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.
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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34 comments:

  1. Word. As I was reading this, I thought of the times I have assigned homework and I've discovered that 9/10ths of the time, homework assigned in my class is either reading for class discussion, or something we started in class such as a long-term project or a paper.

    Maybe it's because I teach high school English that I don't see the need for gratuitous worksheets?

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  2. Thank you for phrasing so succinctly what I, as a parent, former educator, and journalist, have felt in my gut for years. (Heck, I even felt this way when I was a high achieving kid - forced to do busywork just for the sake of it.)

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  3. How many teachers give homework because that is how school was modeled to them? How many give homework because they are required to take three grades a week in their class? How many give homework because the school climate expects/requires it? How many give homework because they believe it is best for their students' learning? I would suspect that most fall in the former, but they would argue the latter.

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  4. If there is a major homework assignment, what is measured is the involvement of the parents not the understanding of the student.

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  5. John,
    you are so very right. I agree with you as a dad, of a 12 year old who wants to be a pro skater, to a VP of an international school...we / they need our / their childhood and play...thank you!

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  6. I could not agree more... let kids follow their passions. Allow them the opportunity to go beyond the classroom on their own terms. Facilitate and encourage them to explore ideas of interest and keep curriculum contained to a few hours in school. Let's celebrate all that life has to offer and not just math, science, history, and language arts. Let's play together, eat healthy together, exercise together, create together, converse and collaborate on great ideas together.

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  7. Dear Tom,
    I think meaningful work is critical - at home or at school. You have a very strong b.s. detector. I always appreciate that.

    Dear Anonymous,
    Thanks for the kind words. I hated busywork when I was a kid.

    Dear William,
    I love the questions you ask. The reality check you offer is a hard one. In many schools, homework is mandatory. In some, there is a mandated set of worksheets (i.e. Homework Link). It's the death of teacher autonomy.

    Dear Gerry,
    Excellent point! Huge projects become a chance for parents to show their skills!

    Dear Neil,
    Thanks for the kind words and for the perspective you offer.

    Dear Preet,
    I love the verbiage you use: play together, create together, move together, converse together, collaborate. Exactly!

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  8. Sounds like we're enabling those that feel entitled.

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  9. Dear Anonymous,

    I don't even know how to answer that point. Enabling? I think we're empowering students. I'm not advocating doing away with school. I'm simply asking that we allow kids to be kids when they get home from school.

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  10. Great post! We just enrolled our oldest son in a very cool charter school (http://westgateschool.org/) that is a working example of this exact philosophy (among several innovative forward looking educational concepts). Funny enough, the school performs extremely well on standardized testing despite having virtually no regular daily homework.

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  11. Parental desire is the problem,they were brainwashed into thinking homework was good so now they expect it for their kids.

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  12. Thank you for this post. You have said it more eloquently than I did. I will be linking your article and blog to mine because you say exactly what I feel on this topic.

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  13. I think that this is a powerful article.
    I especially like the correlation of the amount of parent help with homework. While some students have a strong support system at home helping them understand concepts, other students do not and they could become frustrated and resentful of school. In this case I totally support the idea of teaching and supporting them within the school day without assigning homework.
    Where I hesitate to agree though, is in the "practicing" aspect of homework. As a teacher I've noticed that (and I'm thinking of math as my primary example) that it is really hard to fit both the teaching and practicing into a short time slot. Math homework is a way for children to practice at home (now I'm only advocating a few problems, not a ton) so the children can assess whether they actually understand. That way, the next day you can spend time at the beginning of the lesson discussing the homework and any misunderstandings and make sure those that need additional support are getting it.
    I think that children need to play and learn through the environment and on their own. But I also think we need to make sure our students are "getting it" and are successful and sometimes students just need to take a little bit of time and practice. So although I might not quite agree with no homework altogether, I agree with a reduction in homework, so that the student can both practice and have a good amount of time to play and learn naturally.

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  14. Each one who has been through schooling is very clear how homework has helped them.none would deny that it has done no good to them. what i don't understand is even after facing the naked truth, why schools insist on homework and why parents recommend it. this article is my voice and i would like to link it to my blog.

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  15. Here's the real problem ... the teachers reading blogs like this are not the ones that need conversion experiences, and a real conversion is what is needed. I've come across too many people who claim to be changing but really just are doing the same thing but giving it a different name: pre-reading, revision, projects - they are all just homework in disguise. Unless the student is taking ownership for learning in the hours outside of "school", it all just busy work assigned by a teacher!

