The case against homework
The founder of Stop Homework argues the unfathomable: that common educational practices are cheating our kids out of a real education.
Do your homework! Check out what the research says about homework's efficacy.
How much is too much? Study our grade-by-grade guide to appropriate homework.
Study time vs. family time: Parents sound off on finding a balance between homework and home life.
A case of procrastinitus: One expert weighs in on a girl whose homework foot-dragging is making her fall behind.
"What's the point?" One teen flat-out refuses to do her homework. Can our expert bring her around?
Scattershot syndrome: A surprising diagnosis for a student struggling with disorganization and distraction.
Disorganization disorder: Can our expert help a middle-schooler struggling with structure?
By Leslie Crawford
When it comes to homework wars, many parents feel like they’re waging a losing battle against apathy or excuse making. But what if you happen to side with your kids about the pointlessness of their assignments?
Sara Bennett, the founder of Stop Homework and coauthor of The Case Against Homework (Crown, 2006), raised hell and ultimately changed the homework policy at her daughter's school. GreatSchools talked to the lawyer turned reformer about preposterous projects and how children can learn to think for themselves.
GreatSchools: Why did you start an anti-homework campaign?
Sara Bennett: It started when my son brought homework home in the first grade. His first assignment was a reading log. He didn’t know how to read or write, so my husband and I filled in his log for him. At the first parent-teacher conference, the teacher said our son had to do the homework. I didn’t agree since he didn’t yet read.
I was an advocate in my work life, so it comes naturally to me to speak up. Whenever they’d talk about homework at my children’s school, I’d raise my hand and say, “Could you tell me why you’re doing this?”
Then in 2000 there was a big splash about a school in Piscataway, N.J., that stopped homework. And there was a book that came out around the same time, The End of Homework. This all gave me the factual basis that [homework] doesn’t make sense. It takes too much time, and it’s just busywork.
After that other parents came to me and said, “Can you help?” Also, my daughter, who is three years younger than my son, had more homework since she was caught up in No Child Left Behind. The standard became doing two hours a night. At that point, my husband and I were pretty radical about it and felt she didn’t need to do all this homework.
GreatSchools: Did that affect your daughter’s grades?
SB: Yes, she got pretty bad grades. But it was way, way, way too much homework. We had her do the background reading and not the assignments. But we did have her do the big projects so she wouldn’t be singled out.
GreatSchools: What about parents helping with homework?
SB: The first time I knew parents did projects for their kids was when my son was in third grade. They were supposed to make a little doll out of a clothespin that was representative of immigration. My son made the doll by himself.
I was riding my bike through the neighborhood and a parent said, “Hey, how’s your doll coming along?” When I asked, “What doll?” she answered, “Julian’s doll.” I told her that Julian [was] done with his doll. Then she told me that all the parents [were] making their children’s dolls.
It was unbelievable. When the dolls were displayed, my son’s was hidden in the back because it was the only one that looked like it didn’t belong in a museum. I went to the teacher and said, “Julian’s the only one who made his doll. I did third grade 30 years ago — I don’t need to now.” The teacher didn’t get it, but Julian did.
Both my children are artists. I think it’s because we never had our hands in their work [that] they continued to develop and are proud of their work.
GreatSchools: Dr. Harris Cooper’s synthesis of studies on homework indicates that homework does improve academic achievement.
SB: Did he say what it improves? My understanding of homework and achievement is that you will get a better course grade. Of course, you’ll get a better grade if doing homework counts for 10 or 20% of [it]. More than likely, you’ll also do better on the teacher-created tests by studying for them the night before. But that has nothing to do with actual learning. Most kids learn things for tests and then promptly forget them. That’s not real achievement. Real achievement is learning long-term life skills, the ability to be a creative thinker and work with others. Those should be the goals of education.