If you want to prepare students for college, stop with the homework. This might seem like a provocative opening sentence to some, but please read to the end to see what I mean. With growing interest around “no homework” policies in schools, there is a persistent debate about the subject. Some point to early studies showing a correlation between homework and performance in school. Notice that these are correlation studies, but they don’t necessarily indicate causation. In other words, there is not certainly that doing homework is actually what resulted in the increased academic performance. Others argue that homework is an important part of preparing students for the next level, especially college. Opponents often contend that there is more to life than school, and homework unnecessarily extends school well into the evening hours, leaving less and less room for family, other hobbies, down time, free play, self-directed learning, and much more.
This entire subject is an interesting conversation to me because it really does depend upon what happens during the school day. People are assuming that the standard day of 40-60 minute classes (or maybe block periods) is the only option, but that is far from the truth. There are an endless number of ways to structure learning during a school day. It is just that we often seem to lack the creativity to explore other options. Yet, how we organize the school day is incredibly relevant to debates about homework.
Homework to Fill the Gap for a Lack of Creativity in School?
In some cases, homework is necessary because the school day is so absent of actual, student-centered times of inquiry, work, study, reading, research, and creation. Students sit in desks while teachers directed and dictate. Then they assign homework where students practice what they did not get a chance to practice during the day. Or, they work on projects that they couldn’t work on during the day. Teachers still sometimes think that they earn their keep by carefully directing each moment of the day and maybe even lecturing, leading demos and samples, and the like. Yet, most of us know that there are far more options available.
Different School Day Structures
I’ve been to schools where students are researching, designing, creating, experimenting, studying, practicing, and more during the entire school day. In such instances, homework as we often think of it, is often unnecessary because students are working all day long.
A Different Perspective on College Preparation
People sometimes say that homework is necessary to prepare students for college, but a typical undergraduate student taking 15 credits a semester for two semesters will spend about 450-500 hours in class each year (with additional “homework” beyond that) compared to high school students who spend about 1200 hours at school during the year (900-1000 of which is instructional time). So if high school was really about preparing for college, why not back off on homework and instead have students in classes half of the school day, with more rich, student-centered times of personal study, reading, study groups, research, creation and the like the other half of the day? It is fewer total hours of work compared to college (1200 hours in high school annually compared to about 1350 for in class and out of class work for two semesters of 15 credits each in college), but it probably mimics the college experience more accurately.
Or, maybe the the preparation for the next level perspective is altogether unhelpful. Maybe school should be more about equipping for the full spectrum of life and learning.