Quebec Report Advises Re-Examining Elementary School Homework

(I really enjoyed last week’s open dialogue and over the next few weeks I’ll be putting some of the comments into main posts. Don’t wait until the next Open Dialogue week to let me know what’s on your mind. Post a comment, drop me an email, or let me know that you’d like to write a guest blog entry.)

The Conseil supérieur de l’éducation, an influential body that advises the Quebec government, just issued a 124-page report recommending that elementary school homework be re-examined, refocused, and maybe even abolished.

In addition to finding that scientific studies show no definitive link between homework and academic success, the report took into account the reality of today’s families, where many are headed by single parents or where both parents work, and where there is little time to help children with homework.

You can read the story here.

24 thoughts on “Quebec Report Advises Re-Examining Elementary School Homework

  1. I’m undecided about homework, thought it interests me since I have a young child. Do countries with high academic performance — for instance, Japan and Taiwan — give no homework? The US has slid pretty far down the international academic list. Is there a country-by-country ranking by time spent doing homework?


  2. Rankings don’t matter, if there is no correlation between homework and academic achievement. The Asian countries are starting to change their methods of education now too.. Japan doesn’t put the same pressure on it’s students that it used to, because of the high stress levels the kids were experiencing. The other feature of this is the age levels or grade levels that you’re talking about. Homework ranking for who? 8 year olds or 18 year olds?
    The other thing that people often don’t realize about schooling in other countries is that the kids often have a different school day. The school day ends at noon in some cultures. The lifestyle of a family in Taiwan may not really be comparable to a family in New York or Toronto…I guess what I’m saying is…ranking countries on the amounts of homwork they give children doesn’t really tell you anything.


  3. I started reading the comments at the end of the article in the Gazette and I had to stop….childhood is taking a beating once more.

    Children are nothing but lazy, ill mannered mini-adults who deserve as much brutal homework as the teachers can dish out. Parents who don’t agree, are lazy. This is the mindset we’re dealing with folks…there seems to be no intent to educate them…only punish them.


  4. Rankings do matter. If countries with high academic achievement have more homework on average, that could be a relevant factor. Simply declaring that rankings don’t matter is not a scientific approach to the matter. American kids will work in a world marketplace, and can ill afford to perform poor academically compared to other countries. The world economy is a knowledge economy. Declarations are not sufficient. For instance, declaring that a family in Taiwan is different than one in New York tells us nothing about why Taiwanese kids perform much better academically than American kids. If the sole point is that homework causes “stress,” then I am unimpressed. Homework is less stressful than the tasks children performed in generations past, and learning to cope with stress is part of life. Is this just another instance of American kids being pampered by their parents? I believe free-range kids can deal with some stress. By the fourth grade, American students begin to do worse at reading than kids in many other countries. Is it “homework” to have them turn off the TV and spend a half-hour reading, as my 7-year-old daughter usually does? Even the top ten percent of American K-12 students perform poorly compared to the top ten percent in many other countries. I cannot support a measure which might worsen the problem, especially if the rationale is nebulous psychobabble about “stress.” American kids spend a phenomenal amount of their time with video games, TV, and computers, and I doubt there are objective criteria showing that they are happier than kids from Korea, Holland, Taiwan, Japan, or the many other countries which provide kids with superior educations.

    I’ll ask again, is there a country ranking of the amount of time students spend on homework, and if so, how well does homework time correlate with performance on standardized tests?


  5. You can read Sara Bennett’s book or Alfie Kohn’s book about homework to get the specific references about homework and test scores. If you google Harris Cooper you will get links to his meta-analyses on homework.

    I know of no ranking list of countries based on the amount of homework done.


  6. So Nicolas, you don’t believe we have a problem with stress? Think it’s just something we coddling parents invented to get out of helping with homework?

    Clinical anxiety & depression among children and adolescents are at an all-time high. Check out this essay by a Boston College psych. professor on how excessive schoolwork could be a factor:

    I personally believe that both excessive homework AND excessive screen time–per your post–cause stress and can even lead to clinical problems, potentially long term. Kids should spend their nonschool hours in physical activity, reading for pleasure (as you mentioned), helping around the house, playing with friends, conversing with family, and SLEEPING. All these ingredients are essential for a physically and mentally healthy kid. And all are sabotaged by excessive homework.

