How Much Homework Is Enough?
> 9/15/2006 3:55:03 PM

Educators, students and interested observers have long debated the relative value of homework and how best to balance it with in-class activity. One of the primary functions of education is certainly to teach students how to complete an assigned task within a given timeframe in preparation for the working world, but some argue that such practices, especially among younger children, add up to very little beyond "busy work," time fillers that cheapen the educational environment for the students involved. In a recent Washington Post review of two new books on the subject, columnist Ben Wildavsky largely dismisses the anti-homework arguments of the authors in question, stating that:

...perhaps homework really is out of control in certain (generally affluent) schools and districts. But that would be a far narrower problem than the national epidemic these authors describe.

Studies have long indicated that homework does not result in better performance for elementary schoolers. The picture grows muddier in middle and high school, when many believe it to be necessary but feel it should be limited by time constraints. Any high schooler who spends more than two hours on extracurricular work, they argue, is overloaded and not learning as effectively. Some think that dull, unispired assignments lead to disillusioned students who, unable to see the ultimate rewards of their toil, simply lose interest in the learning process. In their book The Case Against Homework, Sara Bennet and Nancy Kalish argue that excessive assignments detract from the childhood of many American students, leaving them without precious time usually devoted to exercising and socializing, doomed to desk work and obesity. Such arguments seem less believable when, as Wildavsky points out, the average 9-12 year-old spends more than thirteen hours each week watching TV.

A companion article in the Post takes a less dismissive view of the expanding debate, noting that teachers have yet to reach any sort of consensus on the best method for incorporating homework into the larger education process. Beyond basic reading skills, homework has little to offer elementary students, and the amount of homework given to high school students does not correspond to their overall academic performance. Yet, as we previously noted on TolEd, many concerns regarding overworked schoolchildren are either unfounded or greatly exaggerated. While there is no question to anyone who has been through our school system that much of the work assigned is ultimately unproductive and offputting, it will not be disappearing anytime soon, and careful moderation seems to be the best answer for the present.

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