Teaching

Is Homework a Waste of Time? Teachers Weigh In

By Marina Whiteleather — April 08, 2022 5 min read
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The debate over homework rages on.

In response to an Opinion essay by a teacher titled “What Do You Mean My Kid Doesn’t Have Homework?”, many Facebook users took to the comments section to voice their perspectives on whether assigning homework is outdated and unnecessary—especially during a pandemic—or whether it’s a critical step to cultivating learning.

The benefits of homework have long been disputed, especially at the elementary school level. In 2018, Marva Hinton wrote about how homework was assigned at early grades and the potential effects on these young students. Some schools embraced homework, like Arlington Traditional School, a countywide elementary school in Arlington, Va., where kindergartners were expected to complete a minimum of 30 minutes of homework a night, Monday through Thursday. But some teachers such as Cathy Vatterott, a professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the author of Rethinking Homework worried that adjusting to school routines combined with homework could sour young students on school.

But what about the benefits for older students? In a 2019 article, Education Week Assistant Editor Stephen Sawchuk unpacked the results of a Center for American Progress analysis, which found that while much of the homework assigned to the students in the study aligned with the Common Core State Standards, it did not contribute to building more difficult skills called for in the standards, like analyzing or extending their knowledge to new problems.

Beyond considering the efficacy of homework, the debate over how much time students should spend daily on take-home assignments dates back to the early 1900s. The public furor even led some state lawmakers to ban homework entirely at one point. Multiple studies over the years have examined different angles of the homework debate, including just how much homework students were assigned. In 2003, a pair of national studies found that most American students spent less than an hour daily on homework, and the workload was no bigger than it was 50 years prior.

“There is this view in the popular media that there has been this terrible burden of homework on children, and that the homework is increasing,” said Tom Loveless, the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution to Education Week’s Debra Viadero in a 2003 article. “That is not the case.”

Fast-forward to the present, teachers and students alike might find themselves at another crossroads in the homework debate. The pandemic brought with it the advent of strategies like “flipped learning”, which relies heavily on homework as an integral component of the lesson. While this might work for some, many students grew weary of the reliance on homework during remote and hybrid learning. This is on top of the potential equity issues arising from lack of internet access affecting students’ ability to complete the steady stream of homework being assigned, and the uptick in mental health issues in students.

So what do teachers really think about homework? Here’s what they had to say in response to the recently resurfaced essay by Samantha Hulsman.

A Disconnect Between Parents and Educators

“I teach 1st grade. I had parents ask for homework. I explained that I don’t give homework. Home time is family time. Time to play, cook, explore and spend time together. I do send books home, but there is no requirement or checklist for reading them. Read them, enjoy them, and return them when your child is ready for more. I explained that as a parent myself, I know they are busy—and what a waste of energy it is to sit and force their kids to do work at home—when they could use that time to form relationships and build a loving home. Something kids need more than a few math problems a week.”


- Colleen S.

“I tried the ‘no homework’ policy one year and received so much pushback from my parents that I began sending home a weekly packet. I pass it out on Monday and it is due on Friday. Parents [are] happy, I’m happy, and life goes on. I say pick your battles. Now, I refuse to give packets over school breaks (winter/spring). If a parent asks, I simply tell them to have them work on any app that we use in class.”

- Kim B.

“I literally only assign homework because some parents always make a huge deal of it if I don’t.”

- Faith H.

“Parents are the driving force behind homework ... they demand it and will complain about not receiving it even after explaining your philosophy of education and providing them with pedagogy that refutes the ‘benefits’ of it.”

- Amber B.

Homework Can Be Useful For Certain Subjects or Grades

“As a teacher of nearly 40 years, I believe homework has its place. Especially in math! Math needs to be practiced to learn it. I don’t believe in giving homework just because. I think it should be purposeful.”

-Sandra S.

“For those leading the charge against homework, please think about the expectation for students beyond your classroom. If you teach elementary school, will they be asked to do homework in middle school, high school, and beyond? If so, organization, time management, and study skills are not so easily learned at a later age, when the expectation has never been present. I can’t imagine being a student, who enters college, having never had the expectation of nightly HW.”

- Bobbie M.

Is Homework Actually Helpful for Learning?

Some agree that at its core, homework is practice, which is a needed element to achieving learning.

“Homework is practice. Practice the skills we learned about in class so we can review and add to them. My instrumental students are required to practice every day. When they don’t it’s evident.”

-Frank D.

Others aren’t as convinced it’s actually a good tool for assessing comprehension.

“As a teacher, if the kids were assigned homework, guess when the papers were graded ... After discovering a Mom had been doing the homework and was making failing grades ... I gave it up ... taught 25 years without it and my students did much better ...”

-Martha H.

Heightens Equity Issues

“No homework ever!!! It is unnecessary it is so elitist and ableist and teaches kids that it is expected to take work home after hours of a job. Nope! Never!”

-Amy R.

“Homework just further separates the students. Those who have parents home who understand the work, or can afford a tutor will do so. Families already struggling financially tend not to have parents home to help and cannot afford tutors.”

-Rebecca J.

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