    Go ahead and show us the charts of which countries are “outperforming” our kids academically, but be sure to attach data on where the healthiest, most stable young adults live. I doubt they’re a product of 10+ hr workdays from grade 3 or 4 on.


  7. Nicolas, you ask, how hard can it be to turn off the tv and read for a half hour? Just for asking that question, your punishment is that you must sit and read very single comment I’ve made on this blog. I warn you, I’m prolific.Test is Tuesday, get ready!

    If I haven’t said it a thousand times, I haven’t said it once. The two things my daughter wanted to do more than anything when she came home from school in elementary (still does) is read books and work on her novel. Those were tops but building, drawing and doing math puzzles for fun are close seconds. Just to name a few.

    Aren’t you listening? Our kids are busy doing mindless busy work that is content free in lieu of reading in the afternoon. If they sneak in a book, it’s at their own peril.

    We don’t even own a tv so turning it on or off is not an issue in our home. The absence of homework does not mean the absence of learning. My daughter was chastised every day by her teacher for reading too much at home.


  8. @HomeworkBlues, your daughter was chastised by her teacher for reading too much at home?!? Oh, you have to do a post on this! What possible rationale could the teacher have had for that one?


  9. April, I’ve written about that before. I wish I could fish out that comment. I’ll explain tomorrow (deadlines, deadlines, deadlines these days) but yes, my daughter was derided for reading so much at home. At one point the teacher told her (and this in a gifted talented program), “I assign twenty minutes of reading a night. The rest of the time is for all your other homework.” The rest of the time. The rest of the time indeed. The chutzpah, to claim and program our entire free time.

    Can you imagine? This is insanely reversed. I’d rather see my child read for five hours every afternoon. I’m not sure even twenty minutes justified that homework. If it’s a waste of time, even twenty minutes was too long. But if only…

    If my child is reading classic literature at age 9, then she’s learning! Why discourage that?


  10. I have a solution for childhood stress. Stop plopping kids in front of video screens for 7.5 hours a day, leaving them many more useful hours to study and be productive.

    American kids are overfed, over-coddled, over-praised, and brimming with self-esteem. Studies show that American kids think themselves well educated when they are in fact some of the worst educated kids in the developed world (and beyond). Will their comparative status improve if they spend less time studying so that they have more time to watch The Simpsons reruns, play Madden 2010, or take some new phone pics to sext to friends? Or do their heretofore addlepated parents have cunning new plans for their intellectual development.

    Some parents undeniably put too much pressure on their kids; though more often to do well in cheerleading and baseball than in math. But a lot more kids around the world endure much worse. And the stress of being undereducated in the world job market will certainly have more adverse impacts. Who will afford to raise the next generation of overprotected children?

    Americans should be storming the barricades of public education, demanding to know why their kids are provided with worthless degrees. They should ask themselves why they have permitted schools to dumb down their curricula to such a puerile level. They should worry that their kids can’t read or do math long before they concern themselves with the stress hobgoblin. Of course the teachers will jump on the anti-homework bandwagon: it requires them to do less of the darned little they already do of any importance. Teachers and scholars will have more time to rap about global warming, reducing-reusing-recycling, and the inestimable value of condoms.

    I found this site through Free-Range Kids, but I have no idea why this should be considered anything but another way to insulate young people from the necessity of living responsibly. Americans may be lagging in many ways, but we lead the world in the manufacture of excuses; and we consistently invent new ways of extending childhood to dotage. It’s a good thing that smart, well-educated immigrant students are filling America’s elite universities, because the American kids are being rendered intellectually and emotionally unfit for academic achievement.


  11. Nicolas, how about if you write us back after your child starts school? You’re mighty sure of yourself for someone who isn’t seeing these issues firsthand.


  12. Nicolas — oops, I see you have a 7-yr-old. In that case, write us back when your child is in 5th grade. That seems to be the point of no return for many of us.


  13. So far there has been no posting by anyone who seems to grasp that the U.S. is one country among many, and that it would be wise to consider how other countries — many of which provide superior educational results — handle homework. Generations ago American students were expected to learn difficult subjects; now there are many parents who are satisfied if their kids learn nothing at all. Except about condoms and recycling, of course, because parents are too dumb to touch these mysterious topics.

