“Your child will have 40 minutes of homework each night. Plus 20 to 30 minutes of reading.”
Random Unexplained Teacher Rule
Grade Level X 10 = Daily minutes of homework to assign students.
One of the many hats I wear is that of father to three beautiful, challenging, and particular Colombian children. As they age, I find myself wearing both my teacher hat and dad hat at the same time. I get these weird moments of “work me” arguing against “dad me” (political activist me does a pretty good job keeping quiet – although Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee frustrated me enough to write letters to legislators). A certain amount of cognitive dissonance goes with any job.
My kids follow a grade level train (currently we’re 4th, 3rd, and 2nd grades) at a decent public school district. Parent/teacher night always is a bit surreal as I find myself viewing how teachers translate education policy into nuts and bolts, day to day classroom experiences. To their credit, their teachers do a pretty good job of keeping educationese to a minimum. Still there’s enough jargon thrown into the orientation (PARCC, Growth Measures, MAP testing, Common Core) to make school sound foreign to parents. Most parents roll with it and then ask important questions like can our kids bring cupcakes to school for their birthday?
Up to this point, my kids received a homework packet on Thursday that would be due on Thursday of the next week. The packet featured a smorgasborg of worksheets – math problems and reading problems – plus a reading log for the week. From a practical perspective we loved the packet. Our girls are involved in gymnastics, which runs a good 3 hours three nights out of the week. By the time they get home, eat, and clean up they’re not very functional when it comes to academics. Reading before bed helps them wind down and check off a school obligation.
This year is different. My oldest is in 4th grade where they’re introducing elements of secondary school to the students. This means changing classes. More testing. And more homework. Specifically, 40 minutes a night plus reading.
In the education world, opinions about homework are sorta like opinions about politics. You’re going to quickly piss someone off and make a few enemies. As a teacher, I’ve always been a bit sanguine about homework because I really never wanted to step on any mines. But as a father, I find myself reflecting more on this issue because I’m forced to exam it from a different perspective.
What is the point of homework?
It’s always best to start with they “why”? Why do any type of educational activity? Educators are tasked to help their students grow academically (and some would say morally and in civics as well, but that’s a whole different post). So a more specific question to ask would be “does homework result in academic growth?”
At best, studies say the answer to that question is ambiguous.
Most say there’s no effect on growth for younger students (elementary levels).
Among the many notes of caution with these studies, one stand out. Reading has a positive affect on academic growth. In other words, if the homework assigned is reading, that’s a good investment of time for students.
Other studies have shown homework that reinforces what was learned that day/week may have some positive correlation.
The other point(s) of homework
I suspect a lot of homework is given because it’s “how we’ve always done it.” When I taught in the classroom I’d hand out the default worksheet as homework. For the most part, that’s what my kids receive as well. They’re piddly, not very rigorous, but hey, at least it’s a grade. Or maybe not, given that quite a few teachers don’t give a grade for homework (or only a participation grade).
Or maybe it’s the Calvin and Hobbs Dad Theory: Homework Builds Character.
Whatever the reasons for homework, I’ve yet to work in a district that doesn’t face a very high “non-compliance” rate of homework completion. Typically this has required (informally or formally) grading policies that point out the seemingly obvious point that “incomplete homework cannot result in class failure.”
It’s still an expectation
My kids’ weekday is packed. They may have an hour of free time in the evening. They also have free time when I drop them off to extended care in the morning (about an hour). We, like many families, juggle work, community, church, team sports, and dozen of other random events. Homework is part of the juggle, and my wife and I certainly expect our children to learn to work with the wide variety of teacher expectations.
But we’re also big believers in balance. Sometimes that means skipping a gymnastic’s meet. Sometimes that means letting them put their pencils down and sending them outside to play (which, I suspect, leads to an equal amount of cognitive growth).