To American students, the removal of homework from their curriculum seems like an astoundingly foreign concept, and at first it may sound like the pipe dream of a disgruntled elementary school student. This is why it’s so shocking to hear that Finland has removed it from their public schools, and students are performing well without it. In fact, Finland as of 2016 is ranked as having the best school system in the world according to the Global Competitiveness Report released by the World Economic Forum.
So is this a fluke or is it a cause? Throughout the course of this paper, I’m going to go into detail about the reasons why giving homework the boot may help put America back at the top of the educational ranks.
My first point will most likely resonate with many parents, that homework takes too much time out of the days of children and provides them with unnatural and unneeded amounts of stress. A recent study done by Stanford shows that too much homework can lead to not only large amounts of stress, but may be harmful to the health of many teenagers. Many students can attest to the fact that sleep deprivation has become the relative norm, and that it takes away time that could be spent doing things such as reading, developing skills like the ability to play a musical instrument, and spending time with family and friends. Experiences such as these are vital in the development of children and teenagers, shaping them into the adults they will one day become. The people we meet and the things we experience are what truly make a human well rounded and mature, and as a Linworth student this is a belief in which my life, at least at school, has been heavily based.
This is the reason that I have such a strong distaste towards homework. Homework is time we are forced to waste. Instead of being able to spend my day outside of the standard school or work day as I please, I’m forced to sacrifice a significant portion of my free time doing what is in the majority of cases, unneeded busy work that leaves me more bored and frustrated than actually educated. And I don’t have it bad relative to other high school students. Linworth grants us plenty of time throughout the day to study and work on assignments, and due to the strong focus on experiential learning many of the teachers have similar views to me when it comes to homework. In the standard, overpopulated high school with endless hallways and classrooms however, the work becomes formulaic and overly time consuming.
According to a recent poll conducted by the University of Phoenix, the average American high school student does 3.5 hours of homework every weeknight. If you take that number and stretch it out over longer periods of time the number becomes absolutely overwhelming. With students doing that amount of homework every weekday, that means that the average American high school student does 17.5 hours of homework a week. If you take that number and stretch it out over the course of a year, students do 630 hours of homework. That accumulates to roughly 26 days of homework a year. The fact of the matter is, making someone that is in the prime of their life waste that much of their time is not only absurd, but both cruel and unusual. And those are the statistics for high school students, who at least have the benefit of relative mental maturity, but what are the statistics for children?
The problem with finding numerical statistics that encapsulate the amount of homework done by people in this age group is that it ranges very much due to how much children grow mentally at this time, but a study conducted by The American Journal of Family Therapy shows that early elementary school students do three times the recommended amount of homework recognized by the National Education Association. While the numbers weren’t as drastic for children in the later years of elementary school they were still above the recommended amount. And that is just the average amount of homework done. That number doesn’t show the outliers who spend several hours a night on homework at that young age. I would know because I was one of them. I’d say from the point at which I started doing homework to around sixth grade it was a massive struggle for me. My mother and I would sit at our dining room table for roughly three hours a night and she would try to help me get through the homework that had been assigned. My attention span was so poor that I would require constant redirection for all of that time. Luckily, as time went on I was able to work through my struggles, and eventually I was able to get through homework at a relatively normal pace. But I often reflect on all of the time I spent sitting in that uncomfortable wooden chair just trying to get through simple math questions. Instead of looking at my years spent in elementary school as a fun, carefree time where I enjoyed my childhood years, I look at it as being extraordinarily stressful period. That is not how someone should feel about what is, in essence, the easiest time of their lives.
Those who disagree with me will say that while it may take a lot of time and effort the educational benefits of it make it a necessary evil. It’s very easy to see where someone would get that idea. With homework being as prevalent as it is in America you’d assume that it has to be important. But sadly for students around the world, their efforts may be in vain.
According to a Duke University study conducted by Harris Cooper, There is a correlation between homework and academic success for students after elementary school. Before that point, however, the correlation is rather weak. His conclusion on the topic is that adding 10 minutes of homework per night for every grade is a good way to measure the amount of homework to assign students.
That number, despite coming from one of the more pro-homework studies out there, is still significantly lower than the average amount of homework students are assigned. On top of that, many scholars disagree with Harris Cooper’s study. For example, Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and author of the book “Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs”, stated that what the Cooper study presents as being a causal factor of high test scores is actually a correlation between the students who tend to achieve higher on tests, and the fact that they tend to do more homework as well. She also supports the “Ten Minute Rule” that I mentioned earlier, but as a maximum rather than an average, saying that she is in favor of students not starting homework until fourth or fifth grade.
But I’m not either of those professors, so where do I stand on this? While I agree that homework in the American education system may improve test scores or at least be slightly beneficial in the learning process, homework is just one part of a larger problem with the American education system. Just look at Finland. Even with the supposed importance of homework, they barely have it as part of their curriculum. So why is it that they are able to keep their population more educated than ours while still doing less work? Well there is quite a few factors that I think we could apply to our own education system. One of the things Finland does to improve student performance is put more emphasis on student-teacher interaction. The way they do that is by reducing the amount of students per class. While in America we have an average of 15 students per class with a sharp increase in more urban areas (24 students per teacher in New York City), in Finland, even in the urban areas, has a teacher for every 12 students. And on top of that, one in three students receive special help in school.
Another contributing factor to their stellar performance is the skill of their teachers. Teaching in Finland is seen as an esteemed position, similar to being a lawyer or a doctor, and thus requires similar amounts of education. In Finland it is a requirement for all public school teachers to have a masters degree. This allows students to simultaneously have 75 minutes of recess a day and allows the schools to have the most students go on to college, and some of the highest test scores collectively. So why do they do this? If they already have the resources to make their students brilliant, why wouldn’t they make them work harder? It’s because they put a lot into one of the most undervalued aspects of education, their happiness. It is proven that children, and just people in general, are healthier, better at learning, have better emotional literacy, and are better behaved when they are happier. So when you combine happy children who are ready to learn with smart, well educated, approachable teachers, they are ready to perform, and very well.
Compare that with Singapore, another education giant with the highest science scores in the world, who also has some of the most anxious and depressed students. Singapore culturally values competition and perfect performance leading to not only good grades, but a reported 76.3% of students feeling anxiety before they take a test even if they are well prepared, according to the OECD run PISA test. They also have an intense amount of homework, ranking third globally on the amount done weekly. And while they rank similarly when it comes to education as Finland, Their students (and people in general) are significantly less happy. Finland is consistently ranked as being one of the happiest countries in the world. Singapore, however, is ranked at number 26 in the world happiness index. That score is rather low for the developed world and their rank is falling. They even have some of the least happy wealthy people.
So what should we do here in America? We need to follow the example set by Finland in the way we run our schools. We should put more tax money in schools, and have higher requirements for our teachers. It is the best thing we can do in order to get more educated students. It may be difficult, or even impossible, to do exactly what they are doing over there because of how much bigger our population is. But, at the very least we should work on giving students smarter, better questions, rather than large quantities of busywork. In conclusion if we work smarter, not harder and place some more value on our kids well being rather than their test scores, a smarter, happier America could be on the horizon.