Why Schools Should Get Rid of Almost All Homework

I hate homework. Not as much as I hate yellow-jackets, but that’s another story. As a successful K-12 school leader and principal for a dozen years, I bring a unique voice of experience to this relatively new educational nuisance we call homework.

Schools should get rid of almost all of it. It’s evil.

That’s right. Evil. What else should I call something that robs us all of that most precious resource — time –and often gives nothing but hatred for learning in return? Before too many of my fellow educators hyperventilate, let me emphasize the word almost. Some homework can be helpful and meaningful. But most could go away tomorrow and we’d only see more enthusiastic students, less distressed teachers, and more engaged parents.

This recent story from Maryland reminded me of the bane that homework can be:

DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

Key Graphs:

“We really started evaluating the work that we sent students home with,”  explained Principal Brant. “We started looking, and really, it was a lot of  worksheets. And the worksheets didn’t match what we were doing instructionally  in the classroom. It was just: we were giving students something because we felt  we had to give them something.” [emphasis mine]

…..

We asked [a student] if she misses doing those math problems at home.  “We do [the math problems] in school,” she explained.

Out of the mouths of babes….

Been there. Done that.

If your demanding hard data and research to support my positions, you won’t find it here. Not today. That’s what Google’s for. There is a growing supply of both. I’m just offering common-sense, anecdotal evidence that you can significantly reduce homework levels without sacrificing true learning in schools.

For the last dozen years in our college-prep school, we actively worked to eliminate it as much as possible. Parents always loved our approach. Teachers often did eventually, even though it went against everything they had been trained to do and that they experienced themselves as students. In spite of, or perhaps because of, our approach, we achieved tremendous academic success whether you’re measuring by:

  • National Merit results (many Finalists, Semi-Finalists, and Commended students)
  • ACT/SAT scores (typically 25% above national norms),
  • Standardized testing results (typically the 70th and 80th percentile as a class),
  • College acceptance (top universities all over the nation), or
  • Kids just liking going to school (tough to measure but evident when present).

Some Common Sense Ideas

Here are several common-sense principles that drove our efforts to reduce or get rid of as much homework as possible:

  • The factory-based education model is dead. This relatively recent approach that measures education by time spent in a particular location seated in a chair is all about efficient throughput of products (students) — not about discovering and enhancing each student’s God-given strengths. No business would survive long in today’s marketplace with that antiquated model. Yet still we expect our schools to do so. Why? We’ll save that answer for another day, but I’ll suggest reading Seth Godin’s delightful list What Is School For? and his free e-book: Stop Stealing Dreams.
  • There is more to life than school. While learning should be a life-long process we all embrace, it happens in places other than school — and sometimes more effectively elsewhere. Family, church, talent development, sports, community — all these provide fertile soil for learning that just can’t be found in school. When homework loads choke off time needed for these other vital areas of life, something is tragically wrong. Dare I say evil?
  • Students learn best when they focus the most. We all do. And most of us learn best in the morning hours following the natural rhythms of the day. Let’s face it, ain’t nobody focusing on much of anything when frustrated parents and kids hunch over the kitchen table into all hours of the night scribbling on worksheets.  It’s not clear who exactly is doing homework then. What? You parents thought the teacher didn’t know that was your handwriting on that worksheet? What should take 20 minutes of focused effort in the morning, instead takes two hours of unproductive staring at blurred words at night.
  • Time, not information, is the finite resource constraint.  Thanks to technology, we have access to more information than we could ever possibly process in a lifetime. Time? Still the same amount each day. Common sense says that we should teach students to better filter that information for the results they need. And if you’re telling me that 7 – 8 hours a day isn’t enough to do that then I must ask what it is that you are doing all day? (I know. Another topic for a future post.) Think about it. 8 hours in school + 3 hours of homework makes for an 11 hour-work-day — not counting any other activities in life. Do the math. We have child labor laws for a reason. Sheesh. Let kids be kids.

I hear some of you now. “Hard work is its own reward.” I’m not suggesting getting rid of work  — just the pointless, redundant, give-it-because-that’s-what-we-do stuff. Well, come to think of it, I guess that is almost all of it.

And please, let’s lose the college-prep argument of how can students get ready for mountains of pointless work in college if they don’t do mountains of pointless work prior to going. Quite frankly, I feel so bad for that one I’ll just let it make my point for me and move on.

Call this post a kickstarter. Let’s talk.

