I Hate Homework. I Assign It Anyway.

The New York Times

I hate — hate — homework.

I hated homework when I was a student, I hate the battle of wills I have with my second-grader and I hate seeing my middle-school-age son miss out on the afternoons of his childhood.

But most of all, I hate being a hypocrite. So it’s time to come clean: I am a teacher, and I assign homework.

I have always assigned homework because that is what teachers do; if I didn’t, word would get around that I am a pushover, or don’t care enough about my students to engage their every waking moment with academics. When I first started teaching, I assigned homework liberally and without question, and scoffed at my students’ complaints about their workload. I expected them to keep quiet, buck up and let me do my job.

But 13 years later, I find myself at a crossroads. My son Ben is in middle school, and homework is no longer an abstract concept. I can’t just assign it and forget it, and I will no longer sacrifice my students’ right to their childhood so easily.

I am not the only parent — or teacher, for that matter — questioning the value of homework. It’s the subject of heated debate in school meetings and Internet chat rooms across the country. Even elite private schools in New York City are vowing to lighten their homework load.

The popular media tempest surrounding homework formed in 2006 with the publication of two books on the subject: “The Homework Myth,” by Alfie Kohn, and “The Case Against Homework,” by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, followed by Time Magazine’s The Myth About Homework by Claudia Wallis. Last year, Vicki Abeles’s documentary “Race to Nowhere” joined the fray. In her film, Ms. Abeles claims that today’s untenable and increasing homework load drives students to cheating, mental illness and suicide.

So is homework worth it or not? I went directly to the source. I asked my students whether, if homework were to completely disappear, they would be able achieve the same mastery of the material. The answer was a unanimous — if reluctant — “No.”

Most echoed my son Ben’s sentiments: “If I didn’t have homework, I don’t think I’d do very well. It’s practice for what we learn in school.” But, they all stressed, that’s only true of some homework. “Bad” homework — busy work and assignments that don’t do anything but eat up precious evening hours, is (as one of my more opinionated students put it) “a stupid waste of my time.”

Fair enough. If my students feel that quality homework is worth the effort, I’m keeping it. With one caveat. All assignments must pass the “Ben” test. If an assignment is not worthy of my own son’s time, I’m dumping it. Based on a quick look at my assignment book from last year, about a quarter of my assignments won’t make the cut.

Children need time to be quiet, play, read and imagine. Teachers who sacrifice these vital elements of childhood for anything less than the most valuable homework assignments are being derelict in their duty to their students and the teaching profession.

France’s President Pledges to Abolish Homework

François Hollande, French President, Pledges To Abolish Homework As Part Of Education Reforms

Posted: 10/13/2012 12:17 pm EDT Updated: 10/13/2012 12:17 pm EDT

Francois Hollande

French President François Hollande this week announced his plans to get rid of homework as part of his far-reaching education reforms, France 24 reports, a move that is also becoming popular among individual American schools.

In his speech, Hollande outlined proposals for his five-year term, which also include increasing teacher presence in disadvantaged areas, targeting absenteeism and reducing the number of students who fail and are thus forced to repeat school years. He pledged to employ some 60,000 teachers in the coming years after former French President Nicolas Sarkozy cut tens of thousands of jobs.

Under Hollande’s reforms, the school week would also return to four and a half days. It had been reduced to four under the previous administration in an effort to cut costs.

“Education is priority,” Hollande said at Paris’s Sorbonne University on Wednesday. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”

According to Global Edmonton, Hollande also told reporters that students aren’t on a level playing field when it comes to homework, since some are able to get help from their parents while others cannot.

Just last week, a German high school banned homework in an effort to help students unwind, United Press International reports. Most parents are in favor of the change, and school officials say they will test-run the ban for the next two years to see how effective it is. Michael von Tettau of Elsa-Brandstrom high school said that for students, “there is barely enough time for sport or to learn a musical instrument,” adding that a 44-hour working week was just too much.

The no-homework policy has already been adopted by some schools in the U.S. In lieu of assigning homework, teachers at Gaithersburg Elementary School in Maryland ask students to spend 30 minutes a night reading.

Principal Stephanie Brant said she sought permission from the district to abolish homework after the school’s staff determined the majority of assignments were worksheets that did not relate to what students were studying in the classroom. So far, the experiment has seen mixed results. The percentage of third graders passing the Maryland School Assessment reading test declined from 76 percent to 64 percent this spring. Meanwhile, the fourth-grade pass rate remained the same, while fifth graders scored at 84 percent proficiency, up from 81 percent the year before.

Still, the scores are impressive given 70 percent of Gaithersburg’s students come from non-English speaking households and 82 percent qualify for free or subsidized lunch.

Elsewhere, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee scrapped extra credit and graded homework for middle schoolers. Administrators are hopeful these measures will allow for better confirmation that students have actually mastered the material they are being taught.