French President François Hollande proposed banning homework as part of a school reform package last week. French schoolkids already put in long school days: 8:30 to 4:30 or longer. But that's not Hollande's concern. In fact, he wants to extend the school week from 4 days to 4.5.
Instead, he is worried about the inequality factor—kids who get extra help at home have an unfair edge, he frets. "An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home."
He's right that homework sucks. But not for the reasons he thinks. Kids with involved parents will always have an edge, whether or not they have a pile of books to schlep home every day. But new research suggests that slamming kids with extra work may be counterproductive, especially for younger kids:
Inundating children with hours of homework each night is detrimental, the research suggests, while an hour or two per week usually doesn't impact test scores one way or the other. However, homework only bolsters students' academic performance during their last three years of grade school. "There is little benefit for most students until senior high school (grades 10-12)," Walker [says].
One solution to fixing the broken homework system that is gaining currency in U.S. circle is flip teaching, or flipping the classroom. Why not have kids work on problem sets, art projects, and writing assignments while they're in class, with access to extra help? Let them do the passive consumption part of their education—listening to lectures, watching educational videos, or reading textbooks—on their own time at home. Online learning tools make this a more viable option than ever.
Kids who quickly grasp a concept can speed through the tutorials, while kids who need to hear or see (or both) the explanation again can repeat it as many times as they want without slowing down other kids or fearing embarrassment. The result would be less homework overall and more flexibility for kids.
Even if we can't achieve this kind of radical reform, though, that's no excuse for giving a second grader three hours of homework. Free play time helps grow smart kids. Let the kids go!
Unfortunately, homework tends to come back into style when people fear that Americans are falling behind (ahem, winning the future, ahem, China, ahem), which means we're probably in for another uptick in homework, evidence to the contrary be damned.
Bonus: The kicker of The Washington Post's coverage of this issue won my heart.
His homework position is not original; some school districts in the United States did the same thing going back more than a century. Early in the 1900s, the influential Ladies' Home Journal magazine called homework "barbarous," and school districts such as Los Angeles abolished it in kindergarten through eighth grade. In fact, some educators said it caused tuberculosis, nervous conditions and heart disease in the young and that children were better off playing outside. The American Child Health Association in the 1930s labeled homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease.