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Less Homework Research Marzano

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A heartfelt email from a new teacher prompted yet another post about homework research. The new teacher says that his school district is big into the teachings of Robert Marzano, specifically his book, Classroom Instruction that Works

“In the book,” the new teacher writes, “they end up saying the research shows deliberate moderate amounts of practice homework are recommended (with caveats of grading and informative feedback), so is this homework research wrong? Or are there exceptions to the homework idea?”

Unravelling the homework research

Marzano may be a luminary in education research, but in this case, his evaluation of the homework research is flawed. In an article in Educational Leadership, Special Topic / The Case For and Against Homework (2007), Marzano and Debra Pickering cling mainly to the work of Harris Cooper, whose homework research spans decades. Marzano and Pickering carefully extract quotes from the mountains of research Cooper produced from the 1980s to the mid 2000s. Of course, they take what supports their argument and ignore some of Cooper’s own admissions about the ineffectiveness of homework.

Hattie measures more than 130 areas that affect academic growth and homework is number 88 on the list!

Marzano and Pickering rail against Alfie Kohn, who offers a much clearer interpretation of Cooper and dozens of others in his 2006 book, The Homework Myth. What Marzano and Pickering fail to mention, that Kohn so eloquently reveals, is that Cooper’s homework research incessantly relates the effectiveness of homework to grades — which are subjective measures of a student’s achievement. (If I assign homework, my student doesn’t do it, and I give her an F, this will easily bear out the supposition that not doing homework hurts achievement. The same scenario will obviously work in reverse.)

Better homework research

In a very telling study in 1998, which Marzano and Pickering conveniently omit, Cooper states that he found no significant relationship between homework and grades or between homework and scores on standardized test results for younger students. The study found only a moderate increase in grades for older students doing homework (Kohn, p. 33) and, as previously stated, connecting homework to grades is a pointless endeavor.

Marzano and Pickering also dwell on the statistics of several meta-analyses on homework by Cooper, John Hattie and others. Again, the problem with this type of homework research, which Kohn dutifully explains, is that the proponents of homework measure it against grades and test scores. This, alone, is enough to discredit all of these researchers, because grades and tests are poor ways to assess learning. By the way, Hattie measures more than 130 areas that affect academic growth and homework is number 88 on the list!

Continuing to evaluate the merits of homework against these useless measures only acknowledges that grades and tests are meaningful assessment tools, which they are not; this may be a debate for a future post.

What Marzano and Pickering offer that is useful for teachers working at schools which mandate homework is the section of the EL article that supplies guidelines for homework. For example, they suggest that it should be purposeful and involve parents in appropriate ways. If you are assigning homework, which you shouldn’t, this is certainly good advice.

Summarizing

So, back to the new teacher who emailed me. “Is the homework research wrong?” I’d say, as far as Marzano evaluates it, definitely. “Are there exceptions to the homework idea?” This depends on how you look at the word.

I’m fine with students working outside of class, as long as they choose when and how to do so. Reading, as evidenced here, is really the best thing students can do outside of school. This too, though, should be their choice, and it should never be connected to any grade or test. I wouldn’t call these activities homework.

References

Kohn, A. (2006). The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing.
Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press
Marzano, R. Pickering, D. (2007). Special topic/The case for and against homework. Educational Leadership. 64, 6. pp. 74-79.

Tags:homework

About The Author

markbarnes19

Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

As kids return to school, debate is heating up once again over how they should spend their time after they leave the classroom for the day.

The no-homework policy of a second-grade teacher in Texas went viral last week, earning praise from parents across the country who lament the heavy workload often assigned to young students. Brandy Young told parents she would not formally assign any homework this year, asking students instead to eat dinner with their families, play outside and go to bed early.

But the question of how much work children should be doing outside of school remains controversial, and plenty of parents take issue with no-homework policies, worried their kids are losing a potential academic advantage. Here’s what you need to know:

The issue

For decades, the homework standard has been a “10-minute rule,” which recommends a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Second graders, for example, should do about 20 minutes of homework each night. High school seniors should complete about two hours of homework each night. The National PTA and the National Education Association both support that guideline.

But some schools have begun to give their youngest students a break. A Massachusetts elementary school has announced a no-homework pilot program for the coming school year, lengthening the school day by two hours to provide more in-class instruction. “We really want kids to go home at 4 o’clock, tired. We want their brain to be tired,” Kelly Elementary School Principal Jackie Glasheen said in an interview with a local TV station. “We want them to enjoy their families. We want them to go to soccer practice or football practice, and we want them to go to bed. And that’s it.”

A New York City public elementary school implemented a similar policy last year, eliminating traditional homework assignments in favor of family time. The change was quickly met with outrage from some parents, though it earned support from other education leaders.

New solutions and approaches to homework differ by community, and these local debates are complicated by the fact that even education experts disagree about what’s best for kids.

The research

The most comprehensive research on homework to date comes from a 2006 meta-analysis by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, who found evidence of a positive correlation between homework and student achievement, meaning students who did homework performed better in school. The correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades, for whom there was a weak relationship between homework and performance.

Cooper’s analysis focused on how homework impacts academic achievement—test scores, for example. His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills. On the other hand, some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. At the end of his analysis, Cooper recommended further study of such potential effects of homework.

Despite the weak correlation between homework and performance for young children, Cooper argues that a small amount of homework is useful for all students. Second-graders should not be doing two hours of homework each night, he said, but they also shouldn’t be doing no homework.

The debate

Not all education experts agree entirely with Cooper’s assessment.

Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, supports the “10-minute rule” as a maximum, but she thinks there is not sufficient proof that homework is helpful for students in elementary school.

“Correlation is not causation,” she said. “Does homework cause achievement, or do high achievers do more homework?”

Vatterott, the author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, thinks there should be more emphasis on improving the quality of homework tasks, and she supports efforts to eliminate homework for younger kids.

“I have no concerns about students not starting homework until fourth grade or fifth grade,” she said, noting that while the debate over homework will undoubtedly continue, she has noticed a trend toward limiting, if not eliminating, homework in elementary school.

The issue has been debated for decades. A TIME cover in 1999 read: “Too much homework! How it’s hurting our kids, and what parents should do about it.” The accompanying story noted that the launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to a push for better math and science education in the U.S. The ensuing pressure to be competitive on a global scale, plus the increasingly demanding college admissions process, fueled the practice of assigning homework.

“The complaints are cyclical, and we’re in the part of the cycle now where the concern is for too much,” Cooper said. “You can go back to the 1970s, when you’ll find there were concerns that there was too little, when we were concerned about our global competitiveness.”

Cooper acknowledged that some students really are bringing home too much homework, and their parents are right to be concerned.

“A good way to think about homework is the way you think about medications or dietary supplements,” he said. “If you take too little, they’ll have no effect. If you take too much, they can kill you. If you take the right amount, you’ll get better.”

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