Homework, Effects on Student Achievement (2010)

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  • 1. Homework “The most important attitudethat can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.” (John Dewey) Jennifer Kaupke October 13, 2010 Dr. Arnold Danzig EDA 548
  • 2. I. Background Homework is said to be a mode for building time management and responsibility,keeping parents involved in their child’s academics, and reinforcing skills being taught in class.However, it frequently becomes a source of much frustration for parents, teachers and students.Parents and students are frustrated when the homework is too difficult for the students or whenhomework takes too much time. Teachers are frustrated when students do not complete theirhomework or parents help too much with homework. Another complaint by parents is that ittakes time away from family activities. In addition to the complications that arise when dealingwith homework, there is also the issue of its effectiveness. In the Tempe Elementary School District, there are policies and guidelines regardinghomework. These policies and guidelines outline the focus of homework, the amount ofhomework suggested based on grade level and the requirement of the parent to be involved in themonitoring of homework. (See attached for information from Tempe District regardinghomework.) The policies and guidelines developed by Tempe District explain how homework isto be assigned; however, it does not clearly state that homework is a required element nor does itprovide any minimum requirements for homework. Despite the policy requiring parents to monitor the completion of their child’s homework,homework frequently goes unfinished or is completed incorrectly. To alleviate these problemsand many other concerns surrounding homework, my colleague and I presented a proposal to ourprincipal that eliminated the requirement of homework for our classes. This new classroompolicy for our 5th grade students states that students will not have required homework unlessassignments are not completed in the allotted time in class. Students are, however, stronglyencouraged, and rewarded for independent study that can be completed in many different forms. KAUPKE 1
  • 3. II. Definitions This classroom policy is intended to accomplish many things. Often, homework is notfinished at home for various reasons. Each day the collection of homework, explanations fromstudents regarding why their homework was not completed and contacting parents regardingtheir child’s failure to complete homework could take as long as 20 minutes out of the schoolday. Students and teachers alike find this process extremely frustrating. Day after day anegative feeling sets the tone in the classroom due to a lack of compliance regarding homeworkcompletion. This policy completely eliminates this problem. In addition to removing thenegative feelings in the classroom we have started celebrating what students did accomplish athome. With these celebrations, we have the ability to start off each day on a positive note andallow students to see the excitement that can be found in learning. This policy is also designed to eliminate the dispute between parents and their childrenregarding the need to complete homework each night. Instead of forcing their child to completea tedious assignment, parents can assist their child on something of higher interest, which theydecided to complete due to personal appeal rather than requirement. There are many changes in responsibility that must be considered with this policy. Part ofthe reason for the implementation of this policy was that, as teachers, we have no control overwhat occurs outside of the classroom. Once a student leaves school for the day, it is in the handsof the parents and the students as to whether or not homework is completed; yet the teachers aretaking on the responsibility of holding the students accountable for the completion of homework.By not requiring homework, we are placing the responsibility of learning outside of theclassroom back into the hands of the parents and the students. If parents are supportive of thismovement, they will encourage their students to complete other activities that will enrich their KAUPKE 2
  • 4. learning and will hold them accountable for completing these activities during the hours in whichthe student is at home, just as the teacher holds students responsible for completing activitiesduring the school day.III. Program or Policy Implementation Once approved by our principal, my colleague and I took several steps to implementingthis new classroom policy. We started by spending time with our students discussing the policy;we discussed their concerns and the other opportunities they had because they were no longerconstrained by required homework. We then sent home a letter explaining our shift away fromhomework along with a survey regarding the homework habits of the students. We also invitedthe parents to contact us with further questions, comments and concerns about the new policy. This new no-homework policy for our 5th grade classes includes many levels of supportfor our students and parents such as meetings with parents, class discussions regardingalternatives to homework and the addition of external motivators for those students who have notyet developed the intrinsic motivation for study outside of the classroom. Throughout the firstcouple of weeks of this new program, we constantly reinforced with our students the importanceof independent study, finding new activities to occupy their time, and the excitement that cancome from learning. The students were provided with many suggestions, which could be used asalternatives to doing the typical worksheet as well as many enrichment activities. We instantlyhad students researching, exploring, and creating; all of which they brought to school to sharewith their classmates. Rather than starting the day on a negative note, due to several students notcompleting their homework, we began spending that time having students present information oncurrent events, research done online or projects that they are working on at home. KAUPKE 3
