Monday, September 18, 2006

Homework Debate Part 1562

Via Kevin Drum over at Washington Monthly: Connor Clarke at the American Prospect thinks the recent debate over homework an exercise in futility. He connects the homework debate to the achievement gap.

When it succeeds, homework is, in those rare instances, the poster-child example of an educational policy that overwhelmingly advantages rich students with well-educated parents. This shouldn't come as a shock, since homework, as its name implies, is usually done in the home. That is where differences in class, education, and family structure are starkest. As Richard Rothstein details in Class and Schools, those differences are not slight: Disadvantaged parents are less likely to help their children and, when they do, their help is likely to be less valuable. Affluent children are likely to have rooms or workspaces of their own, while many underprivileged students must carve out a nook in more crowded housing. And when they do so, they aren't apt to have computers or reference books on hand to help.

The point here is not that debates about educational policy are always a bad thing. Abolishing or reforming homework might be a worthwhile project, and it will doubtlessly increase the aggregate happiness of a certain demographic. But such reforms are always doomed to have a limited effect; the developmental impact of wealth and family is simply too great to ignore. So go ahead and scrap homework. (And, while you're at it, build me a time machine back to high school.) Just make sure you get rid of economic, social, and racial inequality, too.


A couple of comments.

My complaint of homework is completely seperate from my views on improving education and the achievement gap. I do think that the same methods that would improve school for low all performing groups, would also eliminate much of the need for hours of homework, but my main concern is that homework wastes precious time in a busy busy world.

I also think that he underestimates the heredity of iq and overestimates the influence of "early social context" and cultural experiences in childrens achievement.

In the end he sums up:

But such reforms are always doomed to have a limited effect; the developmental impact of wealth and family is simply too great to ignore. So go ahead and scrap homework. (And, while you're at it, build me a time machine back to high school.) Just make sure you get rid of economic, social, and racial inequality, too.


I think this is a case of putting the egg before the chicken. To many people think that if they could eliminate social inequities that the achievement gap would fix itself. I say that if we fix/improve education first, we can reduce the achievement gap, while raising the performance of all students. This would in turn improve the SES of the currently low performaning groups. Of course it will take a generation for us to see the results, but the last 40 years of helping hand social policies haven't succeeded either. I am not a right wing conservative. I believe in a nationalized healthcare system, that people should be taxed on a progressive scale, public education, and yes I think that some forms of welfare are necessary. Unfortunately, I think there is too much wishful thinking being done by parties on both sides of the political spectrum and not enough realistic solutions.

On another note... Emily Bazelon at Slate also agrees that there is too much homework, and I bet she doesn't even have five kids.

3 comments:

rightwingprof said...

The problem with the "too much homework" argument is that students already won't do the reading for classes. Give them ten pages of reading to do in a week, most of it pictures, tables, and charts, and they howl. Giving homework conditions students to the workload they will be expected to do in college. Giving less howework will only spoil them further.

The quality of homework is another issue, of course.

rory said...

I am for a reduction in the amount of homework, especially in K-5. 3rd graders with two hours of homework is ridiculous. They should have maybe 30 minutes of homework that reinforces what they learned previously (i.e. write spelling words or multiplication tables 3x). 75% of the homework that is given to my kids requires me to act as a default teacher. 30 minutes of "quality" homework and another 15 minutes of reading is quite enough for 8 year olds.

Hazek2402000 said...

As a sophmore myself, I find homework to be useless. Studing and reviewing work for tests is what helps me to maintain my A-B grades. Homework instead of helping me, stresses me out and on top of that takes away from my leisure time,which i treasure :)