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Why Schools Should Get Rid of Almost All Homework

Why Schools Should Get Rid of Almost All Homework September 7, 2012

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.

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