Thursday, August 4, 2016

If We're Going to Have Homework, Let's Do It Better

Homework has always been a controversial subject for teachers and parents, and there are all sorts of opinions: We have parents that want more homework, parents that want less homework, and parents that think that the more homework that is given the more rigorous a class must be.  This past year our staff looked at best researched-based homework practices for students.

Many parents noticed that in the 2015-2016 school year there seemed to be less homework at our school.  There was no mandate from me to have less homework.  As a staff we had great discussions around homework and what we could all agree on for every teacher in TK-5th grade. Instead of a mandate on less homework, as a staff, we came up with the common agreements around homework.

Staff Agreements on Homework:
-We do not consider reading homework.  We recommend that students should read 20-30 minutes on average a night.  We also encourage our staff to read 20-30 minutes as well.
-Being intentional about how many problems we give including mixing some new problems and spiral review.
-If parents say it is taking too long, they can write a note.
-We will not take away recess for not doing homework.
-Homework is work they understand and can practice, it is not a new skill they are working on or did not show mastery in class.
-We use a standards based report card so homework will never count against a student's grade.  Homework is for practice, not for summative assessment.  

What Does Research Say About Homework?
I personally have read many articles on homework and two books specifically on homework.  I have truly tried to look and see if there is a benefit to elementary school students doing homework.  I have yet to find one study or research that can link elementary level students doing homework and their achievement levels going up.  There does seem to be research that shows a benefit for high school students.  Even the benefit for middle school students is not as much as you would think.  

John Hattie is a leading educational researcher.  He has looked at 195 different influences on student achievement.  An effect size of .40 is what he calls the "hinge point".  Anything above the hinge point is considered something that has a greater than average influence on achievement.  Homework comes in with an effect size of .29 which would rank it 120th out of the 195 influences on student achievement.  Now .29 might not seem that far off from .40 but that is for all students, not just elementary students.  In the book Visible Learning for Literacy, they state the the effect size of homework for elementary students is only .10, which would rank it 171st out of the 195 influences.  In fact Hattie himself says that homework for students in K-3 has an effect of zero.  Harris Cooper, researcher and professor from Duke University has done many studies on the effects on homework.  He found in elementary school, homework had no association with achievement gains.  He states, “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

There is plenty of research though to back reading on student achievement.   The School Media Library Research Journal states in their article, School Achievement and School Achievement, “students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not.”  As Donalyn Miller points out in her blog post, I’ve Got Research. Yes, I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?, “Stephen Krashen found that the single greatest factor in reading achievement (even above socio-economics) was reading volume—how much reading people do.”

What Parents and Teachers Say (or have said in the past):
Here are probably the most common things I have heard as a principal in regards to parents who want homework:

How can I prepare them for middle school or high school if they don't have homework now?  
First off, we are an elementary school.  It is not our job to match the high school or middle school homework policy.  We have recess at elementary school, as they get older they do not.  We would never think of getting rid of recess to match their policy of no recess as they get older.  Second, I talk to tons of previous students who are now in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.  All of them have said that they do not do tons of homework in middle school.  They have reading, some projects, and usually 8-10 math problems a night.  Congrats to the school we feed into for being reasonable about homework.

How will I know what my student is learning at school?
This comes down to the question, is homework about communication with parents or for learning?  A lot of times homework is used as communication and there are other ways to communicate what is happening in class.  Some teachers send home assessment binders, others post updates on their websites, and some take pictures of the math steps and email to parents.  If you are not comfortable with the level of communication and understanding what is happening in class you can always contact your child’s teacher.

Homework teaches them responsibility and time management.
There is zero evidence of this claim.  Plus there are many other ways to teach students responsibility.  They can help around the house, help cook or clean.  They can play team sports or join programs like Destination Imagination.  There are many ways to teach students about responsibility and time management besides assigning homework.

I need something for my child to do when they get home from school.
We know some students are very busy with activities after school.  We know some are not.  Being 6 years old and going to school all day can be tiring.  We want them to have time to play, read, be with friends and family. Homework should not be assigned to keep children busy at home.

What can Stoneridge parents expect in regards to homework next year?
So if research is against homework why even give it?  We know that homework does provide parents with some communication around what is happening in the classroom.  There are other ways that teachers can get parents that information, but homework has been part of how parents receive communication for a long time.  Another reason is despite the research, many parents and teachers still believe that homework helps students.  For many people it is too large of a shift to go from nightly homework to optional homework for students.  Our TK and Kinder teachers went with all optional homework last year.  We did not see any difference in achievement.  In grades 1-5 there will still be homework assignments.  While there will be homework, our staff will stay committed to the agreements that are listed at the beginning of this post.  Our teachers will still let parents know if there are certain skills that students are lacking and need more practice.  As a parent, if you have questions about what is going on in the classroom or your child seems to need more help with something, please reach out to the teacher.  We are here to help.  We want our students to succeed just as much as you do.    

To summarize, we are not getting rid of homework.  At the same time, as we start being more purposeful about homework, there seems to be less of it.  As a parent, if you want to continue working on academics at home there are an endless amount of free resources.  Our teachers can give recommendations as well.  We know homework can be a controversial topic because both parents and teachers want what is best for students.  But while we all care about our children, let's look at what research says and what we know vs. our own experiences as children.  Research is pretty clear around the lack of academic benefits around homework.  Research is clear about the importance of reading every night, and as parents, we know that reading seems to go away first if there is too much homework.  

If you ever have any questions about our homework policy or anything in regards to academics at Stoneridge please feel free to contact me at anytime.  I look forward to this upcoming school year and helping provide your child with the best education possible.

Here are more resources if you are interested in reading more about homework:

Balanced Articles

Articles Against Homework

Pro Homework Articles
A Teacher's Defense of Homework- The Atlantic