There was a provocative piece in The Atlantic this week, “Poor Students Need Homework,” in which Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth grade teacher, argues that it’s not appropriate for affluent parents to dominate the debate about the value of homework.
Just because rich kids do well regardless of their homework load, that doesn’t mean the same thing is true for poor kids, Mr. Pondiscio contends.
[E]ducation “best practices,” fads, and trends tend to roll downhill from what ostensibly works in well-funded, affluent schools to those serving low-income kids of color. After all, if it’s what the best and wisest parent wants, it must be good for all children, right? Not necessarily.
Mr. Pondiscio’s piece reminds me of last year’s big French homework debate (there are always big debates in France), which pitted President Francois Hollande, who wanted to get rid of homework, against working class parents, who wanted more homework.
Over the past few years, I’ve written a bit about homework, and it’s pretty clear that I go back and forth on the topic. On the one hand, I’ve argued that students benefit from additional learning opportunities, and one hour a day of reading and writing in class just isn’t enough to close the achievement gap.
On the other hand, I’ve sometimes had my doubts. Is homework just an antiquated remnant from the factory model geared to force compliance and quash creativity? Alfie Kohn may not convince me on the perils of homework, but teachers who have abandoned homework and maintained good results sometimes do.
So where do I stand now? Well, one thing is true: I do agree with Mr. Pondiscio that rich parents, particularly those far away from the realities of urban public schools, shouldn’t be able to dictate what they want. Decisions about poor kids of color should come from the students’ parents, teachers, and local community.
In my experience, very few parents have told me that homework is a bad idea. To them, homework has meant hard work, and hard work has meant college, a dream come true. To those parents, even if students don’t complete their homework — which is very common, particularly among ninth graders of color in urban public schools — homework means rigor and a path to success.
Besides, a low homework completion rate is not an argument to get rid of homework. If you’re a teacher assigning homework and your students aren’t doing it, that’s your problem to solve, not theirs. The easy answers — to blame the students, to blame the parents, or to abolish homework altogether — don’t seem right, either.
Then again, just because homework has been a consistent component of the college-prep school experience does not mean that it should continue. And there’s nothing good about three hours of homework if it’s not worthwhile. As Mr. Pondiscio suggests, less homework and more independent reading might be the answer.
Wow, I’m confusing myself! Oh, how to get through this mess? There’s a lot going on here. I encourage you to read Mr. Pondisicio’s article and let me know your thoughts.
Coming up soon: A veteran teacher who no longer assigns homework and thinks it’s the best decision she’s ever made.