaks Out – Why I Stopped Assigning Homework and Am Petitioning for a Homework-Free Week
by Jeff Valure
The past few years I’ve been experimenting with my little guinea pigs – er – students. Three years ago I decided that so much time was spent on homework, checking it, reading answers, going over problems, that I would be able to get much more done in class if I did away with it. After all, I get a precious 46 minutes a day with these kids. Do I want to spend that time on bookkeeping or do I want to interact with them in a more educationally profound way? How often do you get to work with the guidance, aid, and encouragement of an “expert” in the field? Why waste that time?
Of course my students are used to homework, they barely grumble when they get an assignment over the weekend. The idea of not having homework is as scary as it is exciting. There are lots of uncertainties. Will they be able to keep up with the coursework? Will their grades be impacted? How will it affect their performance on standardized tests?
They were concerned and rightly so. This whole thing is to do what is best for them. Sure, maybe I put making them better people above making them experts at applying the Pythagorean Theorem, but I mean which would you rather inherit the world?
To allay their fears I talk to them about my reasoning and my ideas. I explain what I believe will be accomplished. I show them some articles on the topic. We go over the research. Now that I’ve done it a few times I can bring in former students to share their experiences. See, not only am I trying to teach them math more efficiently, but I want to teach them how they can affect their world and how to deal with contrary beliefs in a fairly rigid and established system. I want to teach them that they are not small.
But let’s put that aside because what you really want to know as parents and educators is how does not having homework affect students’ grades? Did their grades improve or decline?
Well as much as I wish I could say definitively that they improved, I cannot. For one, any evidence I have is anecdotal. This was not a scientifically designed and controlled experiment. These are students – not guinea pigs after all. Secondly, giving students no homework in one class will not have enough impact on their free time to really affect change. Students will not be able to fully explore their world, their relationships, and themselves because they didn’t spend twenty minutes on math homework. In fact when I shared with my plan with colleagues, another teacher was happy that our students would have time to tackle additional homework for him. I believe he was joking but you wouldn’t put it past him if you knew him.
So did they improve at all? No. Not their grades – but possibly their quality of life and then indirectly their quality of character. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? Chances are the quadratic formula is going to play no role in their life but the intangible things they learn in school, it’s those things that will shape them into adults that thrive.
Here’s the thing though. Their grades didn’t decline either. Mostly. What I found is for the majority of students, homework had no bearing on their grades. C students remained C students. A students continued to get A’s. And the D- students, those that really could use the practice? They weren’t doing homework anyway.
Now there were a handful of students whose grades slipped. Some students slack off towards the end of the year anyway so I can’t say for sure it was the lack of homework, but I can’t say it wasn’t. Comparison to a control group would be helpful but how controlled can a group of adolescents be anyway?
I had a few students say they wanted homework, that they wanted to make sure they knew the material. And in that statement lies my point. I told my students that just because I didn’t assign homework doesn’t mean they can’t do work at home. They have a workbook, they have a textbook. They could open up either and do some problems. I’m not telling anyone not to do work. I’m just not telling them they have to do work.
You see, by taking control of our kids’ time we’re really stealing their lives. We’re keeping them from being self-sufficient, from learning how to survive in the world, from being able to decide for themselves what needs to be done and what is worth doing.
Is tonight’s homework worth doing? Are you going to get something out of it? Is it going to enrich your education or better you as a person? Is there something more worthwhile you could be doing with your time? If there is, do it. Then tomorrow explain to your teacher what you decided and why. And if they had a good solid childhood, having been buried in homework or not, they will be able to look past the perceived slight and congratulate you on a life well led. I know I would.
Please visit HomeworkFree.org if you’d like to learn more and help petition congress for a National Homework Free Week. Sure it’s not much, but it’d be a start.