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If research shows that the primary reason children are given homework is not being achieved, surely we need to take a serious look at why we continue to issue it, and if we can’t find a good reason to carry on, then we must stop it all together? This seems like the most sensible, rationale and logical course of action, and yet in the vast majority of schools in this country, homework will be issued again tomorrow (or the next school day after you read this).

Encyclopedia.com will tell you that its purpose is….

The most common purpose of homework is to have students practice material already presented in class so as to reinforce learning and facilitate mastery of specific skills.

That seems like a good purpose. I think if you asked most people, and even professional educators, they’d concur.

SFGate gives a fabulous overview of homework’s history in the US, from research by Brian Gill, policy analyst, Rand Corp.; and Steven Schlossman, head of History Department at Carnegie Melon University.

[I couldn’t find anything on the history of homework in other regions, but I smile at the fact that the Russian launch of Sputnik is a game changer for homework in America certainly, and very conceivably goes on to influence the rest of the world. One could therefore build a narrative that suggests that the reason behind our children doing homework today has it’s genesis in a knee-jerk reaction from the US Government at the Russian’s flexing their space muscle over 60 years ago. Oh how progressive we are!!!]

Mid-19th century: Most students leave school after sixth grade. High school homework is demanding but uncontroversial

1900-1913: Ladies’ Home Journal takes up a crusade against homework, enlisting doctors and parents who say it damages children’s health

1899-1915: Various school districts around the country, including San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, pass anti-homework regulations

1901: California legislature passes law abolishing homework in grades K-8, and limiting it in high school

1948: National survey shows that median amount of time spent on homework by high school students is three to four hours per week

Mid-19th century: Most students leave school after sixth grade. High school homework is demanding but uncontroversial

1900-1913: Ladies’ Home Journal takes up a crusade against homework, enlisting doctors and parents who say it damages children’s health

1899-1915: Various school districts around the country, including San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, pass anti-homework regulations

1901: California legislature passes law abolishing homework in grades K-8, and limiting it in high school

1948: National survey shows that median amount of time spent on homework by high school students is three to four hours per week

1940’s-1960’s: Educational debate shifts from abolishing homework to reforming homework and making it more creative and individualised

1949-1955: Progressive education movement comes under attack, charged with being anti-intellectual and insufficiently rigorous. Pro-homework movement forms

1957: Launch of Sputnik gives pro-homework movement a boost, setting off concerns that American students aren’t keeping up with Russian counterparts

1983: “A Nation At Risk” denounces “rising tide of mediocrity” in American schools. Three years later, the U.S. Department of Education publishes pamphlet called “What Works” and concludes that homework does.

1990s: Overwhelming consensus in favour of homework: among both educators and general public. Many districts have policies requiring homework. Survey shows level of high school homework hasn’t increased, but amount given to kids in elementary school has gone up dramatically

Fast forward to March 2016 and an article on Salon that focusses primarily on the considered thoughts of Harris M. Cooper of Duke University (go on follow the link, he’s one really impressive human being). Essentially, after compiling 120 studies in 1989 and another 60 studies in 2006, Harris Cooper concludes that only once children get to Grade 8 does homework begin to provide academic benefit, but only in moderation.

And homework for young children isn’t neutral…

Homework does have an impact on young students, but it’s not a good one. A child just beginning school deserves the chance to develop a love of learning. Instead, homework at a young age causes many kids to turn against school, future homework and academic learning. And it’s a long road. A child in nursery school is facing 13 years of homework ahead of her.

Poor Education Is Caused By Weak Parents?

What tires me when it comes to child focussed practices are the number of uninformed views that abound. I haven’t met anyone who’s been able to give me a researched rationale for why homework is important or even why our children do it at all. It’s mostly anecdotal and historical. Children are given homework because their parents were given homework, and their parents before them where also given homework. The idea of homework is underpinned by a very fine thread of faith and hope that homework is good for children, but frankly nobody really knows?

The truth is that we as parents are too afraid to take what is seen as a gamble on the idea that homework isn’t good for our children. We aren’t prepared to rally together and ask the professionals we trust to educate our children to see if there’s a better way? If we did that, as the customer, we’d get a better way if there was one. Many of the Educators I know are only too willing to improve the system. A system they know is fraught with historical weakness, irrelevance and imperfection.

As parents we cannot blindly assume that our children are being educated in the best possible way. There is just too much global evidence to show that the system needs a fundamental and complete overhaul. You also can’t expect educators and school administrators to bring about the necessary change on their own. They are caught between two masters. On the one hand they fall within the confines and rules of the Education Department, and on the other they are obliged keep their customers (parents) happy with their well meaning yet outdated wants and desires for their children. In the mean time learners are left to fend for themselves in an archaic and outdated system that nobody can be certain is preparing them for the world they will one day inherit.

From Heather Schumaker in the Salon article,

Homework has no place in a young child’s life. With no academic benefit, there are simply better uses for after-school hours