Students from less educated families are most in need of the boost that effective homework can provide, because they’re less likely to acquire academic knowledge and vocabulary at home.And homework can provide a way for lower-income parents—who often don’t have time to volunteer in class or participate in parents’ organizations—to forge connections to their children’s schools.Another argument against homework is that it causes students to feel overburdened and stressed.
Those arguments have merit, but why homework boost academic achievement?
The research cited by educators just doesn’t seem to make sense.
If a child wants to learn to play the violin, it’s obvious she needs to practice at home between lessons (at least, it’s obvious to an adult).
And psychologists have identified a range of strategies that help students learn, many of which seem ideally suited for homework assignments.
The following year, the superintendent of a Florida school district serving 42,000 students eliminated homework for all elementary students and replaced it with twenty minutes of nightly reading, saying she was basing her decision on “solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students.” Many other elementary schools seem to have quietly adopted similar policies.
Critics have objected that even if homework doesn’t increase grades or test scores, it has other benefits, like fostering good study habits and providing parents with a window into what kids are doing in school.These are things that schools of education and teacher-prep programs typically don’t teach.So it’s quite possible that much of the homework teachers assign just isn’t particularly effective for many students.Some schools are eliminating homework, citing research showing it doesn’t do much to boost achievement.But maybe teachers just need to assign a different kind of homework.Well-educated parents are better able to provide help, the argument goes, and it’s easier for affluent parents to provide a quiet space for kids to work in—along with a computer and internet access.While those things may be true, assigning homework—or assigning ineffective homework—can end up privileging advantaged students even more.One study found that lower-income ninth-graders “consistently described receiving minimal homework—perhaps one or two worksheets or textbook pages, the occasional project, and 30 minutes of reading per night.” And if they didn’t complete assignments, there were few consequences.I discovered this myself when trying to tutor students in writing at a high-poverty high school.After I expressed surprise that none of the kids I was working with had completed a brief writing assignment, a teacher told me, “Oh yeah—I should have told you.Our students don’t really homework.” If and when disadvantaged students get to college, their relative lack of study skills and good homework habits can present a serious handicap.