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on homework and schools. Feel free to add fresh ideas of your own. If I can be of further help, my e-mail is at the top of the page. I’m always interested in helping schools get better at what they do so real learning can take place.

UPDATE: Here’s a terrific resource on the topic www.thehomeworktrap.com.

Should schools get rid of almost all homework? Dare to dream. Leave comment with a click here to share your thoughts.

About Bill Blankschaen

Bill Blankschaen is a writer, author, and communicator who empowers people to live a story worth telling. As the founder of FaithWalkers, he equips Christians to think, live, and lead with abundant faith.

His next book entitled Live a Story Worth Telling: A FaithWalker's Guide is scheduled for release in May 2015 from Abingdon Press. His writing has been featured with Michael Hyatt, Ron Edmondson, Skip Prichard, Jeff Goins, Blueprint for Life, Catalyst Leaders, Faith Village, and many others who shall remain nameless.

Bill is a blessed husband and the father of six children with an extensive background in education and organizational leadership. He serves as VP of Content & Operations for Polymath Innovations in partnership with Patheos Labs. He is the Junior Scholar of Cultural Theology and Director of Development for the Center for Cultural Leadership. He works with a variety of ministries including Equip Leadership (founded by John C. Maxwell) when he's not visiting his second home -- Walt Disney World.

  • http://www.thehomeworktrap.com Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D.

    Wondeful article. I would like to a comment about the notion of time. One of the most destructive myths of homework is that homework, even though it may not pass muster, through research, as an educational technique, has the intangible benefit of teaching work habits, and specifically, time management. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    Homework that must be done at all costs, lest the child receives poor grades and the parents go into a frenzy afraid for their child’s future, teaches children to squander, rather than use time effectively. As the author here says, there are many other highly important things that children can do with their after school time.
    But if are set on having some homework and one of our goals is to teach children how to manage time, we will only achieve that goal by placing limits on time, reducing penalties for work not done, and guiding children to increasing their productivity within the defined time frame. Isn’t that what we do during the schoolday, which starts and stops by the clock? Why not the homework day as well?

  • Gail

    As an education major, a former homeschool parent, and now an e-school parent, I couldn’t agree more on your “common sense” bullet points. For many kids, our current education system takes the joy out of learning and turns it into a lifeless chore. I find that incredibly sad. My love of learning is deep and wide, and although my brain understands most people aren’t that way, my soul has a hard time grasping it. God gave us a world filled with wonders to continually delight our minds and souls, and so many people miss out on those blessings because their love of learning was snuffed out somewhere along the way. Kudos to your school for recognizing that and doing something about it.

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      Kudos to you for passing such a view on to your children. I’ve seen studies that suggest that by the age of 7 98% of us no longer think of ourselves as creative.

      Tragic.

  • Anonymous Source

    I almost lost my teenage daughter, partly because of homework. She is in a very demanding high school academic program, with hours of homework each night. Last year she worked late each night trying to get the work done. Weekends were spent doing homework and trying to get caught up with sleep. She had no extracurricular activities and virtually no social life. To make a long, excruciating story short, she became very depressed and told her best friend she wanted to kill herself. My husband and I got help for her and she is doing much better, but we are approaching this school year with great trepidation. She wanted to stay in the academic program, and we reluctantly agreed that it would be easier for her to stay in, that to transfer to another school where she knows no one. Although I never thought of it that way before, I have to agree, homework can be evil.

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      So sorry to hear of her struggles. Of course, there are always other factors in all our life situations, but don’t hesitate to do what you think is the right thing as parents to protect your daughter. Our kids are too valuable to sacrifice to something so trivial as excessive homework assignments. Will be praying for you and your daughter.

  • Em

    Amen!

    I hate the argument that giving kids tons of pointless homework prepares them for college. I’m in college now (hopefully graduating this December), and while the work load is intense, none of it has ever been pointless or busy-work. Most of the homework I get is just reading assignments. And that seems to be the case for everyone else in college I know. I think having kids read for 30 minutes each night better prepares them for college than doing worksheets.

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      Well said! And you’re right. There are few if any worksheets in college. Thanks!

  • Chase Manhattan

    >Why Schools Should Get Rid of Almost All Homework…
    >>If your demanding hard data and research…
    >>>your

    I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I thought this was rather comical.

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      Heh. I get the irony. If you wish to do the homework, go right ahead. There’s plenty of research available.

