Homework: What It Is and What It Could Be

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Homework! Students hate doing it, parents hate policing it, and teachers hate assigning it. In recent years, current homework philosophy has come under fire by teachers, administrators, and parents alike. Modern students bear a heavy homework burden, and schools rarely offer solutions to rectify the situation.

Enter Cathy Vatterott. An associate professor of education at the University of Missouri, author of resources like Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs and a former middle school teacher herself, Vatterott presents her research on homework to thousands of educators and parents around the world. She advocates a new “homework paradigm” which calls for schools to:

  • Design homework that emphasizes quality of skills practiced and assessed rather than sheer quantity;
  • Identify which skills should be reviewed in out-of-class work, as opposed to those that should be done with teacher supervision;
  • Deemphasize grading to place the focus on retention and application rather than avoidance of a “punishment” in the form of a failing grade;
  • Improve completion rates by studying why a student could not complete the homework instead of focusing on the failure itself; and
  • Provide homework support programs that can bolster performance in the home.

All of this is wonderful on paper, but it can be a challenge to apply practically. Every school presents its own opportunities and challenges, so there can be no “one-size-fits-all” homework solution. Regardless of where you want to go, consider the following two aspects to evaluate where your school currently stands.

Current Homework Policies

Before implementing new rules, you should determine your school’s overall policy structure. Do teachers set their own homework policies? Or, does a school-wide policy exist?

The implementation (or overhaul) of your schoolwide homework policy may be the most important aspect of the situation. Homework researcher Harris Cooper of Duke University advocates a ten-minutes-per-grade homework policy in younger grades and no more than two hours for high school students. But, what happens when teachers fail to communicate their assignments to each other? Teacher and blogger Pernille Ripp discovered that her failure to coordinate with other teachers may have piled more on her students than they could handle.

“I was reminded to use the old formula—ten minutes times the grade of the child… Now, this is what my brain should have thought: ‘Wait a minute, Pernille, forty minutes of homework, a night? Plus twenty minutes of expected reading with parent initials? And a book report every six weeks? And math tests every three? Not to mention science and social studies quizzes, which really are tests but just with a friendlier name. What in the world am I saying?’ ”

If this dilemma exists for your students, you may wish to adopt a schoolwide calendar, enabling teachers to cooperate and assign projects or tests in a more conscientious manner, such as NYC private school Dalton’s five-week assessment rotation.

Parents’ Opinions on Current Policy

If you’re considering new homework policies, you must ascertain what your students’ parents think of the ones already in place, whether they believe their children have too much, too little, or even the right type of homework altogether.

Opinions can and will vary wildly among schools and populations. Some parents feel as though their children become “sleep-deprived teen zombies” under the weight of the work assigned by private school teachers and call for a decrease in assignments; others believe that only a few entitled students suffer from an overload of work.

Still others think that the amount of homework assigned correlates directly with the quality of education received. As one mother of a private-school student said in a letter to the New York Times, “We who struggle to pay the mammoth tuition want to believe that we are helping our children get a better education, better discipline and possibly better access to an Ivy League school. Do we really want these schools to ease up on homework? Would the tuition paid each year justify this?” Anticipating and having an answer for these protests will help your transition.

Whoever said that change is hard was a champion of understatement. But, when it’s your students’ health, happiness, and success at stake, a little self-evaluation can go a long way to smoothing the road ahead.

Additional ISM resources of interest:
The Paradox of Homework Webinar
ISM Update for School Heads Vol 9. No. 4 The Pressure on High School Students to Build Their Resume … Whose Best Interest Is It?
ISM Update for School Heads Vol. 11 No. 1 Surveys: What You Really Know Makes You Stronger

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium Members:
I&P Vol. 38 No. 14 The Benefits of Schedule Design Change
I&P Vol. 35 No. 4 Scheduling and the Harried Teen

Volume Number
Volume 12
Issue Number
Image of a teacher and students in class
Image of a teacher and students in class

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