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Hot Button Education: should schools ban homework?

By Kate Lavin, Editor-in-Chief

Google Classroom tracks assignments and their due dates.

Payton is known not only for being one of the highest academically achieving schools, but also for its intense course load. Payton students routinely spend multiple hours a day working on homework and other assignments, amounting to an average of fifteen plus hours per week, in addition to extracurricular activities like sports and clubs. For many students, this can be overwhelming and take a toll on their mental health. However, the heavy workload allows some to improve their time management skills and learn techniques to handle intense stress. Is homework a pointless, anxiety-inducing task or is it simply misunderstood?

Homework is a major aspect of a student’s life, not only at Payton, but across the nation. However, limiting or banning homework is a somewhat foreign concept — literally. The countries most well-known for their scarce amount of homework are in Europe and Asia. Finland leads the charge, with as little as 2.8 hours of after school work per week, followed by South Korea with 2.9 hours, and Japan with 3.8 hours. World Population Review ranks these three countries in the top 10 in regards to test scores in reading, science, and math. Finland was ranked third in 2021, South Korea ranked fifth, and Japan sixth. On the other hand, the United States was ranked No. 26. However, it is unclear if this is a direct correlation. For example, China was ranked No. 1  but Chinese students regularly spend almost three hours per day on homework. 

While eliminating homework may not seem feasible to many, Payton has made its own adjustments to assist students in dealing with courseload. Enrichment programs assist in tutoring and also provide quiet places to study, in addition to the block schedule. Payton’s website states that the block schedule “includes the benefit of helping students focus energy on, at most, four subject areas for homework.”

“It’s a tricky balance of several things [including] student capacity given context (i.e. what can students reasonably and healthfully do/learn/achieve given the compounding stressors of the global pandemic,” said Mr. Walker via email. Walker and Ms. Roach recently made the change to make homework optional in their algebra classes. “We want our students to enter confidently into the next math course, or their next high-stakes test (which is a whole other equity issue, don’t even get me started, or listen to the excellent TAL episode on how high-stakes testing create significant and inequitable obstacles to accessing higher education.)”

In this article, we will dive into the arguments for and against a ban on homework. 

Against

Some of the biggest advocates for homework argue not about academics, but about its effect on social emotional learning. Social emotional learning, or SEL, is a process that strengthens a student’s ability to regulate themselves and their relationships with others. The five major sections of SEL include self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. The implementation of homework grows student proficiency in the first four categories. Homework improves time management, especially when balanced with extracurriculars and at-home responsibilities. It develops independence while simultaneously providing opportunities for students to build relationships with their teachers by asking questions and self-advocating. Homework assignments such as projects and papers are also present in higher education. By preparing students with similar course loads in high school, students can ideally develop good study habits that will be useful later in life. 

Parents also find that homework allows them to get more involved with their child’s learning. By bringing schoolwork into the home, parents can see what is being taught in their child’s school and can provide assistance if required. Banning homework would eliminate that. 

“I think homework is important to reinforce what you’ve learned in class, but not so much homework that it’s overwhelming, which can be counterproductive,” said Payton parent Tracy DeAllume. “I feel like Payton strikes a good balance.”

Supporting

American teens report having around three hours of homework per day. When coupled with in-school hours, students spend an average of 52.5 hours per week doing schoolwork. Illinois overtime laws state that adults who work over their 40 hour workweek are to be compensated with overtime pay. Students do not see that same benefit. This amount of homework conflicts with the busy schedules of Payton students, who are not only involved in clubs, but also work jobs, and have home and family responsibilities. The American Psychological Association (APA) also reports that the impact of excessive homework disproportionately affects students from less affluent families, who typically already experience higher levels of anxiety than students of a higher socioeconomic status. 

“Neuroscience tells us that people can’t learn when they’re under stress and that they can’t get better at something without practicing,” continued Walker, “Our imperfect solution is to get as much practice as we can during class (while still creating opportunities for us to check for students’ understanding) and let the HW be optional, and continue to allow students to resubmit their outcomes (quizzes).”

Additionally, excessive amounts of schoolwork does not improve productivity. According to Time Magazine, researchers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that more than four hours of homework per week had a “negligible impact on performance.” 

Ultimately, homework can be detrimental to students’ mental and physical health. Teenagers are recommended to get between 8–10 hours of sleep per night, and US News World and Report states that only 15% of students actually get that, which they believe is due to excessive work. Stanford researcher, Denise Pope, reported that 56% of the students in her study reported homework as a primary source of stress. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that 32% of adolescents experienced an anxiety disorder compared to 19% of adults. Stress is known to not only affect sleep, but can also result in headaches, chest pain, stomach issues, colds, and more. If homework is a major stressor in the life of a student, it makes sense that homework should be reduced or eliminated in order to protect students’ physical and mental health. 

Conclusion

There are arguments both for and against abolishing homework. Ultimately, it may come down to the student themself. “All our students are wonderfully unique, and while some may be experiencing significant stress and unable to take on intellectual challenges at the moment, others may be yearning for more opportunity to challenge their minds and test their limit[s],” said Mr. Walker. 

Which side are you on? 

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