In September 2006, Maclean’s magazine (which might be considered Canada’s version of Time Magazine) ran a cover story with a provocative title: “Homework is Killing Kids (and it’s not making them any smarter either).” Inside was an interview with Alfie Kohn, an outspoken former teacher and author of The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. Kohn contended that there is no research evidence indicating that homework is helpful. While that’s a bit of an exaggeration (see, for example, Cooper, Robinson & Pattall’s article in the Review of Educational Research which found that some kinds of homework is related to improvements at school), Kohn argued that, for elementary school students, there is no link between homework and achievement. At the high school level, there is a small connection, he said, that disappears when sophisticated statistical methods are employed. Kohn’s point is an interesting one: even if there is an effect on academics, are the potential benefits of homework sufficient to outweigh the costs?
If parents and educators were asked to list the potential benefits of completing homework assignments, there could be a number of responses: higher grades, better learning or retention, improvements in work ethic, and quality family time spent together. Admittedly, the research is mixed with regard to the positive impact on learning (check out Trautwein, Schnyder, et al. in Contemporary Educational Psychology), especially when kids have negative feelings about working at home. Kohn also argued that most of the work sent home with kids is “busy work,” aimed at giving them something to do besides playing video games, rather than improving their critical thinking skills.