    I introduced my daughter to audiobooks when she was four: the first was Tom Sawyer. She could read well when she was 5 and at 7 is in the middle of the sixth Harry Potter book. She’s excited to read David Copperfield next. She can read better than probably 80 percent of high school graduates. Unfortunately, the Montessori school she attends has no homework, and I can see already that it negatively impacts her math advancement. Next year she will have time for homework, her piano lessons, reading, organized sports, and play because she only watches hand-picked movies on the telly, sparingly uses a computer, and has no access to video games. It is my first-hand observation of two years of parents who spend plenty to send their kids to private schools that, overall, they feed and teach their kids badly. Americans are overwhelmingly careless and thoughtless parents.

    The country which virtually invented the morbidly obese child, and cultivates vain kids unprepared for basic college courses has nothing to teach the world about parenting or education.

    Apparently more than a few of the people who post to this forum need to do some homework. Where to begin? It is certainly true that too much or too little homework is not the major problem with American education, but Americans have shown little interest in ending the long slide to educational mediocrity that they buy with their tax dollars.

    California’s two most academically demanding state colleges are UC Berkeley and UCLA. At Berkeley 43 percent of students are Asian-Americans (including first generation immigrants), while at UCLA 40 percent are Asian-Americans (etc.). The population of California is just 12 percent ethnic Asian. Most ethnic Asian parents will think you are deranged if you tell them that homework is hard and stressful. They want their kids to be scientists and doctors, not recycling bin collectors and condom peddlers.

    If anyone cares sufficiently, Richard Mitchell vivisected the entire American educational mess as The Underground Grammarian. All his works are available online.


  14. To refocus this topic a little…

    One thing I think we need to consider is how the “rankings’ of countries are done. I would consider rankings of how many kids go into math and science careers to be much more meaningful than tests that do little more than reward rote memorization.

    I had a conversation once with a social studies teacher who was making his G/T students memorize every country and capital in the world because the US does badly on Geography Bee type tests where students are asked to place certain countries on blank maps. I can look this information up in less than 30 seconds on the Internet. There is no reason for anyone to memorize this type of data in this era…better to teach students how to access and evaluate information.

    Even when we consider how few American kids go into science and math careers, we need really think about the cause and not just jump to more homework and more science/math classes at the expense of other topics. Is the problem that our science and math doesn’t get enough time or homework or is it that our schools fail to teach it in a way that actually engages students and makes them want to continue with it?

    Finally, I think we need to consider–and not just dismiss–how the United States (and I think Canada would be pretty similar here) is different from the countries we are being compared to. Personally, I think where the US has excelled over time is in the creation of ideas (Hollywood, the Internet, medicine, etc.). Yes, we need a strong math and science background for that, but we also need to give our kids–and ourselves–time to explore, to think and to dream.


  15. Matthew, well said. Your comments remind me of something I read on another blog — someone wrote in all upset because schools don’t make kids memorize all the American states and their capitals any more. You know, I couldn’t list all the American states (not quickly, anyway), and I certainly don’t know all the capitals and it hasn’t made the slightest difference in my life. If I need the information, I can look it up.

    I think geography should be taught, but it shouldn’t just be memorizing a map. It can be taught through games (the 10 Days in .. series, for instance, which I recommend highly.) It should also be taught with an eye toward earth science (why does Everest get slightly higher every year?) and history.


  16. Just want to note that the homework-supporting parent above (post #14) seems to spend an awful lot of time comparing his own child and parenting style with others’. Kind of sounds like competition for competition’s sake.

    Anyone with a genuine interest in serious education would never resort to the huge assumptions and sweeping generalizations presented in that post. Sorry, but citing secondary sources isn’t enough.


  17. Nicolas –
    You have lost all credibility. You are sending your own daughter to a Montessori School that focuses on child centered learning and has no homework. Obviously if you are paying for it you must believe it is effective. Perhaps you just like to argue. Well I can’t afford to send my child to a private school so don’t criticize me for wanting my public school to be more like Montessori. Perhaps you should stop coddling your own daughter. Send her to a public school. Then you can put down your precious books and carefully chosen videos to plod through some worksheets. Of course these worksheets will not be designed specifically for your daughter. If there is time and energy left, then you will need to improve her math skills by yourself and on your own dime. Honestly your daughter has the best environment for learning. Why don’t you want our children to have the same advantages?


