STAFF: The need for, purpose of homework needs to be re-evaluated

Freshmen Dylan Kubek and Jacob Lanzara complete their homework during their 6th period Freshman Seminar. “Homework is effective [in small] amounts,” Kubek said. Photo by Vivian La.

The concept of homework has been a constant in any education system, regardless of country or time. Spending the majority of the day at school — learning everything from how to solve for x, the effect of anaphora in a speech, how to use a Punnett square, then participating in a sport, work, a club, and then finally going home only to spend more time on said equations, squares, and rhetorical devices — is a universal routine. But the question as to whether homework is really necessary to a student’s overall education still remains.

Since the start of American formal education, students have been told that homework is an effective tool to gauge knowledge, track progress, and improve retention. Multiple studies over the past few decades has shown how homework does raise test scores and improve overall academic achievement. However, it fails to mention the long-term and emotional effects on the students.

A recent study conducted by Stanford on high-performing students in a California high school revealed that homework often leads to greater stress levels, reduced health, and less time for family, friends, and extracurricular pursuits. More than 70% of students said they were “often or always stressed over schoolwork,” with 56% listing homework as a primary source of stress. Ultimately, students are seeing academic gains but at the cost of their general well-being.

The disparity between what is written on a report card or test grade and the mental toll it takes on a student to receive that singular letter can be addressed through educator evaluation of what is ultimately the most effective for each class. It is crucial to make the students the priority, not the numbers.

As more students are challenging themselves with additional AP and honors courses while also balancing extracurriculars, a job, and a social life, it has become increasingly difficult to manage everything at once. Teenagers are expected to prioritize school above everything else, because society needs intellectually-round and motivated individuals for the future. But intense course loads and their subsequent homework assignments can hurt a student’s perception of what the end result is of their many sleepless nights.

Assistant Principal of Curriculum and Instruction Julie Lam oversees the school’s instruction strategy and ensures its successful execution throughout the building.

“Overloading students has always been a concern, especially if you’re taking rigorous classes … it’s something where it has to be meaningful. The students have to be able to see what they’re practicing towards,” Lam said.

Poll based on a cross-section of East students

Education is meant to be preparatory for the next step in a high school student’s life and the “real world.” Required homework can supposedly build this preparation, but in many college classrooms, assignments are entirely optional. Responsibility for one’s education becomes the primary focus. Knowledge gained in a classroom should incite curiosity and a drive to discover because the advancement of society is dependent on these motivations, not drilled into students’ brains every night in order to maintain a certain grade.

Teachers expect full student effort and time put into their class, multiplied by the seven other classes they have in the day. This effort is often quantified in the form of homework to be done for class the next day. It then becomes busywork for many and not helpful to the student’s learning, reflecting a misunderstanding of how homework is supposed to benefit students and enhance their learning experiences.

Educators should first understand why they’re assigning something rather than doing it out of routine or necessity, even perhaps out of a mandate by the department or curriculum. If they can’t give a reason, then it shouldn’t be assigned. This is known as backwards design, where educational goals are outlined before deciding on the best method of achieving these goals.

“As long as there is that alignment, I think that [homework] is meaningful,” Lam said. “You have to be building towards something.”

Backwards design is the supposed basis for District 308’s homework policy, which only states that amount and frequency is dependent on a teacher’s best professional judgment, but the disconnect between the intended application and actual effect often translates to students paying the price.

“[Homework is] something where it has to be meaningful. The students have to be able to see what they’re practicing towards.”

— Assistant Principal Julie Lam

It’s also important to consider the murky world of district policies, committees, and Board of Education proposals. Changes to homework policy — at the district, school, and department level — can only be made after what’s called a curriculum review, a process that can take several years.

“Unless there’s a district process, there’s not a lot of opportunities [for alignment],” Lam said.

The National PTA and other educational institutions support the “10 Minute Rule,” the idea that students should have no more than 10 minutes of homework each day for each grade reached — meaning that high school seniors can expect two hours of assignments a night. The idea is that students can handle additional responsibility as the years go on. But this shouldn’t be a set rule and rationale to justify the increasingly unreasonable amount of work placed on students. Having the ability to manage additional responsibility shouldn’t mean students always have to, or that it will necessarily enhance their learning.

A possible solution for the age-old debate on the necessity of homework could be making it optional altogether. It can be extra practice, a helpful option that is available if the student decides they need it. In the end, it’s the student’s grades. High school students are capable of gauging what they need improvement on. The benefit of having a choice could potentially give students a sense of ownership and result in increased effort in that assignment. Homework does not have to be mandatory to be effective.

Building on the element of freedom, teachers could structure homework with extended deadlines. Teachers could assign homework on a Monday, for example, but it wouldn’t be due until Thursday. This way, students are not restricted to doing the assignment the night before if they have other activities during the week. It holds the student more responsible for their schoolwork and can improve time management skills.

Of course, homework in a music class will differ from the homework in a math class. In a math class, practice of certain skills solidifies it. However, there are always students who have a grasp of the concept already and requiring them to do repetitive tasks is not beneficial. There are also students that require additional practice, and that is when homework for these particular students might not be optional. The work for a band or choir class will most likely never involve taking notes, rather more of sectional rehearsals or reflecting on daily independent practice. It’s really up to educators to tailor assignments to what the curriculum demands, but also to not overload students with unnecessary work. A balance needs to be found in order to move students forward while fostering an interest in learning but also not turning them into mindless robots.

Ultimately, homework shouldn’t only be concerned with academic achievement. Its long-term effects on student health, free time, and overall student perception of school and education should be considered by all educators before assigning a chapter of notes amidst a classroom of students who are most likely already budgeting out how to spend their time after school. 

The trained response of students across the country has always been to expect homework. Our education system has routinely favored quantity over quality. Perhaps it’s time to shift this train of thought in order to better align with the fundamental values of education — promoting curiosity and encouraging a love of knowledge and learning.

While this staff editorial represents the views & opinions of the editorial board for the Howl, this staff editorial was written by Vivian La, a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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