Analyzing Homework’s Impact
It has been a debate for decades. Children are unhappy about doing homework and teachers insist that homework is key to helping students learn.
In recent years, parents have joined in the debate, complaining their children are stressed out because of an increased workload. That has prompted school districts across the country to re-examine their homework policies.
When we learned of Katy ISD’s plans to implement several no-homework nights this school year, we took the homework debate to Dr. Jeffrey Liew, professor of educational psychology.
Dr. Liew points to research that says not all homework is created equally – it depends on a variety of factors such as the type of assignments, the school subject, and the grade level.
Several studies show elementary students who do homework fare no better in school than students who do not. There is a slight uptick in higher grade levels, but the impact is minimal. However, Dr. Liew says homework can be beneficial to learning and achievement – because some subjects and school projects require more practice or time to complete than others.
“Ultimately, it is important to think about why homework is being assigned and how effectively homework assignments will serve to achieve learning objectives or goals,” he said. “Homework can benefit children’s learning, but not when homework assignments are used simply as a way to keep children busy or preoccupied after school.”
Most of Dr. Liew’s own research relates to child development. When we asked him about homework’s impact on free play and creative thinking, he said he is not surprised when he sees students struggle with certain life skills after they graduate from high school and go off to college or enter the workforce.
“When homework assignments dictate children’s after-school schedules, that leaves them little to no time for social or recreational activities. It also leaves them little to no time for learning critical life skills such as developing self-interests, self-initiative or autonomy, and peer relationships. These social emotional learning or life skills are critical for their development as a whole-person – skills for success that they will need for a lifetime.”
When children come home without homework, or on the designated no-homework nights, Dr. Liew has suggestions for parents.
“Rather than always controlling what their children should do when there is free time, parents who give their children some freedom to suggest and choose what they could do together are helping promote their children’s planning and decision-making skills.”
The goal for many parents on these no-homework nights is to also build and strengthen the relationships and bonds with their children. While some teachers argue parents can also accomplish that with homework, as it turns out, some parents don’t feel they have the background needed to help. This causes stresses for both children and parents.
“Having some homework assignments, especially when children progress into the higher grades can really help them master concepts and skills. But too much homework may be counterproductive for both students and parents” explained Dr. Liew. “And schools need to consider the diversity in home situations, as not all students come from homes with parents in a position to help their children with homework.”
For Dr. Liew, he sees the homework debate as an opportunity to focus attention on the need for ways to improve and enhance the schooling experience to ensure quality and equity in education for all children.
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