Educators discuss the value of homework for primary and secondary education

By Maritza Cruz

Tucson, Ariz.- As elections near for Proposition 123 Tucsonans question the effectiveness of education. Arizona education is currently ranked 47th in the country. Dr. Etta Kralovec, UA South associate professor of teacher education and program director of graduate teacher education, has a doctorate in philosophy from Teachers College of Columbia University. Kralovec is an advocate against homework in primary and secondary education.

Kralovec wasn’t always against homework.  It wasn’t until she read about a study that advocated against homework that she realized it was something valuable to explore.

Kralovec conducted a study in Maine about the correlation between high school dropouts and homework. She found that homework had actually played a role in their decision to drop out.

Kralovec published a book with John Buell in 2000 called The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning. In this book Kralovec explores several reasons to banning homework.

According to Kralovec’s article “Homework as an Issue in American Politics”, Kralovec said, “Homework creates especially serious barriers for poor families.”

She expanded on this issue arguing that low income students sometimes do not have the resources needed to complete homework assignments such as high speed internet.

“If you don’t have a place to work at home, which a lot of kids don’t have, why should the school assume that you have that work space at home? School should be where you do your schoolwork,” Kralovec said.

This economic difference puts some students at a disadvantage compared to students who have the money to pay for an ideal work space.

Homework prevents students from developing a passion

Kralovec believes homework takes time away from students who wish to spend time with their family as well as prevents students from developing passions.

“I actually think homework gets in the way of kids developing their own passion because they spend all their time on school driven agendas rather than have time to daydream and think about what they want to become and…read the books they want to read; watch the shows they want to watch. Kids need that down time to find out who they are,” Kralovec said.

In an article for KGUN9-TV Kralovec said homework could hurt a student’s chances of getting into college. Colleges have increasingly been interested in a student’s extracurricular activities and passions when determining admission. Sometimes a student’s homework can get in the way of these activities.

Calista Castillo, 15, a freshman at Tucson High Magnet School, agreed with Kralovec’s statement.

“I’ve had to miss softball practice sometimes for [homework],” Castillo said.

Castillo said she thinks there should be less homework but it shouldn’t be banned entirely.

Samantha Bingham, 16, a sophomore at Tucson High Magnet School, also agreed with Kralovec on her no homework policy although never had homework get in the way of her passions.

“I think in high school teachers don’t and students don’t take the learning seriously so giving us homework just makes us more behind,” Bingham said. “So once you get to college, if you do get to college, you’re obviously serious about school so that’s when you should.”

However, both students only receive about an hour of homework each night.

The Argument for Homework

Despite the numerous arguments against homework there are researchers who believe homework can be beneficial.

In 2006 there was a 16-year study on homework published by Cooper, Robinson and Patall. There was a control group (no homework) and an experimental group (homework). The study found that there was a positive correlation between homework and academic achievement for students from grades 7 through 12.

The researchers report in a paper for the spring 2006 edition of “Review of Educational Research.”:

“With only rare exceptions, the relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes was found to be positive and statistically significant. Therefore, we think it would not be imprudent, based on the evidence in hand, to conclude that doing homework causes improved academic achievement.” (p. 48)

Lois Lamer, the former CEO of Valley Academy for Career and Technological Education, recognized the pros and cons of homework.

“I would agree with less homework, too much homework takes up too much time and could ultimately lead some students to say, ‘I don’t like school’ which would not be to their benefit,” Lamer said.

Lamer agreed with Kralovec that some students do not have the resources to complete homework assignments and it is something the school system needs to address. Some students go home and need to provide for their family and the least of their worries is school.

“We should make sure that whatever it is that we do does not impede whatever it is that the child needs for life,” Lamer said.

According to Lamer, if homework is something that will be graded students who cannot finish their homework due to certain circumstances should not be penalized.

Lamer said that homework has some value for students. Homework teaches students about discipline and perseverance, skills that are essential for every job.

Lamer observed when she was CEO that every student learned differently. Lamer said lectures and readings do not benefit every student and this is something that needs to be addressed.

Kralovec spoke briefly about a new kind of classroom setting where students interacted with each other.

“One of my kids is a writer and she takes her computer to a coffee shop in LA where she sits and writes in a room full of other writers that are there and that’s what high school should be,” Kralovec said.

Homework is due to lack of time in school day

Tracey Alexander, UA admissions counselor, said UA judges students primarily on the Arizona Board of Regents 16 core criteria. In addition, extracurricular activities and volunteer work is also considered but a student must meet the Arizona Board of Regents standards.

“I don’t think that you could pass those 16 core credits successfully in high school without homework. There is just not enough time in the day and there is too many requirements for teachers to teach to like a standardized test that there isn’t time to cover everything in 52 minutes,” Alexander said.

However, both Kralovec and Lamer recognized the flaw in running out of time.

Kralovec said if schools cut out distracting aspects of school there would be enough time to cover everything. For example, distractions such as announcements over the PA system, required pep rallies and performances.

Lamer acknowledged the time constraint that teachers are under.

“If the school day does not give enough time to cover the curriculum then the curriculum in my opinion would be long,” Lamer said.

The Perspective of a UA College Student

Sonia Tomasco, 18, UA sophomore majoring in molecular and cellular biology, thought homework helped her adjust to college.

“Homework gives you practice with the things that you may or may not be interested in and that is a way of developing either what it is you’re passionate in or learning what you aren’t passionate in,” Tomasco said.

Tomasco reflected on how high school homework helped her adjust to college homework.

“If you’re thrown into college, which is already a stressful situation, and then having to learn how to do homework on top of that, I think that is just a recipe for disaster for students,” Tomasco said.

The Future of Homework

While many believe homework is detrimental to education there are those who find value in homework. Scholars will continue to discuss homework’s value for years.

As of right now the future of homework remains open.