30 April 2010
Vague Averages Dominate the Homework Debate Without Providing Specifics
Are American students burdened with too much homework? This question has been debated hotly for several years in the media. This is because some parents have become vocal about their “belief” that their children are overworked and do not have enough time for play or family (Viadero). The word “belief” is important to this debate because there is extensive variation from family to family and researchers depend on surveys to study this question. Consider this quote: “Not only does homework cut into family time, it becomes a primary source of arguments, power struggles and is disruptive to building a ...view middle of the document...
The specifics need to be known.
What types of courses are the students enrolled in? A student in Honors Algebra would be expected to complete much more homework than a student in Modified Algebra (Skinner). Studying the students in these two types of classes might provide more information on the effect of homework than comparing the average time spent by all students taking different classes from different teachers. Even more informative would be to analyze two Honors Algebra classes, one in which the students receive a lot of homework and one in which there is little. Then the effect of hours of homework done can be compared.
What is the economic level of the family? Upper income families tend to oppose the large homework loads assigned by their children’s school (Skinner, Jackson). They claim that spending time with friends and family is a more meaningful use of time. These families have the money to have their kids participate in activities such as horseback riding, archery, karate, soccer, baseball, ballet, etc. In addition, they can afford expensive tutoring services if their children need academic help. However, lower income parents cannot afford the costs of after school activities. And in many urban neighborhoods, playing outside is too dangerous. Therefore, without a good homework plan, the children end up watching television or playing video games. Homework is an important way that these students can catch up with the academic achievement of middle class peers (Jackson).
The relationship between economic level of the family and the effect of homework seems to be a very complex one. In his essay, David Skinner describes some of the history behind this debate over homework. In the 1980’s a book entitled Bobos in Paradise stated that children were overworked with homework and activities after school (Skinner). This author studied upper income families. At about the same time, another book was published, The End of Homework, which studied high school dropouts from lower income families and concluded that homework did not have a positive outcome for these students. These books are presenting opinions and stories from former students that do not prove a link between the homework assigned and the negative outcome. Again, it seems that other variables need to be taken into consideration.
How quickly does each individual student work? “One standard that many school districts are turning to is the "10-minute rule" created by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper. The rule, endorsed by the National PTA and the National Education Association, says kids should get 10 minutes of homework a night per grade” (Wagner). Not every student completes the same assignment in the same amount of time. If the 5th grade teacher is to assign 50 minutes of homework to her students, is she basing her assignments on those students who work quickly or those who work more slowly? When “average” number of hours of homework is...