The word homework doesn’t just elicit groans from students. Many veteran educators aren’t fans of it either.
Barbara Tollison, a high school English teacher with nearly four decades in the classroom, stopped assigning homework five years ago. In lieu of writing papers, she asks her 10th graders in San Marcos, California, to read more books before bed.
“For the kids who understand the information, additional practice is unnecessary,” she told TODAY Parents. “The kids who need more support are going to go home and not do it right. It's just going to confuse them more. They don’t have the understanding and they need guidance.”
Tollison is part of a growing movement that believes learners can thrive academically without homework. According to Alfie Kohn, author of “The Homework Myth,” there’s never a good excuse for making kids work a second shift of academics in elementary and middle school.
“In high school, it’s a little more nuanced,” Kohn told TODAY Parents. “Some research has found a tiny correlation between doing more homework and doing better on standardized tests. But No. 1, standardized tests are a lousy measure of learning. No. 2, the correlation is small. And No. 3, it doesn’t prove a causal relationship. In other words, just because the same kids who get more homework do a little better on tests, doesn’t mean the homework made that happen.”
Kohn noted that “newer, better” studies are showing that the downside of homework is just as profound in 16-year-olds as it is in 8-year-olds, in terms of causing causing anxiety, a loss of interest in learning and family conflict.
“For my book, I interviewed high school teachers who completely stopped giving homework and there was no downside, it was all upside,” he shared.
“There just isn’t a good argument in favor of homework,” Kohn said.
Katie Sluiter, an 8th grade teacher in Michigan, couldn’t agree more. She believes that the bulk of instruction and support should happen in the classroom.
“What I realized early on in my career is that the kids who don’t need the practice are the only ones doing their homework,” Sluiter told TODAY Parents.
Sluiter added that homework is stressful and inequitable. Many children, especially those from lower-income families, have little chance of being successful with work being sent home.
“So many things are out of the student’s control, like the ability to have a quiet place to do homework,” Sluiter explained. “In my district, there are many parents that don’t speak any English, so they’re not going to be able to help with their child’s social studies homework. Some kids are responsible for watching their younger siblings after school.”
Sluiter also doesn’t want to add “an extra pile of stress” to already over-scheduled lives.
“Middle school is hard enough without worrying, ‘Did I get my conjunctions sheet done?’” she said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s just too much. We need to let them be kids."
Kohn, who has written 14 books on parenting and education, previously told TODAY that moms and dads should speak up on behalf of their children.
"If your child's teacher never assigns homework, take a moment to thank them for doing what's in your child's best interest — and for acknowledging that families, not schools, ought to decide what happens during family time," he said. "If your child is getting homework, organize a bunch of parents to meet with the teacher and administrators — not to ask, 'Why so much?' but, given that the research says it's all pain and no gain, to ask, 'Why is there any?'"