Results of Studies Highlight Deficiencies in Learning Experiences
I can’t say I was surprised to read last week in a Wall Street Journal article, also reported on Today.com, that grade school teachers have been experimenting with a no homework policy for schoolchildren. In the article, a second grade teacher is quoted as saying, in a note to class parents that was posted on social media, “There will be no formally assigned homework this year…rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success…Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”
No doubt these are all emotionally and physically healthy things for young kids to do and should be a must to center young people, provide parental oversight, deal with the obesity problem, and learn how to read better. My point here is schoolchildren should be able to do all these things and still do homework. As they say in Texas and other places, they should be able to “walk and chew gum.” In other words, two things can be accomplished in the time allowed.
One of the reasons homework assignments seem to overburden schoolchildren, at least according to some teachers, is the number of hours spent on social media each day. According to Common Sense Media, teens spend an average of nine hours a day online compared to about six hours for those aged 8 to 12 and 50 minutes for kids zero to eight. This is the problem – controlling social media time. If parents cut two hours out of each day, then two hours of homework could be added. Of course, the ability of parents to control their kids use of social media is problematic.
Perhaps it is the type of homework that is the problem. Some teachers eschew assignments based on work sheets or workbooks as mindless work. Others say what’s needed is to provide kids with nourishment and support not homework. Agreed that parents do not provide enough quality time with their kids. They are too busy doing their own things and take for granted that our school system is doing its job and parents need not become involved in the learning process. This is a lost opportunity for the parents and one reason these kids are not properly nurtured.
There have been a lot of studies looking for factors that correlate with out-of-school time. There is a disconnect between what high school students say they spend on homework each night, less than an hour per day, and what teachers say they assign – 3.5 hours. Also, there are confounding factors such as race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, number of parents in the home and so on.
Study after study shows that schoolchildren in the U.S. are lagging in their reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries. One such survey, the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), placed the U.S. in 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science.
In another study, Progress on International Reading Literacy, in 2016 the U.S. fell from a ranking of fifth in the world to 13th, with 12 education systems outscoring the U.S. by statistically significant margins.
Another concern is the global competitiveness of our schoolchildren. If homework is a barometer, then the U.S. is in trouble. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found American 15-year-olds spent six hours per week on homework. By comparison, students from Russia spent 10 hours and from Shanghai spent about 14 hours.
When we look at achievement test scores on a global level, the results are alarming and, perhaps, the extent to which U.S, schoolchildren lag their counterparts is due to a lack of homework. Homework builds discipline, reinforces what was learned in class each day, and, most important, builds a strong work ethic that is needed for success in the working world and, indeed, in all of life’s activities.
As a college professor, for many years I’ve noticed a shocking lack of communication skills among students. Oftentimes, we have to spend valuable class time to get some of them up to par with their counterparts. It would help if schoolchildren are assigned writing-skills-oriented homework and make verbal presentations periodically. Have them talk about what they do with their time each day, whether they feel prepared for the next level of education, and what skills are most important as they move up the education ladder. These could be teachable moments that give meaning to homework – applying the skills they learned [or should learn].