10 Reasons Homework Should Be Mandatory
It seems we’ve entered a period in which the homework debate is swinging to one side once again. Calls for homework to be banned far outweigh those extolling its merits, something undoubtedly shaped by the negative personal experiences that many writers and commentators had with it at school.
The well-rehearsed arguments these people use tend to focus on the same issues: homework carries no academic benefits, instills in kids an inherent dislike of education, takes time away from personal extracurricular development, and benefits the privileged few who can afford extra tuition. All of these, however, are demonstrably untrue. Having to complete homework during your school years deepens your understanding of a subject. It places the responsibility for learning on you, as the individual. And it teaches fundamental organizational skills that can be refined and carried throughout life.
Perhaps the most helpful addition to the homework debate would be to suggest that it shouldn’t be black and white. Making homework mandatory would indeed be beneficial, but only if homework is reformed, targeted and modernized. Likewise, we should put effort towards identifying those who would benefit from having to do homework. Indeed, those who demand an outright ban often fail to differentiate between age groups. But while the benefits of assigning elementary school kids homework may be debatable, for high school students preparing for college, they are not.
Homework is an invaluable preparatory tool; one that teaches discipline, organization and, if assigned correctly, one that can make kids fall in love for a subject through increased and detailed exposure to it. Here are 10 of the most important reasons why its prescription in schools should be mandatory.
10. It improves grades
At Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High School in Montebello, California, Principal David Chambers implements a very simple policy. He makes homework mandatory, requiring his students to complete it for the next day, either before or after school.
The idea first came about when Chambers was tasked with monitoring the records of the school’s numerous failing students. Noticing that many of them were receiving F grades in several subjects, Chambers decided that decisive measures had to be taken. So he set up a simple but effective system involving minimum school administration while maximizing the performance of his students. Students (and their parents) are notified that they must attend a study hall session in which to complete their homework. Teachers in charge of overseeing these twice-daily study sessions receive a stipend while a college student is tasked with the hour-long task of inputting the data into the school’s database.
Chambers’ mandatory homework policy is based on the theory that academic achievement increases the more you expose students to their subject material. In tandem with other evidence, the school’s academic record has so far proven this to be true. Firstly, students have seen an average GPA rise of half a point. Secondly, the school’s honor roll has gone from comprising 32 percent of the student body to 50 percent. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the number of students receiving failing grades has fallen by about a half, compared to before the policy’s introduction. But a rise in grade point averages is not the only argument for requiring students to spend more time with their books.
9. It exists in other countries, just not in the same form
The Internet abounds with arguments stating that there’s a correlation between the amount of homework a county’s children complete and the academic success they enjoy. But this is to use statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than for illumination. When people cite statistics comparing the grades of US students with those of other countries, what they’re neglecting to say is that kids in many other countries voluntarily study at home or elsewhere and revise what’s been covered in class.
Take Japan, for instance. A Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) study ranked Japan fourth and the US tenth in science scores, despite the fact that Japan sets comparatively low amounts of homework. This statistic would seem like a compelling argument for abandoning homework in the US if we didn’t consider unquantifiable cultural factors. But these factors exist, and the fact that Japanese kids take it upon themselves to complete homework that their teachers don’t set is more a truism than a cultural stereotype.
Instead of attending after school sports training or returning to their PS4s, many Japanese kids attend juku – or cram schools after the obligatory school day has finished. These schools exist because the Japanese education system guarantees neither graduation from junior high to high school nor graduation to college. Juku therefore make up a vital component of a highly competitive academic environment in which a large amount of work is completed. In essence it’s homework, just not homework assigned by their daytime schoolteacher.
8. Students can go into greater depth with a topic
It’s important to clarify that it’s not the amount of homework a student completes that determines their grades, but the deeper understanding of the material they gain from having completed it. And this, in itself, is a compelling reason for its continued and mandatory implementation in schools across the country.
This isn’t to say that obliging students to spend more time with a subject will necessarily have the desired effect. Students can, of course, be put off a subject for a variety of reasons such as the quality of their teacher of the attitude of their peers. But the fact is that children have an inherent love of learning, and it’s certainly more useful to start from the position that children who spend more time with a subject are likely to accrue a deeper knowledge and have a higher likelihood of a developing a love for it.
The most important thing for teachers to do is to make sure that specific, marked homework doesn’t introduce anything new. Instead if should offer an opportunity to review the class material. Indeed, these teacher responses testify the value of providing extended practice for subjects already covered in the classroom and show how homework helps consolidate and strengthen a student’s understanding of the topic. Children are, of course, at liberty to grow their knowledge in other ways: through reading, socializing, even playing educational video games. But in terms of school homework, more often than not the introduction of a new curricular topic outside the classroom is counterproductive.
7. It’s useful for teachers
Used in the correct way, homework provides teachers with a useful tool for evaluating what their students have and haven’t understood from their lessons. Though there’s little wriggle room in today’s rigid curricula, homework at least gives teachers an indication of topics that might need a little more attention. But it goes further than just this. Effective teachers are also able to set homework that will open up the way for targeted and specific feedback which goes beyond a mere check mark.
Another benefit of homework being used in this way is that it teaches responsibility. Provided you have a quality teacher who’s able to highlight and target a specific area, the onus falls on the student. If they’re told they have to improve something particular – spelling, for example – and continue to be careless or inattentive, this is something for which they must ultimately take responsibility when grading becomes involved.
It’s vital, therefore, to make sure that teachers assign homework that is beneficial to their students’ learning needs and don’t just assign homework as a matter of school policy – setting it for the sake of setting it. An effective teacher should instead be able to use homework as a tool that targets specific areas where students are struggling.
Homework, when considered in this way, is not the educational evil it’s so often made out to be. Instead of advocating its removal, perhaps we should address some of the more important issues: class-sizes, under- (or disproportionate-) resourcing and the insistence that teachers keep up with increasingly pointless and arbitrary targets.
6. It involves parents with a child’s development
It isn’t the parents’ responsibility to work through the homework’s content with their child. It is their responsibility, however, to facilitate good learning habits that are conducive to the homework being completed. This isn’t to say that a parent can’t also be active in their child’s learning by helping them. But parental responsibility – instead of lying with completing graded exercises that will harm more than help their child’s academic development – should lie with innovating new and exciting ways of learning. This fantastic article, The New Homework, outlines a dozen ways a parent can help nurture their child’s intellectual curiosity and adapt homework to the Information Age.
Among the activities it suggests is getting your child to research a controversial topic (they suggest global warming). After googling ten websites for information, you get your child to identify the site’s author or sponsor and try to decide on the site’s propagandistic aspect or bias on a scale of low to high. This activity, in theory, should open your child’s mind at an early age to the interests that lie behind the masses of information they’ll be exposed to throughout their life. In sum, it’ll teach them to think critically.
Another might be to ask your child to come up with a topic they’re particularly interested in and turn it into an extended project, to research over the course of a few months. This will teach them the value of developing a deep, ever-expanding knowledge of a topic, and teach them the foundations of keeping and developing the later skills and hobbies that will shape their non-professional life. Just as importantly, it’ll do something to reverse the tide of instant gratification that seems to be submerging most of today’s younger generation.