As Homework Grows, So Do Arguments Against It

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The nation's best-known researcher on homework has taken a new look at the subject, and here is what Duke University professor Harris Cooper has to say:

Elementary school students get no academic benefit from homework -- except reading and some basic skills practice -- and yet schools require more than ever.

High school students studying until dawn probably are wasting their time because there is no academic benefit after two hours a night; for middle-schoolers, 1 1/2 hours.

And what's perhaps more important, he said, is that most teachers get little or no training on how to create homework assignments that advance learning.

The controversy over homework that has raged for more than a century in U.S. education is reheating with new research by educators and authors about homework's purpose and design.

No one has gone as far as the American Child Health Association did in the 1930s, when it pinned homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease. But the arguments seem to get louder with each new school year: There is too much homework or too little; assignments are too boring or overreaching; parents are too involved or negligent.

"What should homework be?" asked veteran educator Dorothy Rich, founder of the nonprofit Home and School Institute. "In the biggest parameter, it ought to help kids make better sense of the world. Too often, it just doesn't."

In the nation's classrooms, teachers say they work hard to conform to school board policies and parent demands that do not always match what they think is the best thing for children.

Yet teachers themselves don't uniformly agree on something as basic as the purpose of homework (reviewing vs. learning new concepts), much less design or amount or even whether it should be graded. And the result can be inconsistency in assignments and confusion for students.

That is part of the reason some educators and authors are making new cases for the elimination of homework entirely, including in the new book "The Homework Myth," by Alfie Kohn.

Kohn points to family conflict, stress and Cooper's research as reasons for giving kids other things to do to develop their minds and bodies after school besides homework.

"I am always fascinated when research says one thing and we are all rushing in the other direction," Kohn said.

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