Before the first day of each new school year, many primary school teachers have already spoken with their students’ parents, and it is almost certain that in these first conversations the discussion turned to expectations for homework. Nationally, the amount of homework has increased greatly since the 1980s and much of the increase has fallen upon the smallest of shoulders. By some accounts, the average amount of homework for 6- to 8-year-olds has more than doubled since 1981. This stark increase in the amount of homework for primary students reflects a misplaced faith in the value of homework. In fact, there is a large body of evidence that suggests primary students would be better off with no homework at all.
The conventional wisdom suggests that homework allows primary grade students to complete work that would have otherwise been left unfinished in class. Proponents of homework argue the time spent working with parents accelerates the rate at which classroom teachers can cover material, gives students additional time and opportunity to master concepts, and involves parents in their young child’s education. Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom falls flat for reasons that can be both considered subjectively and measured objectively. Subjectively, the value of homework must be weighed against the cost to both students and families. To be of value, it must also prove equally beneficial for all students. Assigning homework to students in the primary grades fails on both counts.
First, there’s the issue of the large amounts of time invested by students on homework. By 1997, the amount of time spent on homework by primary children had increased to between one and two hours, and the amount has probably gone up since. Consider for a moment that students have already attended school for a full academic day and have a limited amount of time left in their day. By assigning homework, teachers are dictating how parents and children spend these precious hours after school. Assigning homework to primary students takes away time that they may have otherwise spent in enriching, enjoyable activities: karate class, soccer practice, reading, time with family, playing with friends – the list goes on. The benefits of assigning homework would have to be immense in order to justify its huge cost.
Second, there’s the issue of fairness. Homework reinforces social and economic differences among students. Students living with two educated parents, who have their own computer, desk and collection of books are in a much better position to complete homework than others. For poorer students, the situation is different. Some parents don’t have access to the resources, materials or even the space inside the home to do homework. Some parents work night shifts and are unable to help their children with homework assignments. Some children go home and take on the role of parent by cooking dinner and caring for younger siblings. For students in these situations, laying claim to their time outside the classroom almost guarantees that homework assignments will go uncompleted.
Finally, there’s the most important argument against homework for primary students: it accomplishes nothing. By objective measures, assigning homework to primary students does not improve standardized test scores. In fact, the correlation between assigned homework and test scores is negative – homework appears to lead to lower scores on standardized tests!
Ultimately, homework for primary students is a misguided educational practice. Homework takes time away from families that could be better spent on enriching, enjoyable activities. Homework also punishes students with fewer resources or more duties outside the classroom. Most importantly, homework for primary students just doesn’t accomplish much academically. Hopefully, increasing numbers of teachers and parents will question the value of homework and conclude it has no place in primary school.