Over the last few years, I’ve seen a rapidly growing trend against homework take hold in US schools — both public and private. Highly acclaimed public school districts have even been rumored to give this fad a whirl. The theory, I’ve heard, is that students would benefit more from 15 minutes per day of reading and a good night’s sleep than homework. Albeit, I can’t argue that a well-rested student is necessary to ensure successful learning in the classroom, but I’m not sure when these responsibilities became mutually exclusive or when we stopped expecting children — and adults — to read as a simple part of daily life.
Despite seemingly re-assuring national assessments, US schools are falling farther and farther behind its own historical standards. A current 12th grade textbook, for any subject, is comparable to an 8th grade textbook of the late 20th century. Introductory college courses, typically called “College Math” are on par with “old age” pre-algebra and algebra standards. Universities are adding lower level English courses, with some simply lowering the requirements for pre-existing courses, and others adding numerous for-credit and no-credit remedial courses. I frequently observe high school students, consistently testing in the top 5% in all subjects, struggle to identify nouns and verbs or to write anything above a rudimentary simple sentence without a multitude of glaring grammatical and structural errors. After completing Algebra I in local public schools, many students can correctly answer fewer than 10% of the questions on our Pre-Algebra exam. These same students earned high grades in school, demonstrating that grades and learning often have little correlation.
Despite these shortcomings, many US schools have seemingly adopted a pedagogy in favor of less instruction and less practice, arguing that positive student mental health is achieved through no homework, lax standards, and “feel-good” grade inflation. Reports show that US students are overwhelmed and stressed over homework responsibilities, plagued down by extra-curricular activities and screen time. Studies show that students spend upwards of 5 to 7 hours on “screens” per day, with about 3 of these hours spent watching television. Recent trends in education seem to demonstrate that time spent hypnotically staring at devices is apparently more important to a child’s upbringing than properly educating them to eventually accept responsibilities in the professional world or to even manage basic life tasks.
In many nations, students manage to spend more hours per year in school and spend more time completing homework after school without any detrimental effects to their mental health, sleep schedules, or overall quality of life. In India and China, elementary schools are open for approximately 200 days per year, compared to the 175 to 180 days per year US elementary students spend in school. In grades 6 – 8, students in China spend approximately 220 days per year in school, amounting to nearly 25% more instructional hours per year than the US. These same nations assign about 3.5 more hours of homework per week than US schools.
Albeit, other nations manage tremendous success with fewer instructional hours and less homework. Finland, for example, requires far fewer hours of instruction and supplies little to no homework. However, Finland also has more teachers per populace, refuses to squander away time with standardized tests (which US students spend an average of 10 days year completing), requires all teachers to have a Master’s degree, selects their teachers from the top 10% of graduates, and has as much, if not more, respect for teachers as they do for doctors, lawyers, and other highly educated professionals.
On the contrary, the United States often abides by the infamous ideology, “If you can’t do, teach.” While there are certainly some phenomenal teachers, filled with passion and creativity, within our school systems, these same teachers are bogged down by policies and procedures that prevent them from truly supporting the needs of their students. It’s nearly impossible to run a successful classroom when administrators forbid homework or make homework an ‘optional’ activity, demonstrating that homework (and studying) lacks relevance or validity. Parents repeatedly advocate against homework, often sending teacher’s notes that their child will not be completing homework or ignoring the assignments altogether. Current trends seem to suggest that schools should not be bound by apparently old-age expectations to churn out educated, independent thinkers, but rather this responsibility should fall solely on parents. All in all, this makes it difficult — if not impossible — to make progress throughout the year.
Student success, or shortcomings, cannot be solely based on the presence, or elimination, of homework. Students are spending less time learning. Education and social reforms are integral for schools and society to make progress, yet when research is abused the results are less than ideal. Education can be successful without homework, but it requires students to spend more time in school on core curriculum standards and less time distracted by devices and other-non-academic endeavors. No more nap time for middle school and high school students. No phones, no text messaging, and no time to play on devices during the school day. Stop “prepping” for tests and focus on actually teaching the material at hand. No group tests. Stop grade inflating or “curving” the grade. Electives can either consume the majority of time in school or after-school, but not both. Something has to give.
At HEROES Academy, we focus on helping students to become independent critical thinkers through engaging, rigorous math and language arts classes. Our students cover more content through 36 2-hour classes than they do in 180 45-minute classes in school. We actively assign homework to reduce the number of hours that students have to spend in our facility. These homework assignments are carefully designed to be a productive part of the learning cycle. Students complete textbook readings and independent activities at home. This allows us to spend class time collaborating, conducting engaging discussions, and manipulating the concepts to develop a deeper understanding.