Education complication

Emily Burleson, Staff Writer

Students spend a large amount of time working on homework, and for those who focus most of their energy on receiving competitive grades, it is exhausting and not very beneficial.

Newly elected French president François Hollande is even willing to abolish homework, and the current structure of the French school day, in order to maximize actual learning and even the playing field. This is a positive direction for France to move in, and one America should consider as well – reforms in education should adjust both homework levels and school hours as opposed to simply lengthening the school day.

Here in America, students wishing to get into Ivy League universities or just make their parents happy spend an overwhelming amount of energy studying. Not only is the amount of time spent studying a problem, but students do not seem to be getting anything out of their efforts, other than disjointed and seemingly random skills and facts that do little to improve their actual understanding of the subject as a whole. Knowing how to do an electron configuration or the exact date Abraham Lincoln died will not help students anywhere in the real world other than the slim possibility of being on Jeopardy. More focus should be placed on topics that apply to multiple subjects, like Greek and Roman root words.

A study conducted by Harris Cooper, an education professor at Duke University, revealed that students who did homework scored significantly better on standardized tests than students who did none. However, Cooper’s study also found that students who did over two hours of homework a night got even lower test scores than students who did none at all. Also, homework only improved students’ scores on standardized tests, and did not show how much the students actually absorbed about the subject.

Every politician sitting in Congress right now brought up education reform at some point in their campaign. Most of them mention the US’s depressing placement in international student achievement tests, and conclude the best way to resolve this is to lengthen the school day so students spend more time learning. The opposite needs to be done. Changing the length of the school day, but keeping classroom policies and style of learning the same, is counterproductive – what the education system does not need more of. Instead, the way time is used during the school day should be looked at.

Students spend less than an hour in seven different classes a day in Katy ISD. This leaves teachers with hardly enough time to check homework, teach a detailed lesson and allow students to ask questions. Switching to “A” and “B” days, with each day containing three or four classes about two hours long each would allow teachers to teach a more comprehensive lesson and students would not need to rely on tutorials to stay afloat in their more challenging classes.

Homework assignments are often based in memorization or vocabulary, historic dates or math concepts. Not much emphasis is placed on overall understanding of the subject or why students have to memorize everything. This is not in reference to the popular student question of “What are we ever going to use this for in life?”, rather, students should be told at the beginning of a new unit or assignment what the new skill will do for them in the vast universe that is chemistry or US history.

On international student achievement tests, students from countries who did best – such as Japan, Denmark and the Czech Republic – have teachers who assign less homework, while students in countries such as Greece, Thailand and Iran, who did poorly on achievement tests, teachers assign mountains of work.

Most homework assigned to high school students is not exploratory learning, it is “busy work” assigned by teachers for practice before a quiz or test. If good study habits and time management skills had been taught to the student from kindergarten on, teachers should not have to assign “busy work” in high school- it should be a part of a student’s individual desire to learn or get caught up. “Busy work” simply hinders those who are already prepared for quizzes and prevents them from doing meaningful homework or extracurricular activities.

Graded homework may be a good way to ensure kids actually get practice there is no time for in the classroom, but it is unfair to impact a student’s GPA for not understanding a topic. Students have classes they are stronger or weaker in. When a homework assignment is graded and the student does not understand the material to begin with, all they receive is a failing grade in the grade book, not “extra practice”. This can be said about any core class or foreign language, even English. If a student does not understand what they are reading the night before a quiz, they are certain to fail. Homework immediately graded or assessed with no time to correct misunderstandings does nothing but hurt students.

Homework and the reason students have to do it need to be seriously re-thought, whether it be limiting the amount or type of homework or abolishing it altogether.