Is a “No Homework” Policy Really the Best Policy?

It’s time for a chat about homework.

No one likes homework. I am a teacher and I don’t like homework. I am also a parent currently reaping the rewards of my children attending a “no homework” elementary school. I love the fact that they come home and all I have to coerce them into doing is thirty minutes of reading a night.

I whole-heartedly agree that children need time to play, relax and spend time with family. But you know what else children need?… Grit and perseverance and the understanding that sometimes you have to work, A LOT, to get what you want.

I have seen all the studies which find little to no correlation between homework and achievement in elementary and even middle school. And yes, although it may surprise you, most studies find in favor of a “no homework” policy.

However, I am currently experiencing the results of this new “no homework” trend in my own high school classroom. Let me tell you what I’m seeing…

I teach Spanish. I start out the year talking to students about the 480 hours of exposure that it takes to reach a level of basic fluency. I mention that we will be in class for about 135 hours during one school year. We talk about how we should not expect to reach basic fluency in one year, but how looking at these numbers, it’s easy to see that some effort outside of class is needed.

For a number of years now I have been fighting the same battle. In class, students are delightful. They will do anything I ask. They enthusiastically participate in all class activities. Outside of class, however, many of these great students do absolutely nothing. I recently heard a student say “I’m in school seven hours a day. Why would I do more work at home?”

I have started grading homework much less often because I found that half the class simply did not do it, and the other half looked up the answers online or copied from a friend (or from a photo of the homework that someone posted to Snapchat, because that’s how it’s done these days!) I do not see a point to giving points for cheating! I have started telling students that when I do assign homework it is to guide their study and not for points. But many students only do work for points…

The next issue is that the same students who are not doing any homework or studying outside of class are really, genuinely confused why they are not doing well on quizzes or tests. I don’t mean that a few random kids don’t see the connection between effort and good grades. I mean that right now, most of my students think if they just listen in class they will do great on the quiz!

At my high school, we offer re-takes when students do poorly on a quiz or test. Most of the students who come for a retake have never come to me to discuss what went wrong the first time. They have not studied at all, even the second time around. They come in and ask for five minutes to “look over” the material (which actually means look at it for the first time since they failed the quiz) and then just hope it will go better the second time. Spoiler alert! It rarely goes better the second time.

Here is my complaint about a “no homework” policy: Children get the message that you can master everything you need simply by paying attention and participating in class. This is JUST. NOT. TRUE. In rigorous high school classes, and certainly in college, students should expect to invest at least as much time outside of class as inside if they want to do well.

I realize this is a parenting blog and not a disgruntled teacher blog, so if you’re still with me, Thanks! But I feel this new “no homework” trend has major consequences for us parents, too.

I can’t help feeling that the “no homework” policy in elementary school is setting my own girls up to accept mediocrity. Supposedly, if they pay attention in class and do what the teacher asks, they will do fine, just like all the other well-behaved children. I think this is doing them a huge disservice! In the real world, the people who get ahead are the ones who do more. With some exceptions, successful people are usually the ones who put in more effort than everyone else.

I keep reading over and over again that number one characteristic in successful students is grit, the ability to persevere despite initial failure. This is hard for me to cultivate at home since I’m not seeing them doing any work to know if they are succeeding or failing. By the time I see a graded test, or a report card that mentions standards X, Y, and Z, it’s too late.

I feel like my girls could use some homework just to set the expectation that extra effort is needed. I certainly can find things for them to do at home, but I would really prefer that the practice to be meaningful and offer a second chance to master what they attempted in school.

I realize that we parents are really enjoying not having to force our elementary kids to do home, but we aren’t going to enjoy college drop-outs living in our basements.

Bring back the homework!


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One Response to Is a “No Homework” Policy Really the Best Policy?

  1. Nick March 15, 2018 at 8:38 am #

    I have two comments, as a teacher and as a parent. First, I think it’s instructive that the two posts sandwiching this post are about making friends and relaxing. I think those are the skills kids in elementary school should be working on, not learning how to put their noses to a grindstone. My second thought is that hs students’ disinterest in homework might not be due to lack of hw as kids. Is there any proof or correlation? It seems there is a great deal of research on the benefits of no hw in elementary school. Is there any that shows the adverse effects of this in hs?