  • 5. During parent-teacher conferences, we were able to discuss this new policy with parents.We had several parents who were initially apprehensive about the new policy but once they hadthe chance to discuss it in greater detail, the goals and reasons for the policy, the majority wereaccepting of the policy and many were quite inspired to go home and work with their children onthings they had never previously thought to do. This policy requires continued support for the parents and students. We are currentlyproviding two forms of additional support: a class newsletter and a class website. The classnewsletter outlines the major areas of academic focus so that parents can provide support fortheir students at home. The students are also provided with a math book that can be taken homeif they wish to work on extra problems that relate to the lessons being taught in class. The classwebsite provides many different resources. The website has many links to educational websiteswhere students can practice basic skills like multiplication, research something new or studythings related to topics covered in class. The class website also has an online survey that parentscan take at any time regarding the homework policy. Providing this support and updating theparents throughout the school year will provide an extra layer of assistance for the parents to helpensure the academic success of their children and to continue to be an integral part of the theirchild’s educational process.IV. Research-Based and Best Practice Context When looking at research on homework, two main concerns are typically addressed:Does homework increase student achievement and does homework provide nonacademicbenefits such as building responsibility? I will first address the topic of academic achievement. Does homework help students do better in school? The research on this question is very mixed. Some studies show that homework is linked to better test scores and grades in school, while other studies show no links, and still others suggest a negative influence of homework. Homework does seem to improve achievement KAUPKE 4
  • 6. and grades for older students more than younger students. In fact, some studies suggest that homework may be detrimental to younger students. (Edvantia, 2007) The Center for Public Education has compiled an overview of findings related to thevalue of homework. They found that homework is more beneficial to older students, has lesseffectiveness on low-income students and that intrinsic motivation of a student is more importantthan the amount or type of homework assigned. (Edvantia, 2007) When asking the question, “What does the research say about homework?” the answer isvaried. Some studies show homework to be beneficial, others indicate that homework has noeffect and some show that homework is detrimental to student success. Many variables must beconsidered when researching homework. We must determine what type of homework is beingassigned, what subject in school is of concern, the age of the students, the ability level of thestudents, and how much homework is being assigned. Even when we take all of these variablesinto account, “the bottom line remains that no definite conclusion can be reached, and that itselfis a significant conclusion. The fact is there isn’t anything close to unanimity among expertsbelied the widespread assumption that homework helps.” (Kohn, 2006) Harris Cooper has completed several studies on the effectiveness of homework. In his1989 study he found homework did have a positive effect on test scores, however, it onlyaccounted for a difference of less than 4 percent in a student’s test score. He completed anotherstudy in 2006 and again found that students had higher achievement scores on tests but the testshad been designed to match the homework that had just been completed by the students. Wecurrently see this problem not only in homework but also in teachers “teaching to the test” due tothe abundance of high-stakes standardized testing. Timothy Keith completed a study in the early 1980s based on tens of thousands of highschool students and found that homework had a positive influence on student achievement. KAUPKE 5
  • 7. Interestingly, when Keith and his colleague, Valerie Cool, completed another study ten yearslater they found very different results. This time, they looked at other possible influences ofstudent success such as “quality of instruction, motivation, and which classes the students took.”When they included these variables in their study their result was “puzzling and surprising:Homework no longer had any meaningful effect on achievement at all.” (Cool and Keith, 1991) Although some studies have found a correlation between student success and homeworkat the junior high and high school level, “there is no overall positive correlation betweenhomework and achievement (by any measure) for students before middle school or, in manycases, before high school…In fact, it’s with younger children where the benefits are mostquestionable (if not absent), that there has been the greatest increase in the quantity ofhomework!” (Kohn, 2006) In 1989, Harris Cooper completed a summary of the availableresearch on homework and encapsulated it with one sentence “There is no evidence that anyamount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.” (Cooper,1989) Ruth Tschudin did an interesting study in 1978 where she identified about 300exceptional teachers (based on references, awards or media coverage). She then compared theseteachers with a matched group of other teachers. “Among her findings: The exceptionalteachers not only tended to give less homework but were also likely to give students more choiceabout their assignments.” (Kohn, 2006) David Baker and Gerald Letendre similarly summarizedit when they stated, “It may be the poorest teachers who assign the most homework [because]effective teachers may cover all the material in class.” (Baker and Letendre, 2005) If homework has not been found to consistently strengthen the academic achievement ofour students, then we might wonder: does homework provide nonacademic benefits such as KAUPKE 6
