Tuesday, December 08, 2015

New book claims that homework is a total waste of time. Aha! I knew it!

Courtesy of The Local: 

“I found out that teachers have been giving homework since at least 1480,” Himmelrath, an educational journalist, told The Local. 

“And there has also been research into its effects on children for the last 130 years. And in all this research I found no results which showed that it had a positive effect on them.” 

On the contrary, if his research showed any overall result, it was that children would go into school the next day unmotivated and reluctant to learn after spending the evening doing homework. 

“In the Swiss canton of Schwyz teachers didn’t give out homework at all between 1993 and 1999. Then, due to pressure from conservative parents it was then reintroduced. 

“But a comparison with a neighbouring canton showed that there was no difference between the grades in the two cantons during this period. 

"The only difference was that in Schwyz the children were much more motivated in class,” Himmelrath related.

I have been making this claim for years.

As a parent, both biological and step, I have engaged in numerous homework battles with the kids.

I have restricted privileges, set aside special time for the work, and of course sat down with them to help with a subject that I was often under qualified to teach.

It's fairly easy in the elementary grades, but once you get to high school the subjects can be pretty challenging, especially if the student claims to have no idea what the teacher is asking on the homework assignment.

And today kids sometimes have up to four hours of homework a night, and THAT is supposed to be accomplished along with any extracurricular school activities or sports they may be involved with.

It is impossible for many kids, even with very involved parents at home.

And yes that often results in kids not liking school as well as souring them on the idea of furthering their education after high school.

So I have no idea if this book is going to change any minds in the education field here in America or elsewhere, but in my opinion it certainly should.


  1. Anonymous4:16 AM

    Boo hoo, poor, special snowflakes.

  2. Anonymous5:00 AM

    Well said and couldn't agree more! Thanks for a great post :)

  3. As a retired high school English teacher, it is not practical to devote class time for writing essays, research papers, and reading several novels.

    Throughout my career I saw plenty of shitty teachers assign meaningless homework and use busy work as a management tool. Excellent teachers assign meaningful work, engage students in vibrant discussions, challenge them, and they also know when to ease up. There is an artistry to teaching. Think golf. Anyone can play golf; not that many excel.

    Students share in the responsibility of how they utilize their education. Often they choose to be disengaged, preferring instead to play a video game in class on their phones. Or they expect full credit for something because they completed an assignment, regardless of quality. Today too many students think that because they are tech savvy, that makes them special. It doesn't. Googling a research paper is search, not research. Not much different from selecting a great novel, erasing the author's name and replacing it with your own.

    There is no shortage of opinion about education, especially since everyone recalls their personal experience, especially the negative ones, or their experiences with their kids, again, especially the negative ones.

    The single most important thing schools should do is to not move a student forward until he or she has learned to read and write at grade level and has mastered rudimentary math. I don't mean hold them back while their classmates move on to the next grade. I mean find ways to intervene and save that child right then. Of course that takes money and additional staff. Lose the student early, lose them forever.

    In the world of football we hire the best coaches and players, pay them lavish amounts, provide them with all sorts of perks and benefits, and provide them with the best facilities. That usually seems to turn a program around. In education, we like to say throwing money at the problem is not the answer. Funny how that works. It's really about what we value and what's important.

    Were I grading this diatribe, I'd write on my paper with my red pen, "Strayed off topic."

    My response to myself? At least I know enough to know I went off topic.

    1. I tried assigning reading to my students to do at home and then having a discussion of the material in class. The majority never read the material. A few actually said if it was important, we'd do it in class.

      So I eventually gave up. I was never forced or required to assign homework, but I did because the PARENTS demanded it.

      Plus, with all those concrete, right/wrong, homework assignments graded and in the gradebook, none of them questioned me about the grades their children had earned. If they were higher no one challenged me. If they were lower, I had the numbers right there in a computer print out.

