The Atlantic recently published a collection of short perspective pieces on “The Homework Wars,” inspired by an article by parent Karl Taro Greenberg entitled “My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me.” In one piece, English teacher Jessica Lahey expresses her internal conflicts about assigning homework. She believes the benefits of homework are “limited” at best, but worries that if she doesn’t assign it regularly, she will be “viewed as less serious or rigorous than my colleagues.” There’s also the matter of fitting everything in during class time: “I have always taught novels as a cornerstone of my English curriculum, and without reading homework, we’d be lucky to get through a novel a year,” she writes.
For advice, Lahey reached out by email to former teacher Mark Barnes, a one-time traditionalist who stopped giving homework roughly a dozen years into his career. She summarizes his response:
Contrary to my first concern, Barnes found that most parents were in favor of his doing away with homework, particularly once he outlined the research for them. He shared what he had learned with his principals, and they signed off on his efforts. "Ironically, the people who often struggled with my no-homework policy the most were colleagues. They were getting pushback from students, who argued, 'Mr. Barnes doesn't assign it, so why do you?'" he wrote. Barnes points out that a no-homework policy does not mean that his students never work outside of class; indeed, they often do, because they enjoy the learning and want it to continue outside of class.
In a separate piece, Andrea Townsend, a high school science teacher and parent, defends homework. She believes, echoing one of Lahey’s concerns, that getting rid of homework would limit her students’ learning. She prefers to use class time on hands-on activities, like labs, that are in her own words “the best way for students to learn” but not the most efficient. Homework can be beneficial for students in high school, she argues, if done correctly. “I’ve learned, while preparing my students to start college early, that study skills become much more important than they were in primary school,” she writes. “It’s also important for teachers to assign work that’s high in quality, instead of quantity.”
Where do you stand?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.