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  16. I found this post very helpful. As a first year 5th grade teacher, I find myself stuggling with homework issues. I never give homework. The students are required to take home what they do not finish at school. My students are always give time to complete each assignment, however some may require a more time.

    Instead of homework, I give a newsletter each week, and in the newsletter I suggest a family/involvment activity that goes along with a topic of the week.

    I got a little discouraged, however, when a student told me today that her mom feels she will not be ready for upper grades, because I do not give enough homework. This being the reason for searching the internet on the topic.

    I work very hard at my job, and I do MANY hands-on activities, that I feel are way more effective than giving "busy work." My goal as a teacher is to TEACH, I think of as many creative ways for the students to learn, without having them take home packets of useless material. I would really appreciate feedback. Am I doing the right thing? Should I take this personally?

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  17. I agree with u john...children these days are having too much hw and too less time to play and relax

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  18. I need to show this to my teachers! :p

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  19. Espically my reading teachers

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  20. A well thought out post and you raise many excellent points here. It is so important that children learn to love school and everything that goes with it. Homework has a place, but should not feel like a punishment.

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  21. I like your overall idea, but I think that time management and organization is one of the most important components of education. When the students go to college and the real world, they will be required to juggle work and play. Students need to learn how to prioritize at a young age so they can find a balance that works for them in the future.

    I think flipping the classroom and PBL projects are a good compromise. Watching short video lessons and working on authentic, real-world PBL activities with friends don't seem to have the "boring homework" connotation.

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    Replies
    1. If time management is so important, why not allow that to be optional? Let a kid manage time with sports or chores or independent projects. Give a child free time and see how they handle the responsibility.

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    2. To me, time management is so important I can't imagine it being optional! ;) I teach K-8, so I think we need to teach the students how to be organized and manage time using some degree of homework. If properly prepared at a younger age, I can see giving students the option in middle school or high school. Thanks for the reply!

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    3. I find that parents have questions about what their children are learning and are generally receptive to homework. It is a connection between home and school. I have also found that parents that complain are typically those that value other activities more highly than education.

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    4. I see your point. However, I value learning. In fact, I value learning so much that I would rather have my own kids learn at home rather than do compulsory work.

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  22. The general guideline for homework is ten minutes per grade too. Thanks to poor communication, it's generally more like ten minutes per subject per grade.

    Sueann, perhaps the kids are wondering why they have to do homework. If time management is so important, shouldn't you have managed your time so that you didn't have to inflict your poor skills on them? Just a 'kids' point of view'. thing.

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  23. I agree with you that often times homework is adversarial or punitive, however, at its best, homework can also be great practice for skill sets taught in school. At my school, homework is meant to be practice/formative. It is only worth 8 percent of your grade, and it's intent is to build towards mastery. Yes, too often we as a profession do not always use best practices, however, to completely eliminate a valuable tool is a huge mistake.

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  24. I agree with my heart and soul. I wish the government would just put an end to this forceful, stressful, useless homework. I, a thirteen-year-old child, agree that homework should be a voluntary option. I am stressed already with school alone, yet alone all the homework and assignments I have been given. I have, already, a pile of at-home work to be done for school that is due very soon and I have not even started it. I believe the fact that mandatory homework and assignments is ridiculous. It also forms a hatred towards that subject or topic if the task is stressful enough and unwanted. I take a liking to writing and the subject English, therefore I prefer the "wordy" task like reading or writing. I especially enjoy writing fictional, reality-type novels of my own and I will accept assignments of such. Unfortunately, people with the idea of yours--if there are any--are not powerful enough to endorse this great opinion.
    - GG

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  25. I strongly support this article. It's exactly some of the problems I have experienced and dealt with or have known others that deal with this. Thank you for sharing this, it really spoke to me.
    ~C

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  26. What gives a State Employee the right to tell children AND their parents WHAT they MUST do during their personal time in the EVENINGS AND DURING THE WEEKENDS?

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  27. I enjoy the argument about the reasons in which to get rid of homework; I think today's student has more to be a participant of in order to really prepare for the real-world and his or her success in society beyond secondary schooling.

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  28. Strongly supported. We're debating this in our class and I find this article a great resorce.

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  29. I have found practice makes permenant...and so homewirk is effective in so far as itcalkows practice as well as a chance for parents to have some meaningful structured academic discourse with their child. Parents need to have an idea of how and what level of work their child is doing routinely in order to effectively fuage their child's progress. Teachers and parents must partner... And a parent cannot be an effective partner if they do not work with their child on materials their children on academic tasks.

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Please leave a comment. I enjoy the conversation.