  • 8. building responsibility? “The most common nonacademic justification for homework is that ithas character-building properties.” (Kohn, 2006) It has been said to help students “takeresponsibility for school work,…to build ‘study skills’ through homework assignments todevelop students’ perseverance, ability to follow directions, neatness and completeness andoverall level of responsibility.” (Epstein, 2001) Many people, including researchers, have stated time and time again that there is acorrelation between homework and an increase in responsibility and building study habits.However, “no experiments of any type have ever been conducted to investigate common claimsabout responsibility, self-discipline, and so on.” (Kohn, 2006) The one exception to this was astudy by Harris Cooper and his colleagues in 1998. This study consisted of askingapproximately seven hundred students about whether they thought homework helped them learn.They found that older student’s views of homework did not change with the quantity ofhomework assigned. When they surveyed younger students, they found that an increase inassignments correlated to a more negative attitude about school. Therefore, from the above research we can assume that homework can have a slightlypositive impact on academic achievement for older students but can often produce negativeacademic results for younger students. This research has also indicated that there is nocorrelation between homework and any nonacademic benefits, such as building responsibility.V. Value Based Context There are many questions of values that surface with this new policy. We must first askourselves if we believe that schools should have the opportunity to decide how children andfamilies are allowed to spend their time outside of school hours and if we really know what is thebest use of this time. When discussing the issue of homework with teachers and administrators, KAUPKE 7
  • 9. many will add that they do not trust parents to keep up with doing alternate activities whenhomework is not assigned. But do we have the right to impose our views on families byrequiring them to give up family time to complete homework? We also must address some of the purposes for homework with their regard to values.For example, if we are asking our students to complete homework for gains in “personalresponsibility and self-discipline” or “training for life,” what type of life are we training themfor? It seems that we are training them to do what they are told and to work hard, even if thework is not worth doing. Are we teaching our children to simply comply with demands whetherthese demands are suitable or worthwhile? Also, if responsibility is what we are trying toaccomplish, through the hours of homework assigned to our students, couldn’t we also developresponsibility in other forms? Wouldn’t a child be better off being responsible for doing thingsthat contribute to their family if, like the research shows, there is little correlation to increasedacademic success? Alfie Kohn describes the value judgment in his book The Homework Myth by asking twocentral questions: To what extent do we believe children and families should be able to decide how to spend their time together? For that matter, what do we think childhood ought to be about? To require students to do homework on a regular basis is to give one kind of answer to these questions. (Kohn, 2006)If we are discussing the validity of homework and its effectiveness and if we don’t approve ofthe answers provided to these questions “then homework should come in for sharp scrutiny.After all, it is not a fact of life that must be accepted but a policy that can be questioned.” (Kohn,2006) KAUPKE 8
  • 10. VI. Interviews and Survey I was fortunate enough to have most parents return a survey and I conducted interviewswith nearly half of the parents involved, both before and after the implementation of this newclassroom policy. Overall, I found that about half of the parents were a little skeptical of thedecision to eliminate required homework but once they had the opportunity to ask questions anddiscuss the pros and cons, nearly every parent was satisfied with the decision. Of the parentsquestioned, only eight percent believe that this policy is having a negative effect on their child.The remaining parents were split evenly between believing that the policy was having a neutraleffect or a positive effect on their child. The same eight percent who felt there was a negativeimpact also felt the amount of time their child spent reading had decreased while all the otherparents surveyed indicated that the amount of time their child spent reading had stayed the same(54%) or had increased (38%). There was an increased number of parents (27%) who felt theamount of time their child was spending practicing their spelling had decreased. However, thosewho saw a decrease in practice did not see a decrease in their child’s performance on the weeklyspelling tests. Twenty-four percent of parents also noted an increase in the amount of time theirchildren spent playing outside or participating in sports. Since the absence of required homework, parents have noticed their children developingan interest in many other activities. The following activities were seen increased in 25 to 38% ofchildren: playing academic games online, playing board games, reading novels, researchingtopics online and expressing their artistic side. The following activities were seen increased in10 to 19% of children: researching topics via books, creating new games, learning about currentevents, and writing stories, plays, etc. While some parents noted that their child had only KAUPKE 9
