Homework, Sweet Homework

Debate homework’s merits all you want, but compare our typical 180-day school year with Israel’s 216 and Japan’s 243, and its significance is hard to dispute. Then layer that with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s study of forty industrialized nations, and again we come up short. Thailand’s students log in 30.5 school hours every week, followed by Korea with 30.3 hours and China with 26.9 hours. Then comes America, ranking thirty-sixth with 22.2 hours a week-and for only 180 days. That’s simply not enough-certainly not to get the job done right.

Our ever-expanding curricula and standardized testing requirements leave little room for the cementing of new ideas and ownership by our students. That’s homework’s job. This essential bridge bolsters new learning-and oftentimes highlights areas that require further instruction. Says the National School Public Relations Association, “Homework is key to a child’s success. Critics of the American education system point to other countries whose students show a high level of achievement and attribute that success in large measure to the many hours of homework they are assigned every night.” And that’s in addition to their extended school time.

In 1900, then Ladies Home Journal’s editor Edward Bok labeled homework “barbarous.” Later, the American Child Heath Association compared homework to child labor, calling it “a killer of children.” And, despite the evidence, some folks still question its merits. Said one parent: “My child has better things to do with his time that spend it on homework.” Declared another: “As a parent of four children, I wish schools would give less homework–or better yet, no homework. It is unrealistic to expect working parents to help kids do homework at night.” Fortunately, not everyone agrees.

According to a 2008 MetLife, Inc. report based on a Harris Interactive online survey of more than 1,000 teachers, 501 parents, and 2,101 students:

o 75% of students say they have enough time to complete their schoolwork.
o 85% of parents believe their children are receiving the “right amount” or actually “too little” homework.
o 77% of students and more than 80% of teachers and parents say homework is either “important” or “very important.”
o 75% of students say they typically do 30 minutes of schoolwork a day.
o 45% say they spend one hour or more each weeknight.
o Teachers reportedly spend 8.5 hours or more each week preparing and grading homework.

The right amount and difficulty of homework promotes good learning habits and skills, extending and reinforcing class work, while promoting accountability and achievement. Says Dr. Harris Cooper, America’s foremost homework researcher: “Eliminating homework makes no more sense than piling it on.” He’s found that high schoolers derive no academic benefit from putting in more than two hours a night; for middle schoolers, 1-1/2 hours should suffice.

So, face it: homework is here to stay, and parents can make all the difference by talking up the work of schools and helping establish a reasonable homework/study schedule. First, set the stage with some after-school physical activity and a healthy snack-think peanut butter-smeared apple slices, not chips and soda-before your child hits the books–hardest subject first. Starting at the kitchen table is ideal, so time wasting, daydreaming, and/or frustration can be readily monitored. Meanwhile, screen incoming calls, to be returned later in between assignments. Parents, also . . .

1. Look at your child’s assignment book daily; doing homework should never be a choice.
2. Ask, “What did you learn in school today?” instead of “How was school?”
3. When you hear, “I did it all in school,” check the work to be sure; then suggest reviewing and free reading. Ditto in the case of “I have no homework.”
4. Always encourage textbook note-taking, flashcard making, and reviewing.
5. Make sure a classmate is called to collect and bring home work or leave it in the main office for after school pick up when absence is unavoidable.
6. Ensure finished work is put in a homework folder for easy access the next day.

Much can be accomplished when parents make schoolwork a top priority and work in concert with schools by keeping abreast of what’s being taught, supporting their kids’ academic efforts, and contacting teachers when concerns arise. In other words, stay in the know and make sure homework gets done-on time, all the time.


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