      The only time it ever worked was when I taught Math. I had them leave their books at home and I'd assign a few pages, then the next day I'd take questions, do some examples and then we did the "homework" in class. That seemed to work well for them. Plus they were grateful they didn't have to carry the book back and forth to school.

  4. Anonymous5:18 AM

    As a 4th grade teacher I must disagree. I assign homework every night. Students must read for 20 minutes and complete a math task ( the latest was to look around the house and make a list of things that have obtuse, acute, and right angles). My students benefit in so many ways: they learn self-discipline, acquire additional strategies for solving math problems, and they gain confidence in their own abilities to set and accomplish goals.
    Homework should not be stressful for students or parents.

    1. I agree.

      Just ask any Instrumental Music teacher about "homework". Students need to practice every day, including weekends. They can't do this in class, there isn't enough time. Class if for working together on specific pieces for performance. Home is for practice and mastering the individual's instrument.

      This is why music students tend to be better in all of their classes, not just their music classes.

      Self-discipline. The most valuable skill a teacher can teach.

  5. Anonymous5:55 AM

    Many moons ago when I was in school, homework didn't seem so intimidating. When my kids were in school, I did half their homework, or at least the kind that required the kid to create a poster project filled with content, drawings, photos, and lots of writing. I remember my youngest being so tired of staying up (always waited until the last day before telling me it needed to be done by tomorrow), he'd go to bed, and I'd be up pasting little pictures and doing my magic with the markers until past midnight.

    I wonder if teachers really believe the content teaches the kid, other than teaching him to be organized and obedient; maybe homework is more about having at least some control over the kid, so he'll learn discipline and respect of teachers. Today, there's little respect for teachers, it seems.

    1. Anonymous6:20 AM

      When I was a child in school, the teachers I had did not deserve respect, they were all so mean and nasty. Many of us children got mistreated by teachers. This was in the 50's so nothing was done about it.

    2. Anonymous8:40 AM

      My mom and dad say the same things about their teachers in the 50s (NYC public schools).

    3. Even in the 80's there were a lot of teachers that were assholes.

    4. All of you sound whiny. You did your kid's homework? Really? Your teachers were mean?
      You make me worry about our future. Yes, we had bad teachers growing up. We also had great teachers. We had those that bored us to tears, those that motivated and inspired us.

      But I will say this: if you did your kid's homework, you are a horrible parent because you are not allowing your child to learn.

    5. Anonymous11:46 AM

      Calm down, Carli. These comments shouldn't make you worry about the future.

      Of COURSE there are bad teachers and wonderful teachers. Yes, we all know that.

      I don't agree with the OP that homework "these days" is worse then it was when I was a child in the 70s and 80s, at least not in elementary and middle school. I have a child in each grade and they both have quite management amounts.

      But I was the one who commented on my parents' teachers in the 1950s, I can tell you these weren't just "mean" teachers. They were misanthropes who could actually be violent at times. I'm glad by the time I went to school in the 1970s, teachers were no longer allowed to use physical punishment (at least where I grew up) or humiliate children in front of their peers.

      Despite this, my parents both became teachers and were wonderful at their jobs.

      If you think helping elementary school kids do their homework (or even doing those last minute pasting on poster board when your kids have had enough) makes someone a horrible parent, Then I guess I'm a horrible parent. But, I'd rather be a horrible parent who helps my kids learn than a wonderful parent who lets their kids sink or swim at 8 years old.

    6. Carli I'm not saying all teachers are bad, but one of my grade school teachers was a bully who screamed so much I was reduced to tears a few times. And I wasn't the only student who got this treatment from her. The only reason she kept her job was that she had an in-law on the school board.

    7. Trust me. Your kid's teacher knew who made those posters.

      And why didn't the little precious tell you about the assignment the day it was given? Why did they always wait until the last minute? (You know the answer, right?)

      Our school had planners for all of the students and I had my students copy the week's assignments into it every Monday for the following week, so they were always a week ahead and no "I didn't know" excuses for being absent. For the first month I checked them every day and I had the parents initial them. No initial, then a phone call to make sure they knew.

