Death to busy work

Our educational system is firmly rooted in homework, but what if homework is actually doing more harm than good?

The End of Homework
How homework disrupts families, overburdens children, and limits learning.
By Etta Kralovec and John Buell

In this brief but fresh look at the practice of homework, educators Etta Kralovec and John Buell make a compelling argument against this age-old practice, offering evidence that homework does little to boost academic achievement or even personal responsibility-and much to widen the educational gap between the nation’s “haves” and “have nots.”
Homework, Kralovec and Buell argue, force parents to don the role of teacher, a task many parents are simply ill-equipped , or too exhausted at the end of the day, to take on.
The result? Homework, the authors contend, often sets parent against child and cuts into quality family time, which is already in short supply in two-income homes.
What’s arresting about this well-written, well-documented book is that, perhaps for the first time, the practice of homework is linked to school reform, with its merits and demerits debated both history and educationally.
Buell and Kralovec explain how the practice of homework has been integrally tied to America’s national economic priorities. But the authors say politicians and other policy makers have missed the mark, focusing on getting students to do more homework instead of helping to improve public schooling.
Abolishing homework, Buell and Kralovec are quick to note, would be no easy task. Homework is deeply entrenched in both school systems and social values.
Class instruction, for instance, is typically structured around homework, a practice that ensures completion of the curriculum without extending school hours.
Teachers, the authors note, have plenty of reasons to embrace the homework ethic-they had to endure homework themselves and, these days especially, they’re often pressured to show their support of high academic standards by assigning heavy amounts of homework.
But many educators are starting to question the practice. Few inner city children, these critics point out, have quiet, well-lit places to study or well-educated parents to help them with their homework.
Many of these students return home after school to challenging environments where they have to cook dinner, care for younger siblings, or rush off to work.
Homework just doesn’t fit into the schedules of these youngsters, and they pay the consequences. To teachers who don’t understand their special challenges, the failure to do homework comes across as a character flaw- and perpetuates social inequity.
Peppered with anecdotes of students compelled to forego school activities and outside interests to do homework, The End Of Homework questions America’s ability to raise whole children when homework assignments leave little time to do anything other than school work.
The authors even suggest that homework pressure may be damaging children’s emotional well-being. They point to psychologists who assert that “the adolescent’s first priority is developing social self,” a difficult process in a world squeezed by voluminous homework.
Ending homework, Buell and Kralovec argue, would foster the emotional development of students, preserve family time, and give teaching back to teachers without overburdening them with having to give and grade “meaningless homework.”
Just how realistic is that claim. To judge for yourself, you’ll have to well, do your homework and read this most provocative book.
Main Page
Top of Page