  18. I send my daughter to a Montessori school even though I struggle financially.

    When I first walked into a Montessori CASA class, I knew without a doubt that it was right for my daughter. I didn’t really understand it at the time; I just knew that she needed this type of learning.

    I didn’t do well in the Public School System with 30+ students all looking ahead while the teacher talked. It was an absolute nightmare and I felt ashamed of myself most of the time.

    Well its six years later and I certainly made the right decision. As it turns out, my daughter and I have dyslexia. Tested at 99 percentile visual learner and a visual genius.

    The pieces of the puzzle fell into place as a result of the Montessori education. My daughter is excelling 3 levels in math (not that she knows that) and she is teaching me how to spell. It’s harder for me because I have to undue the damage that has been taught to me.

    She is rolling it out so much better then I could have ever imagined. I am very very grateful. I know all the money in the world can’t replace these years of learning later on. I also realize now that my daughter has a special need. I am choosing to sacrifice for her to learn which is not to say that everyone should do this. I needed the Montessori education and didn’t receive it however I am giving it to my daughter.

    That being said, homework? My daughter works on self created projects for hours that are on going at home of her own free will. I on the other hand I was made to do homework and never really learned a thing. How dumb is that? On top of that make a stressed out single parent force a child to do homework? That is even dumber. Sounds like you really want the child and the parent hate school.

    Another point mentioned was video games, movies and the computer… my daughter and I both do extremely well in this field and we love it, we are visual. We also love to garden, sow, paint, draw, cook, read, horseback ride, swim, visit family, friends and have some fun too etc. I believe that balance and happiness exceeds all else.



  19. PS I wish the public system used the Montessori learning curriculum. I would have done much better in school and in my career. I could use a couple of dollars in my pocket too.

    I’m forced to pay for the public system that was useless to me as a child and certainly would have repeated the same pattern of despair for my daughter.

    Perhaps the freedom of choice for my tax paying dollars is the answer here.



  20. Let’s update the discussion.

    Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators

    “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

    The average math scores of American students put them below 30 other countries.

    On the math test last year, students in Shanghai scored 600, in Singapore 562, in Germany 513, and in the United States 487.

    In reading, Shanghai students scored 556, ahead of second-place Korea with 539. The United States scored 500 and came in 17th, putting it on par with students in the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and several other countries.

    In science, Shanghai students scored 575. In second place was Finland, where the average score was 554. The United States scored 502 — in 23rd place — with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries.

    The US provides this awful education despite being first or second in per-student spending.


  21. Asian countries in general do have more homework. and less holidays. as well as less time for extra-curricular activities and an active life. our schedules are tight, but not unmanageable. the academics in local schools are far more rigorous than in western-styled ones so that explains why Asian students generally excel in Maths. Note ,however, creativity is often shoved to one side in favour of non-stop memorisation.

    Source: My own experience &observations.


  22. Have any of you throwing about statistics from other countries actually lived there? Have you had your child enrolled in a school in any Asian countries? I think it is easy to imagine life in another place as better. I believe having lived in another country for awhile, that reality is always much more sobering. I’m a teacher. I have taught since 1983. I can empathize with all your concerns. I too look at statistics comparing our kids to kids in other places. When I read them I feel more uninformed. The statistics often are vague. How do we know we are comparing the same thing? How often can you actually find how the study was organized? Was it a valid study or are there variables making the study invalid? I suppose you could find out with serious research, but I don’t have that kind of time. What I hear from all of you is that you care deeply about our public school system. For that I applaud you. Keep researching and questioning. Our public school system, albeit flawed, is one of the values I love about our country. With that said, I wonder who is behind the movement to severely criticize our system and the current generation. Are they really that bad? Were we really better, more diligent, smarter, more motivated? I think if we were able to go back in time, we would be shocked. I don’t think we’d find much of a difference. What I think we would find is the amount of distraction children deal with today is phenomenal. They have to adapt to their time and place. Not the time and place we grew up in. I think we should give them some credit. They are dealing with their world in the best way they can. They are not going to ruin of America any more than any other generation has. Do you think they are unaware of our society’s apparent lack of confidence in their abilities? Everyday I see great kids working to be better, smarter, and dream big dreams of the future. Give them some credit. I see kids everyday. Lots of them. And I am proud of them.


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