      After that, no excuses for not knowing about an assignment and no way the parents find out at the last minute about a long term assignment.

      This is all about organization and responsibility.

      Now you can insist the teacher make 35 phone calls (for elementary) or 175 phone calls (for secondary) each night to make sure the parent knows what the homework assignment is but that's about 3 min. per call. Sometimes longer. Do the math. When Caller ID appeared I would only make calls from school.

      And why is it the teacher's responsibility to make sure you know about the assignment? That's your kid's responsibility.

    8. Anonymous11:58 AM

      Kids have been telling their parents last minute about projects due the next morning since time began (exaggeration, but you get the point).

      Who in this thread blamed teachers for that?

      You seem angry at parents in this comment section, mlaiuppa?

      Many of us are teachers or educators, ourselves, or children of teachers. We love and support educators.

      I'm not the OP, but I've helped my kids with homework when it seemed appropriate to do so and less and less as they moved through elementary school and into middle school. Sometimes kids don't need any help and sometimes they need a lot. Supervising and helping my kids with homework and class projects are some of my best memories. Yes, also some of my worst memories (not really, but it can be hard and frustrating at times), but that's life.

  6. Anonymous6:00 AM

    They ought to have more homework. Wait til these kids get to college and working in the real world. They will long for the good old days. Parents who whine about their kids' homework don't do them any favors.

    1. Anonymous7:20 AM

      Do you have kids?

  7. Anonymous6:11 AM

    My kids are in elementary school (3rd and 5th).

    They have two paged of math every day and a little bit of spelling for the week.

    The one thing I like about homework is that it gives ME a chance to see how they are doing. They have wonderful teachers but their class sizes are large and I worry that the teachers can't catch the little issues that come up when a kid doesn't "get" something. So, daily homework lets me make sure my kids aren't falling through any cracks.

    I don't actually find right now that the homework is busy work. Plus, the kids do have a little time every day at school to work on it and sometimes get it done then.

    I'd say my younger one has 15-20 minutes of homework a day and my older one has 30-40 minutes.

    Oh, and they are supposed to read every day, which (luckily) my kids have no problem doing.

  8. Anonymous6:17 AM

    I have always thought homework is unnecessary.
    When students go home, that should be their time to play, and be carefree. Teach them at school and let them go home and play.

  9. Anonymous6:34 AM

    As a teacher and a parent, I agree that hours of homework can be stressful and counter-productive (if you do 20 math problems incorrectly, you've reinforced the errors). If I were queen of the world, children would be assigned 30 minutes of reading every night, and then be allowed to play, engage in conversation with family and yes, even watch TV.

  10. Maple6:42 AM

    I wonder if there are any studies (and hence stats) showing a correlation between the hours of homework and the desire to go to college. My bet is that the more homework thrown at teenagers, the more eager the teenager is to go out of school altogether and get a regular 9-to-5 job.

    1. Anonymous8:19 AM

      I doubt this is true. The most hours of homework is given to kids who are in the toughest classes and these are the kids who will be going to college.

      I'm not talking about individual kids, of course, but in general.

      Now, if you want to take quality vs. quantity homework, there might be something to your hypothesis.

  11. Anonymous7:47 AM

    I do not think that homework is a waste of time. And I know I complained my share as a kid. But it'w a way of reinforcing learning and that's never a bad thing. I also understood the math a lot better after working my way through the problems at home. And writing full sentences as answers to questions about reading (whether social studies or science or English) is absolutely necessary. Many young people today cannot write well at all; it's partly because they don't read enough but it's mainly because they don't write enough.

  12. Kids should be given enough time at school to get their work done. But there is a problem in schools today that needs to be addressed. There are so many kids in school today who have attention problems and emotional problems and behavior problems. Frankly, it's a big distraction in the classroom for the teachers and makes it near impossible for them to get lessons done on schedule.