  • 11. expressed an interest in one new type of activity, many parents noticed that their children weretrying out a variety of new activities. Prior to the interview and discussion, 83% of parents said that they were requiring theirchildren to perform certain academic tasks each day or week. Of the 17% who were notrequiring their child to perform certain academic tasks, more than half mentioned, uponcompletion of the interview, that they would be requiring their child to start completing certainactivities. (Attached you will find additional graphs showing the results of the survey) Additionally, you will find the comments, questions and concerns that parents submittedon their survey. Names have been removed (where applicable) to protect the privacy of theparents and students. There were many questions that were pertinent to individual families;however, they shed light onto some of the concerns that parents might have about this policy.One parent submitted a more global view that encompassed some of the issues she thoughtapplied to the majority of our school population but did not apply to her child. Her statement isbelow: This is an almost impossible situation. I am trying to look at this from the point of all children and not just my own. While I agree with kids needing to play outside and limiting computer, TV and video games, homework gives parents a window into what their child is learning so they can continue it at home. I think the new policy allows parents and kids to slack on study time at home. Unfortunately, not all kids have parents that make them study and practice lessons they learn in school. I am concerned that without the requirement of homework this will negatively impact some children transitioning into middle school where they will have approx 1 to 1 1/2 hours a night of homework starting in the 6th grade. Transitioning from elementary school to middle school brings its own set of challenges and I think every measure to help the transition should be considered. A small amount of homework sets a foundation for the study skills and discipline required to succeed. I do want to say I think the teachers and staff at Curry are doing an amazing job. My sons have benefited and enjoyed their time there and as a parent I have couldnt be happier. Thank you for everything you do for our kids. KAUPKE 10
  • 12. This parent brings up many roadblocks that this policy faces. If parents are not actively involvedwith their children after school, their children will not benefit as much as those parents who areactively involved. However, if these parents aren’t involved now, it is unlikely that they wereinvolved before and if we can develop more intrinsic motivation within the child to explore otheractivities on their own, they may be much better off than if they continued with traditionalhomework. The insights and perceptions that I gained from the interviews and surveys completed bythe parents gave me valuable information about the successes and drawbacks of our new policy.This will help with to ensure the future success of this new policy.VII. Critique/Evaluation The discussion of homework has been of great concern to parents, students, teachers andadministrators for many years. Through the research of others, as well as my own observationsof my students and responses from parents, I believe that not requiring homework is what is bestfor our students, at least at the elementary level. Although the research is not conclusive at thehigh school level, there is little evidence that students gain any benefits at the elementary level. Since the implementation of this new policy in my classroom, I have seen happier, moresuccessful students who go “above and beyond,” engaging in activities outside of the classroomthat inspire them to learn rather than being forced to complete night after night of “practice.”Students seem excited about learning again. Parents are not facing the nightly battle to get theirchild to complete their homework. It also has eliminated time-wasting homework checks andallowed for additional instructional time. The other element of this new policy is that parents are being empowered to be a part oftheir child’s education again. Instead of being confined by what the teacher has assigned the KAUPKE 11
  • 13. child for homework that evening, parents can be involved in the decision of what would mostbenefit their child. It seems that it is also building a tighter bond between the parents andstudents in my classroom. Instead of the parent just forcing the child to do what the teacher saidwas best, the parent and child can decide together. With the parents actively involved in helpingtheir children choose activities after school, there seems to be more respect between the parentsand the students. Parents are reporting that they are more involved with their children now thatthere is no burden to complete homework and they can join together in other family activities. One of my main motivations for assigning homework in the past was that “researchshows that homework increases student achievement.” After doing research on the topic, I havefound that there is no research to support this statement and I am no longer convinced thatassigning homework is of any benefit to my students’ academic success. The following quotes, together, really sum up the research and my experiences in regardto homework: A passion for learning isn’t something you have to inspire kids to have; its something you have to keep from extinguishing. It [Homework] may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity. (Quotes by Deborah Meier and Alfie Kohn, respectively) KAUPKE 12
