A follower of my blog sent me a link to this 2003 article, How School Troubles Come Home: The Impactof Homework on Families of Struggling Learners. I haven’t seen this article before and don’t recall seeing this author referenced in books I’ve read on homework, but I think Professor Dudley-Marling is making some important contributions to the field of homework research. Professor Dudley-Marling is an academic and the article will not seem like light reading, but I want to emphasize what I find most important about the article.
We know that the research on homework gives it light to no support as an educational tool, but Professor Dudley-Marling highlights that the research tends to evaluate whether it has positive effects, not to analyze its benefits to costs. This reminds me of recent research on PSA testing where urologists have and continue to advocate routine testing because they can point to studies showing that this practice reduces the rates of prostate cancer. This is a fact that cannot be disputed. Yet, a health care panel has recently recommended against this routine testing, not because it does not keep some people from dying from cancer, but because an overall analysis shows there is significant harm caused by this practice.
I have friends in the prostate cancer age group who have had the tests and have been treated for cancer, and I have heard some horror stories about the treatment from people I know. I’ve heard of some good results as well. But, those negatives have been so severe that it makes sense to me that the eradication of all slow growing cancers that might not kill a person really have to be looked at side by side with the positive reasons for PSA testing.
Similarly, as a psychologist and a parent, I know of countless situations, horror stories, of homework damaging children and harming families. Yet, this cost-benefit aspect is often left out of the research.
Many of us who discuss the negatives of homework do so from our impressions and experience. I think, as Professor Dudley-Marling says, homework’s harmful effects should be incorporated in any serious, research-based look at the policies we employ.
I would like to see others on the faculties of schools of education take Professor Dudley-Marling’s approach, so that when teachers are trained in their craft, they get a balanced view of a policy that is so widely used, yet so rarely studied and taught.
Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.