One thing I didn't come out and say yesterday--because I was still mulling the policy over--is that I have something of a pet peeve surrounding the issue of elementary school age kids doing regular homework--and sometimes a lot of it.
I'm just amazed at how much some parents and educators will insist, with the voice of authority, that homework is a really good thing, that it is a vital component to a young children's education. But how do these people know it's important? What proof do they have that doing homework makes kids learn better?
Just so you know, I am not anti-homework. I accept that it could very well be a good thing for my son to do on school nights-even though it is often a frustrating experience for him, as a sixth grader, as it is for other kids his age and younger. I accept that these assignments, even coloring in maps of ancient Greece--could be helping him and other kids learn. The really could.
But can anyone say so definitively? Beyond their own anecdotal experiences as students, parents, and teachers?
As I said in my Walnut Creek Patch story, this topic of homework intrigues me, because the debate over it touches on much larger societal issues about education, learning, parenting, and the definition of academic and personal success.
I became intrigued enough that a couple years ago I read the works and opinions of some of the top experts in the field. One of those experts is Harris Cooper, a Duke University professor who is considered one of America's foremost homework experts. He conducted a landmark metareview of some 60 studies in 2006. This metareview found "some correlation between homework and achievement in the upper grades, but little effect on students from elementary school to seventh grade.
His assertion about the upper grades makes sense. I remember regularly doing homework in high school, and, yes, I remember that studying helped me do better on math and science tests and that writing papers for English or history deepened my understanding of the concepts being taught.
But according to Cooper, regular homework doesn't have the same benefit for kids in lower middle school and elementary school grades.
So, if what Cooper says it correct, we as a society are creating a public policy that affects the daily lives of millions of young students and their teachers and families--but we don't have a lot of evidence that this policy will do any good.
It sounds like we like our kids doing homework because it sounds good; it seems like the more hours they put into studying and doing those columns of math problems the more they will know. Could be.
I accept that there are many different individual experiences out there--that you might have kids that have thrived on doing regular homework since they were in kindergarten. As a teacher, you might have seen students improve do better on quizzes when they took some work home and studied.
Then there is the other side of the issue: the kids who get turned off of school and learning because they resent the free time they have to give up on assignments that may be more busy-work than anything else. Homework for the sake of homework. And, I've seen my fair share of that kind of homework come home in my son's backpack.
I just find it interesting how we as a society make public policy on an assumption, on a faith, really, that it is the right thing to do without really having the evidence.
Then again, making public policy on an idea, rather than evidence, that it's the right thing to do--well there is nothing new in that is that. Actually, that's almost the American Way.