Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Recent Study Giving Some Support for Homework

There is a new study regarding the effects of homework on performance in math and science (When is Homework Worth the Time? Evaluating the Association Between Homeworkand Achievement  in High School Scienceand Math). The study measures homework by the amount of time spent doing it and shows little association between homework and grades, but a positive correlation between homework and standardized test scores. The study has made the rounds in the homework debate with different people weighing in with different points of view. The study is featured in this morning’s Washington Post Education blog.

As a homework critic, my first inclination is to look at the study to see how it is wrong or to discount it as relevant to the homework debate. Perhaps, it overemphasizes test performance, already a topic of controversy and debate. But I’ll resist that natural inclination and take a different stance. Perhaps, it’s true. Perhaps, homework has value and perhaps this is what it does, raises scores on standardized tests. If so, it does not alter some basic tenets of my model, TheHomework Trap.

First, teachers need to be educated in the theory, research and practice of homework. I have yet to see a course in a catalog of a school of education titled “Homework.” I peruse teacher websites and blogs and find a dearth of scholarly discussion on the topic of homework. In 2006, I participated on Etta Kralovec’s homework panel at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference (the largest educational conference in the country each year). There was Dr. Kralovec’s panel (which I understand was the first such panel the conference had), and, if I recall right, a couple of papers on research studies by Professor Harris Cooper’s students. That was it! Although this conference covered a wide range of issues for the teaching profession, it left the topic of homework, virtually undiscussed.

Second, there is the issue of parental authority. When I was a youth, my parents could have sent me to a Stanley Kaplan course to prepare for the SATs. They did not, and I did okay. My wife and I did not send our children to such courses, although she did spend time with our oldest son reviewing a list of “SAT Hot Words.” Whether or not we should teach to the test, during time at home, to give a child a “leg up” is questionable. But the point is, parents make voluntary decisions on their children’s behalf, all the time, whether it involves tutoring, learning centers, scouting, music lessons, religious studies, or simply some relaxed time playing a family game.

So, rather than jump on one side or the other regarding this recent research study, I’ll respond with a shrug of the shoulder and think “that’s interesting,” in the back of my mind. But let’s get back to the two, fundamental issues we need to know about homework.
  1. If homework is given, teachers need to be trained in the technique.
  2. As an activity that traverses the boundaries between school and home, regardless of homework’s value, parents must be recognized as the final decision-makers and the natural heads of their own homes.


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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