Ten Reasons to Get Rid of Homework (and Five Alternatives)

I don’t assign homework and I haven’t for the last four years.  It’s been a slow journey, because it runs against a very powerful ideology within the United States.  Here are ten reasons to abolish homework:
1. Young Children Are Busy: If a child cannot learn what needs to be learned in a six hour day, we are expecting too much of a child. We are creating a jam-packed hurried day without a chance to play, reflect and interact. Adding hours to an already busy day is absurd.
2. Older Children Are Even More Busy: So if younger students need a chance to play, the reality is that many older students are busy with extracurricular activities,
3. Inequitable Situation: I have some students who go home to parents that can provide additional support. I have others who go home and babysit younger siblings while their single parent works a second shift. I have some who don’t have adequate lighting, who constantly move and who lose electricity on a regular basis. Call those excuses if you want. I’ll call it systemic injustice instead.
4. Kids Need to Play: My son loves school. He loves the chance to learn to read, write and think in a way that is different from how I engage him. However, when he comes home, he needs to ride a bike, throw a ball or climb a tree.
5. Homework Creates Adversarial Roles: It is possible for homework (or rather home learning) to be a positive force. However, when a parent is stuck as a practitioner of someone else’s pre-planned learning situation, it becomes an issue of management.
6. Homework De-Motivates: It is possible to provides students with meaningful learning experiences after school. However, if that’s the case, why make it mandatory? Why not say, “I offer tutoring if you need help” or “here’s an idea of something you might want to pursue on your own?” When I was in high school, I wrote pages upon pages of poetry, a novel (never even told an adult) and countless short stories. It was, on some level, self-directed homework. And honestly, I would have allowed a teacher that I trusted to provide feedback. However, if the process had been formalized, I would have kept all of that even more underground.
7. Homework Doesn’t Raise Achievement: I know Marzano looked at one study and concluded that homework works. However, Duke University’s study (by Harris Cooper) concluded that homework does not increase achievement and it often decreases it instead. I spent some time looking at the “studies” regarding homework and they all point to a correlation rather than a causal relationship between homework and achievement. The bottom line is that the research is sketchy at best.
8. Most Homework Is Bad: Most homework recreates school within the confines of a home. So, instead of having children do interviews, analyze a neighborhood or engage in culinary math, the traditional approach involves packets.
9. Homework Teaches Bad Work Habits: I know this sounds crazy, because it’s precisely the reason that so many people give for offering homework. However, homework doesn’t teach good study habits. It teaches kids to study, because they have to rather than need to. Similarly, homework doesn’t help children become hard workers, because the work is not self-directed. Want to watch a child work hard and take ownership of learning? Watch a child build a bridge for fun. Let a child read a book for fun (without the bribery of fried dough) and see just how hard a kid will work when there is a meaningful goal. Hard work is a product of motivation. It is an internal drive. When we a parent steps in an makes a child work hard, the work ethic diminishes.
10.The Wrong Focus: Homework is precisely that: work at home. The goal is often increased achievement. The bigger question is whether we want achievement or learning. If the goal is learning, homework kills the desire to learn.
What I Advocate Instead:
  1. Emphasize the idea that learning can and will happen naturally at home or elsewhere in a child’s world.  Visit a skate park and watch the learning that happens.  Spend some time watching kids develop new games in the neighborhood.
  2. If parents really want homework, let teachers give workshops (might be a great time to bridge the gap with homeschoolers / unschoolers by doing a co-teaching workshop) on how to engage children at home in authentic learning.
  3. Provide ideas and support for students who are interested in doing more.  If a teacher had said, “Hey, I’d like to meet with you on that novel you’re writing,” I would have met one-on-one or in a small writing circle.
  4. Treat homework as an extracurricular activity: Students in my class voluntarily do homework when we create documentaries.   They take pictures, film interviews, complete community surveys, work on neighborhood ethnographic studies and volunteer with local charities.  The key here is that it is not graded and is treated as an extracurricular activity. Provide tutoring for students who are struggling and activities for parents who ask for additional practice. Just don't make it mandatory.
  5. Ultimately, we need to tackle injustice.  If parents can’t be home with kids after school, there is a systemic flaw that needs to be addressed socially, culturally and politically.