  • Paul

    Homework is of the devil

  • http://pattiwigington.com Patti Wigington

    Thanks for posting this. My husband and I chose to move to a school district with higher taxes but an excellent academic record. We have amazing staff and administration in our district, and I’m willing to pay for the privilege of living here. We’ve faced a lot of budget cuts, thanks to our state’s school funding methods, and yet we manage, as a district, to maintain high test scores all the way around. Why? Because our teachers are capable of using their limited time efficiently. My 7th grade twins are in class for about seven hours a day, and usually end up with about a half hour of homework each afternoon – and that’s only to finish up things that might not have gotten completed in class. This leaves us time for family stuff, recreational activities, sports, and eating meals together without the stress of two-hour marathon homework sessions, like my oldest daughter (now a college junior) faced when she was in school.

    The key here is not how much work a teacher can load up your kids with, but how effectively can they use the time they have in the classroom. If you’ve got my kid for 55 minutes each day, use that 55 minutes wisely. No one benefits from “busy work” being sent home.

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      Good points all, Patti. It comes down to leadership doesn’t it? Whether it’s present and whether or not it is free to act. Thanks!

  • Ann

    My son is very bright and generally does very well on in-class work, quizes and test. However, he rarely does his homework resulting in zeros and his taking his grades A and Bs to Cs, Ds and sometimes Fs since there is such a heavy weight on homework (his school equally weights homework and tests/quizes). It is a very stressful for all of us. I was wondering if you know of a school that subscribes to the philosophy discussed in your article in the Northern Virginia area?

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      Hmmm, I’ll see what I can think of in Northern Virginia but I would encourage you not to fail to explore why your son isn’t doing homwwork. If it’s rebellion, that is a heart issue that needs your attention and prayer. If it’s a practical issue – that is he is overwhelmed by the workload — you should talk to the shcool leaders. If they won’t change, find another school. Or homeschool. Your child is that important.

  • James

    wow. I can see many good points here but on the other hand many of you guys think homeowrk is a waste of time and says that there useless. Well this would not always be true which is why im gonna explain. First, you guys say homeowrk is stressful and to students become overwheleming but homeowrk could be beneficial in many ways. I believe there shouldnt be a huge amount of home work but an amount that students should have some free time to relax and not stress to much like school. But you guys are saying no home work at all, i can see your guys personal stories of replys and i agree but the only thing is that we should have homeowrk that is limited amount so like not too much or too less. Thx. Yea over all Bill i love what yur expressing out but just keep in mind that homeowrk is an important thing becuse homework can help students by letting them review of what they learn in class and that will show the teacher what they still need to work on or if there set and moved to the next section of an subject. So overall, just wanting to letting al youguys now that we should get homeowrk but we should get an amount that it wont cause stress. Also people who replyed saying they stay all night … well keep in mind about procastination.

    • http://BillintheBlank.com Bill Blankschaen

      James, I agree that there may be a place for review, especially in math fields that simply require repetition. Here’s a thought though: what if they could do that review work in class — or at least a substantial portion of it — while the teacher is still there to correct and guide. The teacher would then get immediate feedback as to what to expect the next day when the work returns. When I served as a principal, I always encourgaed teachers to give students time to get started on home assignments while still in class so they could do just that.

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  • http://Patheos.com Eden

    Wow. So true.This Is a truley great article. I’m in 8th grade writing an Essay right now about how there should be no homework. After that i have to write the Final draft then work on my History rough draft tha’ts due tommorow and i only finished 4/8 of the parts in my civil war newspaper. How fun :(.

    • http://FaithWalkersBlog.com Bill Blankschaen

      Hang in there, Eden. Be sure you’re not putting off what you should be doing so you don’t end up with your work piling up at the last minute.

  • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

    Keep up the good work!

  • Matthew Petty

    I am in 8th Grade at a private school for kids with ADHD, and on the first day of school I was LOADED with homework. I also had to read 600 pages and complete a book log over the summer, and had a math pack that I had to do like a 1000 problems in.

    • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

      Kind of defeats the purpose of helping you with ADHA doesn’t it? Maybe you could politely pass a copy of that post to the teacher, or leave it by the office. Just a thought. Thanks for the read, man!

  • Austin Le

    I am writing an editorial on how homework should be reduced and i found this article really helpful in helping me write it. i want quote how you said there is much more to life than school. Can i get some background info on your teaching/principal career i.e. which school, state, which level of schooling? i want it to sound more persuasive than “Bill, a principal, says…”. :) it would be a great help. thanks!!

    • http://www.BillintheBlank.com/ Bill Blankschaen

      What email address would be best to reach you?


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