OECD’s recent report “Does Homework Perpetuate Inequities in Education?” has generated a variety of articles in countries like the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Those stories mention the reported range–from 14 hours in Shanghai to 3 hours in Finland–but often focus on how much or how little student in a particular country do in comparison to peers in other countries (or sometimes both). Many also mention the reported links between higher amounts of homework and a slight increase in test scores in mathematics in most countries, though, in the US, higher amounts of homework are linked to a slight decrease in math test scores. Not surprisingly, the results have been interpreted as proving “homework sucks” and as suggesting that homework is a “blessing.”
The news also begins to get into some of the complexities, such as the higher amount of homework that socioeconomically-advantaged students do in comparison to their peers, though barely touching some of the larger issues of the costs and benefits (personally and developmentally not just economically) of having children spend more or less time on homework. This is a tension and an issue across school systems, including China where, as Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of Tsinghua University High School, describes in his interview with C.M. Rubin: “parents complain to each other that high stakes testing is robbing their children of their childhood, curiosity, and creativity,” at the same time that they are standing in line to enroll their four-year olds in cram schools.
More importantly, perhaps, how much homework children should have can be seen in light of the larger questions about how children (and adults) should spend all of their time. Both students in Finland and in South Korea only spend about 3 hours a week on homework, but what those Finnish and South Korean students do with the rest of the their out-of-school time, however, is dramatically different (as is evident from Amanda Ripley’s Wall Street Journey story last year on a teacher works in South Korea’s tutoring academies “The $4 million dollar teacher”). As Learning in and out of school in diverse environments (a report from the LIFE Center) points out, school occupies a relatively small fraction of the waking hours of people throughout their lifetimes. From that perspective, it’s not simply about whether to have more or less homework, it’s about breaking down the boundaries between what happens “in school” and “out of school” and supporting learning wherever and whenever it takes place.
“Where Teens Have the Most Homework,” The Atlantic
“Six hours a week: Australian students record increased homework hours,” The Sydney Morning Herald
“Homework: a blessing, not a battleground” (opinion), The Telegraph
“Study: Teens doing less homework,” stuff.co.nz
“Should schools ban homework?” CNNOpinion, Etta Kralovec, author of The end of homework
Learning in and out of school in diverse environments, from the LIFE Center