Against Homework

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Well-educated parents are better able to provide help, the argument goes, and it’s easier for affluent parents to provide a quiet space for kids to work in—along with a computer and internet access.

While those things may be true, assigning homework—or assigning ineffective homework—can end up privileging advantaged students even more.

In 2016, a second-grade teacher in Texas delighted her students—and at least some of their parents—by announcing she would no longer assign homework.

“Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance,” she explained.

For example, there’s something called “retrieval practice,” which means trying to recall information you’ve already learned.

The optimal time to engage in retrieval practice is not immediately after you’ve acquired information but after you’ve forgotten it a bit—like, perhaps, after school.Some schools are eliminating homework, citing research showing it doesn’t do much to boost achievement.But maybe teachers just need to assign a different kind of homework.The following year, the superintendent of a Florida school district serving 42,000 students eliminated homework for all elementary students and replaced it with twenty minutes of nightly reading, saying she was basing her decision on “solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students.” Many other elementary schools seem to have quietly adopted similar policies.Critics have objected that even if homework doesn’t increase grades or test scores, it has other benefits, like fostering good study habits and providing parents with a window into what kids are doing in school.Those arguments have merit, but why homework boost academic achievement?The research cited by educators just doesn’t seem to make sense.Good homework assignments might have helped a student learn a lot about, say, Ancient Egypt.But if the reading passages on a test cover topics like life in the Arctic or the habits of the dormouse, that student’s test score may well not reflect what she’s learned.The research relied on by those who oppose homework has actually found it has a modest positive effect at the middle and high school levels—just not in elementary school.But for the most part, the studies haven’t looked at whether it matters what kind of homework is assigned or whether there are different effects for different demographic student groups.

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