Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Great Homework Debate

It seems like the debate on homework has been going on since the beginning of the organized education system.  In many schools, there is a policy (for or against) while in others, it is up to the teachers discretion.  In my district, they have set limits/guidelines, but not specific requirements.  I've heard of others that have nightly homework, beginning in kindergarten- usually math. 

When I taught kindergarten, the expectation was to read every night for 10-15 minutes, then I would also send home one page of math or literacy homework for the week.  The paper was mostly so that the parents could see what their child was doing, as the bulk of our work was hands-on (not paper/pencil) or in a workshop model with nothing coming home until the end of the unit of study.  In my heart, I felt that this was developmentally appropriate even though I had some parents asking for more.  My kinders were working so hard during the day, I only wanted them to read- developing the habit of nightly reading.

When I moved to first grade, my views largely stayed the same.  My focus has continued to be on creating a positive attitude toward school and at-home reading.  I still send home one page of home work per week (still math) and expect nightly reading (students check out books from our classroom).  However, more and more, my students are admitting that they do not read at home- or very rarely- leaving the book in their backpack for the week or longer.  They tell me that they are "too busy", but they can also tell me what episode of Austin & Ally was on the night before.  In many homes, priorities have changed, in just the last  five years.  Parents are no longer asking for additional homework.....  What happened?  What changed?

Our student population has changed.... the economy issues hit the Detroit area hard and recovery has been slow.  It's a challenge to focus on school when you are concerned with feeding and clothing your child.  I totally get it.  But, many low-income families have a strong drive for success and helping their child learn.  The families who do not appear to be struggling financially are also falling away from their dedication to education.  Students tell me about all of their after school activities and eating dinner in the car on the way to a siblings' activities.  Or, they are just watching TV or playing video games after dinner.  It seems like priorities have changed.  I can't change these things.  I can try to educate parents and support them with encouragement and resources, but I can't force them to show up for their child at conferences or information nights and remind their child to read.  What I can control is what happens in my classroom.  Philosophically, I don't believe in much homework (aside from reading) for lower elementary students.  Research is inconclusive.

With the implementation of the CCSS, the structure of my classroom has been changing.... I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.  I can definitely appreciate the rigor and deep thinking components.  We have bulked up and changed our math curriculum.  We are now teaching/ learning math for up to 1 1/2 hours each day.  Last year, it was an hour.  It may not seem like a big deal, but that 1/2 hour used to be science or social studies (never done on the same day!).  We are becoming increasingly creative with budgeting our time.  Our new math has a strong home work component.  I have been using it to extend the practice while in class.  However, I can't take two days on each lesson (even though many students need it!). 

I'm still researching the homework issue in general, but I have many questions:
  • Is the intent to have nearly 1/2 of the practice work done outside of class, at home? 
  • Can my students achieve mastery without the homework component in math?
  •  Will students be hindered if the parents are unclear or unable to support them at home (struggling students)-even with newsletters and tips sent home?
  • Should I make more stringent requirements for reading practice at home?
We have a PD on the math program Friday, so I may find out some of my answers then.    

If you are interested in reading about the research on homework, here is the summary compiled by the Center for Public Education: LINK

Tell me... what is your homework policy?


  1. As a parent, I have appreciated the amount (low-with a week to do) of homework my daughter has had in K-2nd grade. It has been gradually increasing, but we have multiple days to get it done, which works well. If it comes home on Friday, we have a rule that it has to be done by Monday, even if it is not due. So far, she has not been overwhelmed over rebelled against doing it. Which is a far cry from many other students who have work every night! While we do have activities in the evening during the week, our rule is school comes first. And we are strict on early bedtimes. I expect next year in 3rd grade that homework will increase greatly, we will adjust our activities based on this.

  2. This is a tough one. I do send (minimal) homework, but mostly to build responsibility. I encourage my students to read every night, but I know some of them don't. I can't monitor what goes on at home, but I can make sure that my students are doing lots of reading, writing and math at school.
    Connie Anderson