Is it time to ditch homework for good?

Our columnist grapples with the pros & cons of assigning homework

Homework is one of those topics that consistently baffles teachers. Every few years, new research comes out arguing the merits or pitfalls of assigning homework. Generally, I think that any teacher could make the case for or against assigning homework, depending on the circumstance.

I assign homework every night in my class, except for the weekends; that time is for family. I don’t assign much. I usually tell kids and parents that if you’re taking over 30 minutes to finish the assignment, pack it up and ask me for help the next day. But I am thinking of ditching homework altogether. Jo Boaler and other teachers have convinced me that homework can do more damage than good.

But what’s so bad about homework? I did lots of homework growing up. I’d like to think that there is a connection between hard work and results. The homework I completed in my youth probably has something to do with me being a hard worker. Besides, high school and college classes give lots of homework. If I don’t give my students homework in 7th grade, am I setting them up for failure in their future advanced courses?

My homework past
At the beginning of my career in Chicago, I taught 7th- and 8th-grade math in a system where students took a test and applied to get into selective high schools. I was the only teacher responsible for the math education of 180 students who were all trying to get into the best high school possible. Not only did I assign nightly homework, but I assigned a weekly review packet as well. I felt proud that I could motivate my students to complete the volume of work I assigned.

Here in Rhode Island, the first thing I noticed was that the students had much less work than I was used to assigning. But all of my students go to the same high school. I realized how crazy things had been in Chicago; it was not age appropriate for 12- to 14-year-olds to be competing to get into the best schools.

Rethinking homework
In my current push to start teaching more with video, playlists, and GoFormative, I began rethinking about the role of homework. But why change? I’m a successful teacher and I don’t get many complaints about the homework I assign. Why change what’s working?

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