I try to keep my politics out of this blog (though anyone who reads it can probably guess). However, I ran across an article today that just simply blew my mind. It takes place in France, under the new Socialist president Hollande. Whatever he’s doing to the country is outside the scope of education, but he has placed his nose into education and even classroom practice.
According to the article, he wishes to discontinue the practice of homework. Now, I won’t deny some truth to his arguments. For younger students, homework has very little academic benefit. Most of the research I’ve read suggests 5-10 minutes of homework at the most for young kids. I still remember my personal experience with homework. A lot of it was worthless, pointless word-finds, stupid puzzles, and all stuff that had absolutely no benefit. “Busywork” is a common term.
The research on homework suggests that it should be practice of skills students have already learned. At younger ages, the main benefit of homework is to introduce students to the habit of getting work done, sticking with something, and working independently. Older students do benefit more from homework, though the benefit is mixed based on a number of factors. The suggestion one source I quickly looked up is that homework in high school should be between 1.5-2 hours a night. I’ve read other research that ties homework to years of age.
So, the president of France wants to eliminate homework. I disagree that this is a governmental decision: it should be a classroom decision. But, my real problem was this argument from the article:
“An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home,” as a way to ensure that students who have no help at home are not disadvantaged.
That really strikes me wrong. In fact, it holds shades of Harrison Bergeron. Since some students are born disadvantaged, all must be held back. Instead of helping the students who don’t have advantages, this clearly suggests holding back those who do have advantages. That is scary. I’ve heard similar arguments in my school against a course I teach: Algebra 1 to eighth graders. Apparently, this course places other students at a disadvantage because they will benefit from being around the more advanced math students. That is a scary argument. Instead of targeting better instruction to the weaker students, the better students should be held back.
The correct answer to the homework question is that educators should answer it based on the needs of their students. Homework should be meaningful. It should give students practice. It should not be too much nor should it be too little.
Government fiat is not the way to improve education.