Do All Students Need Homework?

Vatterott_c120x148A parent once asked her daughter’s teacher, “If my daughter already knows how to do these math problems, why does she have to do 30 of them?”—to which the teacher replied, “Well, if she already knows how to do them, then she should breeze right through it.”

The answer to the question, “Do all students need homework?” depends on what you think the purpose of homework is. If you believe its purpose is to reinforce learning or extend learning outside the classroom, then you probably believe that students need more challenging homework. If you believe its purpose is to develop independent learners, then you probably believe students should be able to create their own homework. If you believe its purpose is simply to build the habit of doing homework, then you probably believe all students must have homework.

The idea that some students would not have homework makes many people uncomfortable because it may seem unfair. But if you believe that the purpose of homework is to help students master a set of standards for a grade level or course—and the student has done that—then you may be quite comfortable with some students not doing homework.

In standards-based systems, homework is often optional. If the student can pass the assessments, then he or she has shown mastery; the homework is merely a tool for those who need it, as in many college courses. If a student gets 100 percent on the 3rd grade spelling test, that student doesn’t have spelling homework. And no, they don’t get extra homework in other subjects.

Most of us could see the logic of not making an Olympic athlete or a gifted musician do homework because they are using that time to hone a unique talent. But if we stop assigning unnecessary homework to all our students, they may spend that extra time reading; learning Spanish; or delving into their passion for history, science, or art. And isn’t that what educating the whole child is all about?

Post submitted by Cathy Vatterott, author of “Five Hallmarks of Good Homework,” featured in the September 2010 Educational Leadership.