No more homework!

I’ve written multiple times before about the futility of homework as currently practiced and now there’s a great summary in the Post about the most recent findings.  Yet more evidence that homework just does not help students perform any better in school:

 Let’s start by reviewing what we know from earlier investigations.[1]  First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school.  In fact, there isn’t even a positivecorrelation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement.  If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homeworkdespite what the evidence says.

Second, even at the high school level, the research supporting homework hasn’t been particularly persuasive.  There does seem to be a correlation between homework and standardized test scores, but (a) it isn’t strong, meaning that homework doesn’t explain much of the variance in scores, (b) one prominent researcher, Timothy Keith, who did find a solid correlation, returned to the topic a decade later to enter more variables into the equation simultaneously, only to discover that the improved study showed that homework had no effect after all[2], and (c) at best we’re only talking about a correlation — things that go together — without having proved that doing more homework causes test scores to go up.  (Take 10 seconds to see if you can come up with other variables that might be driving both of these things.)…

Maltese and his colleagues did their best to reframe these results to minimize the stunning implications.[6]  Like others in this field, they seem to have approached the topic already convinced that homework is necessary and potentially beneficial, so the only question we should ask isHow — not whether — to assign it.  But if you read the results rather than just the authors’ spin on them — which you really need to do with the work of others working in this field as well[7] — you’ll find that there’s not much to prop up the belief that students must be made to work a second shift after they get home from school.  The assumption that teachers are just assigning homework badly, that we’d start to see meaningful results if only it were improved, is harder and harder to justify with each study that’s published.

If experience is any guide, however, many people will respond to these results by repeating platitudes about the importance of practice[8], or by complaining that anyone who doesn’t think kids need homework is coddling them and failing to prepare them for the “real world” (read:  the pointless tasks they’ll be forced to do after they leave school).  Those open to evidence, however, have been presented this fall with yet another finding that fails to find any meaningful benefit even when the study is set up to give homework every benefit of the doubt. [emphasis mine]

So far, homework has not really been out of hand for any of my kids, but I am awfully tempted to share this with my kids’ teachers and principals.  Not like I think it will change anything.  People are just so damn convinced homework must be a good thing, but current evidence suggests that the vast majority of it is simply of very little value.  Actually, would love to see some evidence from Finland (Mika?), etc., on the matter– maybe that would persuade people.


Quick hits

1) The zeppelins of WWI

Although the zeppelin was embraced by both the Germans and the Allies during World War I, the Germans made far more extensive use of the rigid, hydrogen-filled airships. The concept of “strategic bombing”—targeted airstrikes on a particular location—didn’t exist before the conflict. The advent of aerial warfare changed that, and also robbed the British of the protection afforded by the English Channel. The zeppelin allowed Germany to bring the war to the English homeland. Kind of.

2) Parenting as a Gen-Xer:

It struck me recently, after one of my quiet carpool rides, that my generation of parents – we of the soon-to-be or recently 40 year old Gen X variety, the former latchkey children of the Cold War and an MTV that actually played videos, former Atari-owners who were raised by the the Cosby Show and John Hughes, graduated high school with the kids from 90210, then lumbered through our 20s with Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, and Joey and flip phones – is perhaps the last to straddle a life experience both with and without the Internet and all its social media marvels.

3) EJ Dionne on NC politics.  And a WSJ piece on how NC politics increasingly resemble those of Virginia.

4) Eating octopus?  No thanks.

5) Jon Chait with an interesting essay on the value of playing football.

6) Are Alabama Judge Tom Parker’s ideas the key to dismantling Roe v. Wade?  I suspect not, but it is disturbing to think about somebody with his ideas (forget the Constitution– the real version– it’s all about God– Parker’s version) serving as a judge.

7) Maria Konnikova on social media and the Dunbar number

Dunbar did the math, using a ratio of neocortical volume to total brain volume and mean group size, and came up with a number. Judging from the size of an average human brain, the number of people the average person could have in her social group was a hundred and fifty. Anything beyond that would be too complicated to handle at optimal processing levels. For the last twenty-two years, Dunbar has been “unpacking and exploring” what that number actually means—and whether our ever-expanding social networks have done anything to change it.

8) Nice post from Mike Cobb on how to have a healthy skepticism towards non-attitudes reported as attitudes on surveys.

9) Really nice piece from John Dickerson about Matt Bai’s new book, the media, and political scandal.

10) Jon Chait decries California’s new “yes means yes” approach to sexual assault.  Ezra Klein writes easily the most interesting commentary (supportive of the law) I’ve read on the matter.

11) A look at the great impact exercise can have on a child’s brain.  The results are great, but, there’s this:

Each two-hour session also included downtime, since children naturally career about and then collapse, before repeating the process. In total, the boys and girls generally moved at a moderate or vigorous intensity for about 70 minutes and covered more than two miles per session, according to their pedometers.

That doesn’t strike me as remotely scalable.  I’d love to see some efforts along these lines of an exercise program for kids with less time commitment.

12) Vox on why the LED light was worth the Nobel Prize.  (For what it’s worth, I remember reading many years ago how a white LED light was a holy grail).

13) NYT Magazine on how school lunches have become a political battleground.  Personally, I think everybody needs to give pizza more respect.  My middle and high schools all offered pizza as a lunch entree every day.  That’s how it should be.

14) You probably don’t know that much about giraffes.  You should.

15) A sixteen year old spent three years in jail for allegedly stealing a backpack before the charges were dropped.  Just another day (or three years) of criminal justice in America (at least if you are poor).

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