“Homework Hooey” is the apt headline on Martin Davis’ New York Post column critiquing two books — Alfie Kohn’s The Homework Myth and The Case against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish– that argue American students are overworked, leading to depression, obesity, family tension, and, no doubt, acne. Homework doesn’t help students learn, they argue. It just eats up time that could be devoted to emotional development, family conversations and fat-burning sports. (Or to playing computer games.)
In truth, a small minority of students are working quite hard — in addition to a heavy load of extracurriculars — while most spend little time on homework.
Surely, some students are weighted down. But not most kids, or even all that many. And those who are tend to be from economically-stable families in high-intensity programs. Kohn even admits as much. He cites a 1995 study showing American students spend on average just 1.7 hours a night on homework, compared with 2.7 hours for students in other nations. “On the other hand,” he continues, “U.S. 12th graders who took advanced math and science” reported having homework more often than their international peers.
According to Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, roughly 5 percent of American schoolchildren have more than two hours of homework per night. “Those horror stories,” he said in 2003, “they’re true . . . But the question is whether or not they are typical. And they are not.”
On surveys, high school students say part-time jobs, socializing and watching TV are more important to them than schoolwork. Almost half aren’t actually doing homework.
As Davis writes, schools that are succeeding in educating children from disadvantaged families insist that students support their classroom learning with homework.
The KIPP Academies, for example, a nation-wide network of charter schools, require not only longer days and school years (students get only two weeks off in the summer), but also give between two and three hours of homework each night.
My book on a turnaround charter high school, Our School, describes the relentless campaign to get students to do homework every night so they will build the skills and work habits they’ll need to succeed in college. No homework, no hope.