Monday, November 26, 2012

Homework Research

Alfie Kohn has written a thoughtful response to recent research that seems to support homework. I commented on the study in my November 20 blog, and encourage you to read Alfie’s article which is published today on Valerie Strauss’ WashingtonPost Blog. I’d like to add some personal thoughts to what he says and to what I’ve already said regarding this study.

The study focuses on homework in math and science. As it is, I happened to have been a math whiz. I excelled in high school, majored in math in college, and entered Columbia University’s doctoral program in mathematics before changing my mind to study psychology. My oldest son is a math whiz, too. He excelled in school and is now working as a software engineer at a well-known internet company. My daughter could not get math at all. She graduated a college that was equally prestigious to the one my son attended, and has gone on as a youth worker and budding film maker. Without doubt, my son’s career choice is in greater demand, brings in more income, and coincides with our national STEM priorities than the work my daughter does. Yet, the realities are clear, both in talents and in preferences.

If we go to the issue of homework, I would say my daughter did a lot of math homework in high school, which in no way correlated to her math grades. Perhaps, she did more because she had a math whiz father who could sit over her for hours trying to help her learn math. I was not successful and her grades reflected my lack of success. But if we go by time spent doing the homework, I’m sure she spent more than either my son or I did, at least at the high school level. Yes, I did spend many hours working on higher levels math when I went to graduate school, although in college, my math courses were easy. I spent much more time on my philosophy and psychology courses than I did in math.

So it makes sense that math drills might bring standardized scores up a notch or two, but it also makes sense that time spent on math homework will have no correlation to the grades one gets.

I don’t know that it matters at all for my daughter to have learned math. She is very good at what she does. But if it did, it would not happen through educational approaches that banked on at home drills to make something happen. It would have to come from educational techniques developed by skilled educators (not proficient non-educators like me), who found ways to teach math to people who simply did not naturally “get it.”
If you think about, I’m a mechanics non-proficient person. I’ve sometimes taken on some of my own auto repairs. I take pride in what I was able to do, but, frankly, the work was not very good. It didn’t matter. I don’t really care. My teachers did not care. Society did not care. No one cared if I knew how to fix a car. But we had a shortage of auto mechanics, I can guarantee you  that the solution would not have been to pile auto repair homework on people like me with the hopes that I’d someday become a mechanic.


Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

 I recommend giving copies of the book to the teachers at your child's school. Discount purchases are available through Wyndmoor Press. Single copies can be purchased at Amazon.


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