Everyone hates it: Teachers hate grading it, parents hate supervising it, kids hate doing it.
It’s been studied for more than 60 years, but research still can’t say whether it works. Some studies say it might work better for fourth and fifth-grade kids. Others say, sure, it’s great for kids with special needs.
But here’s one quote from the research that sums up the heart of the problem with homework:
”Students from low-income households, especially those who are low-performing, may not benefit from homework in the same way as do students from more financially secure households.”
Want to know why?
Because homework is for rich kids. It’s for kids who have things that many families take for granted, but hundreds of thousands of kids don’t have.
Things like markers, crayons and colored paper at home.
Things like a quiet table with no mess where a child can work.
Things like a night at home, instead of being dragged along on errands, or to the mall where your mom works, or sitting in the car while your dad plays in a band.
Homework is all about what a student’s home life is “supposed to” look like.
There’s supposed to be structure, reading out loud, 20 minutes a night. There’s supposed to be tooth brushing, story telling, snuggles and snacks. Clean pajamas, hair brushing, the readying of backpacks, notes tucked in with lunches.
But that’s not how a lot of families work.
And the children in these families have no control over their evenings.
Asking a 12-year-old girl who’s watching three kids from 4-11 p.m. to also do a book report is setting her up for failure.
Asking a 15-year-old boy who works with his dad on cars every night to stop what he’s doing and get extra geometry done is impossible.
And asking any kid without school supplies, a clean place to work, or parents who can help to make a diorama, a lapbook, a sculpture, science lab tri-fold or their own magazine is just reinforcing the fact that they don’t belong in school.
Sure, your kids can do homework. Sure, your kids have those things.
But there are kids in their class who can’t do homework, and who don’t have those things. And those kids hate school because of it.
And if public school is supposed to level the playing field so that all kids are equal, why are we requiring third graders to do things that they just can’t do?
Kids are in school six or seven hours a day. That’s plenty to cover the concepts. If there are things that need daily reinforcement, whether it’s times tables or calculus, set aside 10 minutes a day for drills. Set aside a study hall and designate it homework time.
Make sure kids all have access to the supplies needed for every assignment ― asking kids to bring supplies from home ensures that kids with resources will do well, while kids who don’t have them will fail.
Any kid who gets help from his parents on a book report will do better than one who doesn’t. So, in essence, you’re giving kids with involved parents a better grade over kids who don’t, just because they got lucky.
Poor kids do learn from homework. They learn that they’re not supposed to be there, that they don’t belong. School isn’t meant for them ― it’s meant for kids who have time off, parents who can help, kids who have school supplies.
Some teachers will argue that high school students really need the practice from homework.
But high school is when teenagers in struggling families are needed. They need to work two jobs to help parents, to drive siblings to after-school care, to work at the family convenience store every evening, to wash dishes until close. It’s even more critical to eliminate homework in high school.
If schools want kids to succeed, they need to confine the expectations to what can be done during the school day. This might mean reformatting the classroom, how materials are presented, how lessons are taught and reinforced.
Maybe that’s what we need, in order to level the playing field.
Let’s turn it around. Let’s let the kids lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of active, involved parents enjoy them. Let them have nights off to read at home, take gymnastics, do vocabulary-building exercises, take piano, have dinner together.
Let’s take the pressure off of kids who have to watch siblings, work, or who are just dealing with the pressures of normal life in a house with too little money, too little time and too little planning, and let those kids have the night off, too.