  • 14. ReferencesBaker, David P., and Gerald K Letendre. National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling. Stanford, CA: Standord University Press, 2005.Cool, Valarie A., and Timothy Z. Keith. “Testing a Model of School Learning: Direct and Indirect Effects on Academic Achievement.” Contemporary Educational Psychology 1991: 28-44.Cooper, Harris. Homework. White Plains, NY: Longman 1989.Cooper, Harris. “Synthesis of Research on Homework.” Educational Leadership, November 1989: 85-91.Edvantia. What research says about the value of homework: Research review. Center for Public Education. 2007. http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lvIXIiN0JwE& b=5113503&ct=6857715&notoc=1#researchmeansEdvantia. Homework Research Questions & Answers. Center for Public Education. 2007. http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lvIXIiN0JwE& b=5113503&ct=6858411Epstein, Joyce L., and Frances L. Van Voorhis. “More Than Minutes: Teachers’ Roles inDesigning Homework.” Educational Psychologist 36 (2001): 181-193.Kohn, Alfie. The Homework Myth: Why our Kids get too Much of a Bad Thing. Philadelphia, PA. Da Capo Press, 2006. KAUPKE 13
  • 15. AttachmentsTempe District Homework Policies and GuidelinesI-7050 © IKB - HOMEWORK The development of study skills and self-discipline are integraland indispensable elements of a quality educational process.Homework should be assigned consistent with the maturity, special needs, potential, andachievement level of the individual student. It should not carry the stigma of punishment.Homework assignment should be specifically addressed to the objectives of the instructionalprogram, and, in addition, students should develop responsibility for actively pursuingknowledge without immediate supervision outside as well as within the classroom.Students, regardless of their intellectual capacity, should understand that mastery of skills is notalways possible within the time constraints of the classroom. Each student should leave theDistrict with a firm foundation for pursuing knowledge and developing skills on an independentbasis.I-266 © IHBD-R COMPENSATORY EDUCATION (Title I) Shared Responsibilities forHigh Student Academic AchievementThe school is responsible for providing a high-quality curriculum and instruction in a supportiveand effective learning environment that enables the children served under Title I to meet thestate’s student academic achievement standards.Each parent/guardian is responsible for supporting their children’s learning, by: • Monitoring attendance, homework, and television viewing.Administrators and teachers developed the following homework guidelines:Grade Minimum MaximumKindergarten 5 min. 10 min.1st 15 min. 20 min. nd2 20 min. 30 min.3rd 30 min. 40 min. th4 35 min. 45 min. th5 40 min. 50 min. th6 45 min. 60 min.7th & 8th 60 min. 80 min. KAUPKE 14
  • 16. Results from Parent Survey KAUPKE 15
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  • 20. Questions, Comments and ConcernsFrom the Parent SurveyIs it going to lower my child’s grades? Is it going to lower my child’s math grade?The no homework policy for [my son] frees up time for him to explore his own interests. Stillneeds to work on his penmanship...Im against the no homework policy. I feel that the students need homework to reinforce whatthey have learned in school each day.This is an almost impossible situation. I am trying to look at this from the point of all childrenand not just my own. While I agree with kids needing to play outside and limiting computer,TV and video games, homework gives parents a window into what their child is learning sothey can continue it at home. I think the new policy allows parents and kids to slack on studytime at home. Unfortunately, not all kids have parents that make them study and practicelessons they learn in school. I am concerned that without the requirement of homework thiswill negatively impact some children transitioning into middle school where they will haveapprox 1 to 1 1/2 hours a night of homework starting in the 6th grade. Transitioning fromelementary school to middle school brings its own set of challenges and I think every measureto help the transition should be considered. A small amount homework sets a foundation forthe study skills and discipline required to succeed. I do want to say I think the teachers andstaff at Curry are doing an amazing job. [My sons] have benefited and enjoyed their time thereand as a parent I have couldnt be happier. Thank you for everything you do for our kids.Now that I have had parent conferences, I will have my child start doing assignments at home.He only wants to readInitially negative, [my son] has adapted (i.e. stopped being on a homework vacation) andwillingly does other work to the best of ability.No homework has placed the responsibility on the parents. The no homework has taken thepressure off the child and made his attitude more positive.I love [my daughter’s] teachers and the staff. I have nothing but positive things to say about theway that they treat the studentsI like the new homework planShe is researching on her own - taking initiativeWith the no homework policy I have my child do activities at home. She is taking her mathbook home today. She will be working in spelling and math everyday!This policy is good for creativity but not as good for basic skills like spelling.Sometimes I require my child to do academic tasks.I can’t believe how much my son is doing on his own!I support anything as long as my child gets the same education. :) KAUPKE 19