Missing the Point

Homework - vector maths.jpg

How much homework should students be required to do every night?

In his column this week, Jay Mathews is outraged at the commonly-repeated number of 2.7 hours. He claims the amount is currently more like an hour a night, after “an inadequate average of five hours of class a day”.

Mathews is trying to convince the reader that students should be doing more than an hour a night, especially in high school, bringing in several examples from the media of what he calls “widespread falsehoods about homework overload”.

However, in his effort to argue the minutes with cherry-picked opponents, he completely misses the far more important question: Why should kids be required to do school work at home in the first place?

What is the value of homework? Where is the research, or any kind of evidence, showing this kind of assignment actually improves learning?

He does manage to answer one question: if one hour is not enough, how much time should kids be spending on homework?

People on my side of the argument would say that three hours of homework a night is fine if the courses raise achievement and college readiness. I don’t think our kids’ favorite pastimes, video games and TV, are as good for them as going deep into those courses. And even three hours of homework leaves another three hours or so each night (plus the weekend) for nonacademic pursuits.

Which leads to another question: how do you measure “achievement” and “college readiness”?

Like most education “experts”, Mathews would point to standardized test scores, especially the AP, his one true love. Even though there’s very little evidence that lots of homework leads to improved numbers on those assessments.1

Now I just have one more question: why does the Post pay good money for clueless and unsupported opinion columns like this? Even someone as rich as Bezos shouldn’t want to waste money on this crap.


The image is a stock photo from the Wikipedia article on homework. It offers a far more balanced approach to the subject than does Mathews.

1. That’s according to Alfie Kohn, someone who has actually studied the research about the value of homework. I highly recommend his landmark book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, which is still relevant fifteen years after publication.

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