    I see this when I volunteer in my sons classroom. I would say that 20-25% of the class acts out, wanders around the room, talks while the teacher is trying to get points across to those paying attention.

    This is not fair to the kids who are trying to learn. The kids who can't control themselves need to be in a separate class but because some think this is unfair to them to not be in a "normal" classroom, they wreak havoc on other kids' learning experiences. I have friends and relatives who teach and many of them tell me this is getting to be a big problem everywhere. A couple have told me they are thinking of getting out of teaching because of it. They feel like they are no longer teachers, but pseudo day care workers.

    1. Anonymous8:33 AM

      They need more adults in the classroom. Every teacher should have an aide. In some classes, when there are a large number of kids identified as having learning difficulties, there should be two aids. In a perfect world, that's what would happen.

      My 4th grader has 30 kids in class this year. The kids are actually well-behaved and probably don't even need an extra adult in the room, but there's a student teacher assigned to the class.

      It's not just for behavior issues, but also so that the class can split up into different learning groups.

    2. Smaller class sizes and an aide in the classroom equals a lot of money.

      The reason classes are so large is that taxpayers are screaming about cut the fat from school budgets, etc.

      In order to get their "money's worth" for those overpaid, lazy, incompetent teachers class sizes have increased.

      One teacher and 25 kindergarteners? It's like herding cats.

  13. Anonymous8:31 AM


  14. I support reading books and writing or foreign language exercises and translations outside class. Starting in late middle school. But otherwise, the rest of the "homework" is a waste of time and is interfering with the development of valuable skills. I personally think the burden on students is obscene.

    I'm glad I went to school in an era when elementary students did NOT have homework and homework even in advanced high school and AP classes was of very manageable duration.

    Even at the university level, which is where I teach, I want my students to have balanced lives and so I make sure that there commitments for my courses will fit into schedules that have other courses, and jobs, and exercise, and recreation.

  15. Anonymous8:59 AM

    Be like Palin, no homework, just what you don't learn in school. Great advice! HA HA HA HA HA

  16. CorningNY10:19 AM

    Without homework, parents would be totally out of the loop when it comes to knowing what their kids are learning, and what they are having trouble with. My stepson's 3rd grade teacher has 30 kids in his class, no aide, and there's no way he can work with all the parents to help their kids. It shouldn't be oppressive, but I think some homework is good.

  17. Anonymous1:12 PM

    If only this would stop:

  18. Anonymous3:50 PM

    I don't mind meaningful homework, but would call the teacher if they got "busy" work the teacher couldn't get to in class because, by no cause of their own, the class size is too big, public schools must accept everyone, meaning discipline problems, just plain lazy kids and parents who think educators are nothing more than babysitters.

  19. Anonymous7:43 PM

    My 11th grader goes to an elite public school in NYC. The homework load is utterly soul crushing. Hours and hours every night. We as a family are sleep deprived walking zombies. There is no time for reading outside of assignments, not time for movies, no time for family activities. My son has been taken away from me and held hostage by a cruel system that we cannot escape.

    1. He doesn't have to go to that "elite" school, does he? Wasn't that a choice you made?

      Perhaps, to get into an elite college? A college that will put those kind of demands on him. The discipline he's learning now will serve him well when he's off to college and no one is there to make sure he gets all his work done.

      And if he chooses to take classes online, he'll excel.

  20. The purpose of homework is to make sure that when teachers go home every night, they bring the homework home to grade and it takes at least three hours. In that way the taxpayers are getting more than the 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week of work they're paying for. And those pieces of paper all marked up with corrections and grades can be produced to prove the teacher is doing their job and the student had earned the grade to which they have been assigned.

    Now it could be used as a bonding experience between parent and child, working together towards understanding and reinforcement of a concept learned in the classroom, but more often it is just a visual performance to convince the parents their children are actually learning something while Mom does the dishes and Dad watches the evening news.


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