dr David Coleman: The scholastic gain of little kids doing homework is really quite small, so does it make sense?
Homework for elementary school students has been in the national spotlight since President Higgins last week appeared to suggest that children should spend less time on homework, giving them more time for creative and imaginative pursuits.
listened with interest to part of the subsequent discourse on various radio stations and read some opinion pieces in the newspapers on this subject. I’ve long believed that elementary school homework was unnecessary. Much of this perspective has been framed by the anecdotal evidence from my clients over the past 20+ years. Before the advent of smartphones, homework was the number one focus of conflict between parents and their children. Since smartphones took that number one spot, homework has become the second most complained about chore by parents I meet. It is of course possible that if there were no homework, the conflict would be about something else.
However, I’ve read a lot of recent research on homework, and there’s no clear evidence that it provides enough academic benefit to offset the stress it causes. There are many meta-analyses (a merging of the results of many research studies) on the effect of homework on the academic performance of elementary school students. The majority of them have shown that homework leads to better academic results, but the effect size is small and often only statistically meaningful as opposed to being meaningful in the real world.
A recent European study, looking at results from 24 countries around the world, found that the amount of homework assigned to primary school students was not related to their academic performance. This means that their school performance must be explained by factors other than the amount of homework children get.
At the same time, there are many other good reasons for giving children homework. A recent Irish study examined teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of homework. Many parents expect their child to get homework and would be upset if they didn’t get homework for fear of falling behind in school. Teachers in the same study described how they would not be able to cover the curriculum if they did not give homework. Aside from the academic benefits these teachers attributed to homework, they also talked about how they thought homework empowered children to work independently, taught them time management, and prepared them for the added rigors of secondary school.
All of these can be relevant reasons for giving homework to elementary school students. However, as with any problem, we always try to weigh the potential benefit of a task against the cost of that task. From my analysis of the research, these potential benefits are always outweighed by the reported emotional and psychological costs to children and their parents.
A 2015 research study measured family stress and found that it increased as the homework load increased and parents’ perceptions of their ability to provide support decreased. Even when parents feel they are not well placed to provide educational support for their child, they feel an obligation to help in an educational role. I think we’ve all come across examples of homework or project work that may actually have been created by a parent.
This is often the most stressful circumstance, as parents’ attempts to help can lead to greater confusion and tension (“the teacher didn’t teach us that”). When parental involvement in homework is critical or controlling, research has shown that this is associated with poorer academic performance and lower child self-esteem.
Research, then, does not provide fervent support for continuing the practice of giving elementary school children homework. While there may be very little progress in academic performance, there is a risk that greater conflict and tension can arise at home, which in turn can be associated with a decline in that academic performance.
It seems to me that the practice of giving homework is just part of the cultural norm in Ireland, which is not the same as saying it’s the right thing to do. President Higgins has done our country another good service by emphasizing an alternative view, and one that psychological research would suggest is worth exploring more.
While some parents may worry about their children’s lack of educational progress, I imagine there is an equally large group of parents who would welcome liberation from the tyranny of daily homework supervision and the tears and tantrums that come with it.
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/dr-david-coleman-the-academic-gain-from-young-kids-doing-homework-is-really-quite-small-so-is-there-any-point-in-it-42322037.html dr David Coleman: The scholastic gain of little kids doing homework is really quite small, so does it make sense?