toorsdenote: (jcreed)
[personal profile] toorsdenote
I am cross-posting this from Facebook so I can get feedback from education-y people who hang out here instead of there:

I forgot who asked me to share research about elementary school homework, but here is a very readable starting point from Slate. This is a controversial question in education research, and the Slate piece skews toward reading homework naysayers, but I think it's moderately even-handed.

This is the NEA's official statement, which cites Cooper's metastudy as evidence: "At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child's learning. At the secondary school level, student homework is associated with greater academic achievement."

Soooo, reading slightly between the lines, student homework is not really associated with greater academic achievement in elementary school. (Actually, Cooper found very mild effects from 4th grade up.) The "can help students develop study skills," as far as I can tell, is pure handwaving: i.e., we know it doesn't help them academically, but hey, maybe it's helping them non-academically. I am unaware of studies that actually examine whether homework DOES help six-year-olds develop study skills. (And I have doubts about what that even means.)

This is why Falk, the totally research-/best-practices-based school here in Pittsburgh, has no homework till 3rd grade. The NEA is more conservative, using Cooper's research to suggest a max of 10 minutes per night per grade, starting in first grade (i.e., 10 minutes/day in first grade, 20 minutes/day in second grade). But on the younger end of the spectrum that really is, as the Slate article says, "an act of faith" -- it is not based on actual research that first grade homework does anything at all. The NEA does NOT recommend homework for kindergarteners.

I have not questioned Z's teacher/school administration about her homework, because there's not a ton of it and she genuinely enjoys it. But I am very cognizant of all the kids out there who hate their homework, and who start to hate schoolwork as a result. I think we tend to say -- about a lot of things, including assigning homework -- "Well, we might as well, because it might help." Instead we should actually be considering the costs and risks of requiring something that DOESN'T help. Requiring people to do something of very questionable benefit (from removing shoes at the airport to undergoing annual pap smears) has a real cost, both in terms of opportunity costs and in terms of false negatives and simply in terms of lost goodwill. When the world is full of little kids (is it sexist of me to say: often squirmy little boys) who hate homework and quite likely get no benefit from it, assigning it isn't a neutral "well, might as well"; it may well be actively BAD.

Thoughts from education experts? Because I am definitely not one.

---

I then posted this link as a comment, as a slightly more pro-homework-leaning starting place.

You're looking for a simple answer

Date: 2016-01-03 04:32 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
If you're aiming for "It's good." or "It's bad." then you're almost certainly wrong. But that's obvious, so then we're setting ourselves up for a, "It could be good." But to work from there we just don't have the data.

When you trail off with "quite likely get no benefit from it", you know your conclusion is not supported since you stated that up above, but you said it anyway because you wish it were true. It would be simpler.

Reading between the lines is risky business. You can't accuse one group of not basing their decisions on data and then reliably conclude stuff by yourself based on "what they didn't say". Get your own data, or don't, but hold yourself to the standard.

I think your reasoning here is dubious, too. :-) Teachers can't promise results for all students, because some students might not get those results, so of course they'll use words like "can" or "may" or "create the opportunity". This is not hedging -- this is being accurate.

You're not going to like this, because it sounds unprofessional but surprisingly isn't... For a teacher out there teaching, we don't control lots of things. We know that building good study habits is crucial and that out-of-classroom learning is so important. But we can't control how it occurs, and we often don't even know how it occurs. If things go well our students could learn a lot, so we assign [some assignment]. From a one-teacher level, this kind of thing happens all the time.

Let me give you an example I saw once. We had students coming to school late and it was a problem. The teachers held an assembly and talked some and the student council talked some and they came up with some punishment system to implement for students who were tardy a lot, and they implemented it. I sat there listening to the whole thing upset because, I thought, "Who even knows if this is effective?" But later I realized I was being a dingleberry. Many of our actions are based on careful reasoning, not on data from macro studies. You can't guarantee success, and you have no specific data, but you have some solid reasoning in support of your actions, so you try it and make adjustments as necessary. That's life!

If there is no school-wide policy, teachers will make their own decisions. And if you want there to be a school-wide policy, it has to be carefully specified and implemented or teachers will have trouble working with it.

Sometimes, like with homework, you might have a major enough topic to get a sense of what's effective and what's not through data analysis, but often the data that you wish were available isn't, or if it is, educators don't have it, or if they do, it's in a form they can't easily use, or if they can, they don't control that aspect of the situation. Bummer, right? Also, many parent groups will be unhappy if their kids don't have homework.

Squirmy little boys? Jesus. I know thousands of girls who hate homework, too.

Anyway, without more data, there is nothing to conclude here.

One thing that you might find helpful is to write out a list of all the things elementary schoolers might gain through doing homework. I bet you can come up with a dozen or more.

If I were guessing, I'd say that giving thirty minutes of homework a day to third graders is excessive. And sixty minutes a day for sixth graders? That feels like a lot to me. Assuming they have five subjects a day, that's twelve minutes a subject if all subjects have homework. That feels pretty heavy. (Then again, many elementary schools stop at fifth grade these days, so maybe this is off-topic.)

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