5 Reasons homework makes kids stupid

If you homeschool and use workbooks, it’s like you’re recreating the homework scenario. In fact, 96% of parents say they help with homework, so doing fun, innovative learning in the morning and workbooks in the afternoon is similar to sending kids to school and doing homework after school. So the research about homework should be really important to you.

If you think about the school day, only a small percentage of it is kids doing the type of work they will do as homework. Most of the time, kids are listening to a teacher, doing administrative stuff, doing socialization stuff (whatever that is!) and going from class to class. (In high school this consumes a full hour of the day.) Unless they are doing experiential learning in the classroom (unlikely) they are learning at night while doing their homework.

This means that if you take your kids out of school, what they are missing is learning from homework. The problem is that homework doesn’t work. Here’s why:

1. Until 7th grade chores are more beneficial than homework.
The only benefit to homework is teaching kids time management and commitment. This is why a study at Duke found that there are benefits to homework up to ten minutes. More than ten minutes of homework a night does not increase learning. (note: I got this wrong. See the comment below.) Surely you can think of something more rewarding to do than worksheets for ten minutes a day if you want to teach kids about responsibility and commitment. Like, taking care of the family pet (or in our case, the farm animals.) Also, if you are lower-income, take note: A very long-term study from Harvard shows that the biggest differentiator between who is happy later in life and who isn’t, among smart, low-income kids, is who did chores at home as a kid. So use the ten minutes for chores instead of homework.

2. Teachers don’t know how to make homework effective.
There’s a lot of research about homework for older kids. What works, what doesn’t, how much, what kind. But teachers do not receive information about this research in their teaching courses, according to Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth. The result is that teachers are winging it when they assign homework, which increases the likelihood that it’s a waste of time.

3. Too much homework makes kids crazy.
While there is scant evidence of positive correlation between homework and student achievement, studies show that too much homework decreases kids’ test scores. It’s hard to say that homework makes kids stupid, and that’s why the scores go down, but I can imagine that the scores go down because doing nothing but homework after school makes kids crazy.

4. The best kind of homework is impossible for schools to assign.
Of course, the baseline research is that the best homework is self-directed learning. But that would requires that teachers give each kid a different assignment and there would be no way to grade kids relative to each other, so schools can’t give that sort of homework. Additionally, homework requires that parents are on-board, and increasingly, parents are opting out.

5. Homework banishes kids to second-tier schools.
Top schools look for kids who are particularly good at one thing. Admissions officers call this a hook. Developing a hook takes time, which your child cannot do if there are hours of homework each night. Homework in each subject each night creates, at best, well-rounded kids, which is an anachronistic goal.




11 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I don’t think workbooks are the problem. I think it’s the way they may be implemented in a child’s education. They can be used successfully as a guide and pathway to study more interesting topics on a subject with the parent and child working together. Don’t be a slave to the workbook. Don’t start from page one and cover every single page and problem given in the workbook. Make the workbook work for you. Be creative with it.

  2. Bird
    Bird says:

    What counts as homework? Anything “assigned” by a homeschooling parent, or just things like workbooks?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a good question. I read a lot of the research about homework, and I think it’s what is assigned to the kid vs what the kid would choose to do.

      That would make sense, since we know that kids learn way better from self-directed learning.


  3. kristen
    kristen says:

    The Duke study that you cited argued for 10 min per grade. So my 4th grader should have 40 minutes of homework each day? I think that’s too much. This study was really an arguement for the benefits of homework as long as it’s not “too much”.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Kristen, yeah. You’re right. That pretty much ruins that piece of my argument, I think. I wish the conclusion I wrote were right, because that one made me really happy.

      So, okay. I think then that the conclusion about cores still stands. I think the research still supports that making kids do chores with their time would have longer term impact than making kids do homework. But it’s probably not binary either. Like, older kids could do both chores and homework.

      So I am stuck here. And I have to resort to research I read in the Harvard Business Review — which I can’t find, and really, I wonder if you’ll believe me, but whatever..

      The research said that people who are considered pundits in their fields are not right more often than other people, but they stick their neck out to say opinions more than other people, so they end up having more times when they are right, and people remember that – when the pundit is right, not when they are wrong.

      It’s research like that that keeps me going when I get something wrong.


  4. Jani
    Jani says:

    In a roundabout way, this piece from the NYT (it’s a short read) might be a replacement for your argument there…although, it’s aimed at pre-schoolers so maybe not.

    Anyway, rather than butcher the article, here are two quotes from it:

    1: “When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, according to a new report in the journal Science: forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world.”

    2: “Other studies have found that when children are simply taught, they don’t explore and test multiple hypotheses, Dr. Gopnik said, adding:

    “There’s a lot of pressure from parents and policy makers to make preschools more and more like schools. This research suggests the opposite.” ”


  5. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    As usual, I agree with most of what you write however I have a hard time agreeing with specialization. I believe being a well rounded person is important. We must be able to socialize with others that do not understand/appreciate one’s career/study. Being a well rounded person allows us to reach to others, to help them understand who we are and what we do. Having a common ground such as a love of sports or thearter, other than our specilaztion, will help advance a career. More doors have opened for me not just because of my work record but because of a shared love with the Arts, Music, and History, etc.

    Charles Darwin stated later in life that after decades studying the theory of evolution, he felt sad becuase he lost all appreciation for the Arts, History, and Music that he studied @ University.

    Specialization maybe the key to get into a first rate college, what then??

  6. TJ
    TJ says:

    Why would people assign homework when they go to school 8 hours a day for 5 days a week, 9 months in a year and at least 12 years? You barely get to see your family. It’s like we’re in school 24/7 and it sucks! All the teachers are doing is putting stress on you, some people kill themselves because how much stress it causes. So let me ask you, Why?

  7. Gina
    Gina says:

    I have a knife to my throat, there’s too much stress in homework, I guess today is the last day I live, thanks to the person who invented homework, and to the people who give it out.

  8. Kim
    Kim says:

    Workbooks are a waste of time, Mark W. Homework is simply busy work meant to appease the teacher’s conscious about whether their students are “learning”. It’s also something for schools to give the state to show how good they’ve been.

    If a child knows the material, you don’t have to force them to regurgitate it over and over on a piece of paper. if they don’t, no amount of homework will do the job.

    Teachers also don’t have time to assess whether each child has learned the material so they ask them to write down what they know. This is more efficient than spending quality time with each student.

    Also, it holds students back because the time that they are spending regurgitating, they could be learning something new.

Comments are closed.