"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Homework Or No Homework?

It seems a simple question. Yet, addressing it can clearly illustrate the difference between ideology and research. Answering this question adequately pushes the right approach to education reform. Where do we begin? The president of France recently announced his plan to ban homework. An article in the Wall Street Journal states:
François Hollande has a bold new plan to tackle social injustice and inequality in France: ban homework. Introducing his proposals for education reform last week at the Sorbonne, the French president declared that work "must be done in the [school] facility rather than in the home if we want to support the children and re-establish equality." 
The rest of the article did not have kind words to describe the above plan:
Here we begin to wonder: Are the French losing their mind? Fortunately not. More than two-thirds of the country would oppose the ban, according to an Ifop poll, so there's hope that even in the land of égalité there's some recognition that state power cannot equalize everything.
One can browse through the comments on this article as well as recent conservative blogs and the overwhelming harsh remark seems to imply that banning homework as a means to re-establish equality is tantamount to making all children equally dumb. Banning or limiting the amount of homework is not new. It has been suggested as a pedagogical reform even in some schools in the United States. It should be no surprise then that there is research that has been done to address the benefits and harms of homework in schools. The Center for Public Education has compiled results from research on this topic. The following are the general highlights:
  • The link between homework and student achievement is far from clear. 
  • Homework appears to have more positive effects for certain groups of students:
  • Homework may have nonacademic benefits. 
  • Too much homework may diminish its effectiveness. 
  • The amount of homework completed by students seems to be more positively associated with student achievement than the amount of homework assigned by teachers. 
  • After-school programs that provide homework assistance may improve student behavior, motivation, and work habits but not necessarily academic achievement. 
  • The effect of parent involvement in homework is unclear. 
  • There is little research on connections between specific kinds of homework and student achievement.
From the above, it is evident that benefits of homework are far from being crystal clear. Homework, as with any additional tool to be used by schools for learning, requires a clear objective. What is the real purpose of assigning work to students outside classroom hours? With a stated goal in mind, the next step is to analyze the homework, its content and protocol. Are students supposed to work on their own? Are parents expected to assist their children when they do the homework? The answers to these questions are important as these may inadvertently introduce other factors into education. It is straightforward to demand that parents be involved in the education of their children. But in a society where the majority are poorly educated in the math and the sciences, this demand is completely unreasonable. In a society where there is a huge gap between the privileged and underprivileged, assigning homework can only exacerbate the socio-economic inequalities. This then defeats the purpose of education as a vehicle for social mobility. The following is a recent study, for example, by Marte Renning. These are results from schools in the Netherlands, but the findings could easily apply to other countries.
Downloaded from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027277571000083X#

Seeing this study makes the plan of the French president not look absurd after all. The French president was talking about social inequality and injustice. And if homework amplifies these social inequalities then it is counterproductive against the role of schools as possible social enablers or equalizers. The above study shows how homework affects the learning gap. However, it focuses mainly on how homework affects the "learning" side of education. It does not evaluate how homework can assist the "teaching" side. There are studies on this aspect as well. Below is one example.


http://www.springerlink.com/content/v83465j6p823g053/fulltext.pdf
Part of their conclusions is as follows:
This study shows that to really understand students’ thinking at a deeper and internal level, teachers should grade students’ homework and analyze errors from homework. The most important contribution from this study was that it provided a sample of a new model of grading homework that is feasible and practical for US classroom teachers. This model of grading student homework helps to solve the dilemma in grading homework practice in the US. Considering US teachers do not have sufficient time to grade all students’ homework daily, this study suggests grouping students into three levels of low, middle, and high and selecting one or two students’ homework from each group to grade on a daily basis. In addition, teachers should engage in an error analysis process daily by identifying error patterns and analyzing the possible reasons for the misconception. To have students master the concepts and skills correctly and accurately, teachers must provide feedback immediately by making corrections for errors, which is also a key aspect to improving self-efficacy.
This short excursion through one specific aspect of education illustrates the complexity of how to draw education reforms. And in my opinion, at the end of the day, it is really only the teacher who could correctly answer the question on whether assigning homework is working or not. This is only about homework. Imagine adding two years to basic education. This is certainly a much bigger question yet....

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino decried the “railroaded” passage of House Bill No. 6643 or the K-12 Bill on second reading, saying that the rushed bill contains provisions “not grounded on solid evidence.

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