Why homework does not equal better learning

Many students spend countless hours each night doing homework. Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash

BY MARA LLOYD

Along with school, occasional stress and anxiety are parts of any American teenager’s life. It’s well-established that there is a connection between the two— there’s already plenty of evidence to support that. The question isn’t how much stress is imposed upon teens from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.— it’s how much is imposed by what they have to do after that time. 

I acknowledge that school is a privilege that I’m accustomed to. Both the school system and the faculty who assign my work are necessary to my preparation for adult life. There are several places around the globe where I wouldn’t even be able to go to school or get an education of any kind. My intention is not to complain about what I endure, but rather to review the irrationalities our system poses.

Homework: a nationally, if not globally, disliked concept. After all, what’s the point of releasing us from school if only to have us do the same work, just in a different setting? Of course, there can be many arguments as to why homework makes us better students. It can provide review and improve concentration, just off the top of my head. And in most cases, that’s true. But something most students and parents can agree on is the excessive time it takes and mental strain it places on kids ages 13-18.

Obviously, stress and anxiety are going to be a daily occurrence for any adult, making it pretty reasonable to expose it to us during our adolescence, but is homework the way to go about teaching that lesson? Apparently not, according to the school administration. Take this excerpt from our own Canton High School’s student/parent handbook for example: 

The Canton Public Schools’ Community believes that meaningful homework provides students time for independent learning that: prepares them for and reinforces the learning, activities, and discussions that take place in the classroom; gives them an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of skills taught in class; informs families and involves them in curricular activities and keeps families aware of the topics that are taught, how their child is progressing, and how to support their child’s work at home; informs teachers about students’ levels of understanding so that they can adjust instruction; builds students’ responsibility, independence, perseverance, and time management skills; assists students in improving their work habits and organizational skills; fosters students’ love of learning; gives students the opportunity to understand their own learning styles.” 

While this list covers several important developments for any student, you’ll find no direct, or even specific indirect, mention of homework’s purpose being our preparation for the toil of the American workplace. One could argue that the mention of skills like organization or time management are necessary for said situation, but judging by the excerpt’s emphasis on “the classroom” (such as what takes place, how one can prepare for it, how parents and students alike can be notified of what’s being taught), a more accurate inference would be that skills such as time management and organization are included in relation to how they can be applied in school rather than adult life. 

This rationale for homework eliminates, for our own school at least, the most important reason for assigning homework — to prepare students for the stresses of the adult world — because that was never the administration’s goal in the first place. I apologize for the focus on solely Canton High School, but unfortunately, I have no other experience to compare it to. Luckily, personal experience isn’t necessary where facts are in place. For the time being, I’ll shift the focus from Canton, Connecticut to Nordic Europe.

A massive part of the argument as to why homework is necessary will always be the academic benefit. And naturally, studying is very useful for getting good grades on tests, quizzes, and other measures of memory above skill. But is it possible that the benefit of not assigning homework outweighs the benefit of assigning it? Let’s take it from Finland. This is a country that does not assign homework— or if they do, it’s for the sake of a student’s personal understanding rather than tradition. And the results show it all; Finland’s high school graduation rate is 93% in comparison to the US’s 75% (yes, the US has many more students in question, but more on that later). OnlineClasses.org lists one of these reasons for success as “kids have more time to be kids.” For me, this is what it comes down to. 

The time that homework consumes is damaging to any child’s time spent having just that— a childhood. With almost our entire lives revolving around our academic performance at this age, it’s easy for our brains to prioritize homework and studying over spending time with friends, playing sports, pursuing hobbies, etc. Finland’s lack of homework assignments has enabled all students to these activities, and there’s been no shortage of success. Not only are the graduation rates excellent, but the test scores trump those of every other nation. Some of these nations have more students, like the US, and some have less. But one thing is undeniable: Finland’s educational system has been designed for the success of the students. According to Scholastic, this is because “Thirty-five years ago… The country eliminated its education inspector and rethought its educational system.” Of course, there are several other factors that can be taken into consideration when comparing Finland with the rest of the world, but these results certainly show that lack of homework is not academically detrimental. 

So there you have it: if anything, not assigning homework is beneficial to a student’s grades. You may be thinking, “but why eliminate homework completely? Why not just agree to give less?” That’s a perspective I could normally get behind— had it not already failed. During my high school orientation, a new homework policy was announced. Mainly, a teacher could not assign homework over the weekends or for more than 30 minutes per night, with the exception of honors and AP classes. Unfortunately, speaking as somebody who’s hopeless at math, this is a policy that’s easily bendable and often ignored for the sake of the curriculum’s schedule. If you’re a teacher reading this, you may be thinking that you’re not one to assign that much homework. Chances are, you’re right. What many teachers fail to take into account is the accumulation of every other teacher assigning that amount of homework, if not more. This, of course, was outlined in the original homework policy while it was explained to us. However, I, and I’m certain several other students, can say that we have experienced several examples of that rule being disregarded.

The failure to act upon the original rule against assigning “too much” homework is what makes eliminating homework completely a more reliable course of action if we want students at Canton High, and worldwide, to achieve results closer to those of Finland. Overall, the impact of our educational system will never reach its full potential until it recognizes that we are students second, children first.