In this week’s The New Yorker, Louis Menard writes about the French president’s efforts to eradicate homework. The move comes, Menard writes, from the argument “that homework gives children whose parents are able to help them with it—more educated and affluent parents, presumably—an advantage over children whose parents are not. The President wants to give everyone an equal chance.” The logic, as Menard explains, is based on the premise that wealthier and more educated parents give their children an advantage on homework assignments; research consistently supports that premise, that the greatest indicator of academic achievement is socioeconomic class, where greater assets yield higher test scores.
Though the effort to equalize the academic playing field is not unique to France, and in itself, is an admirable goal, there
are many problems with this recommendation. The first, as Menard indicates, is that research is inconsistent in its findings about the utility of homework in the first place. A second issue is that the wealth connection illustrates the influence of home life, which is unlikely to be altered significantly by homework or the lack thereof. In households with poor literacy rates, homework is likely to be a struggle because parents lack the resources (time, finances, educational background, etc.) to help their children. Assigning homework or not doesn’t address the root issue there—the cyclical correlation between poverty and low literacy. In highly-literate households, parents can help with homework or, if they are affluent, hire tutors to help; abolishing homework simply frees up the children of wealthy parents to do other things, most of which will likely support academic achievement. And children in highly literate households will remain there, surrounded by educationally-enriching materials.