Sophomore Blake Partridge plays drums for his high school’s marching band for two hours every evening before coming home and putting in three to four hours on schoolwork. He usually burns the midnight oil while the rest of the family is asleep. Even in kindergarten these days, it’s not all fun and games. On an average weekday evening, 5-year-old Marcus Durrell spends an hour and a half reading books with his parents and completing math and phonics work sheets.
Advocates of homework believe that since we live in a global knowledge-driven economy that values an educated workforce, we owe it to our youngsters to provide them as good a start as possible, and that includes taking their schoolwork home. But how can we be sure that homework is having a positive effect on our children?
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“It’s good for children to know at an early age, beginning in kindergarten, that they have a piece of homework to do,” says Janine Bempechat, a senior research associate at Brown University. “… throughout the elementary school years, the assignment of homework helps children to develop qualities that all teachers like to see in the classroom, such as persistence, diligence, the ability to delay gratification.”
Bempechat adds that homework is also important intellectually: Young children get practice in reviewing the lessons that they’ve studied during the day, while older students, whose work is much more complex, need time to focus on new problems in the evening and apply the skills they’ve learned in the classroom.
Fifth-grade teacher Barbara Moore, a strong advocate of homework, points out that it gives children the opportunity to develop important skills, such as remembering assignments, organizing materials, gathering information and budgeting time. An added bonus is that homework affords parents a glimpse into their children’s work habits.
… Or Is It?
But not everyone agrees that homework is such a good idea, at least as it is currently constituted. John Buell, co-author of The End of Homework, contends that homework is a burden that can kill a child’s interest in a particular subject.
For example, a student may be presented with a set of problems that he cannot figure out at home, even though he may have been enjoying the subject at school. In addition, Buell says, homework makes kids overly tired and reduces family leisure time, resulting in significant family stress.
And, he adds, every parent knows that homework may produce tension within the family, especially if the child is resistant to it. And since there are already enough areas of possible conflict between parents and children, why add another one?
Some educators agree with Buell, including school principal Mark Springer. He believes that the important work can be done in school. “To be asking them, after a full day of activities, to go home and write an essay or do a project after supper, well, it’s not optimal time.”