Harris Cooper Homework 1989 Earthquake

I picked my boys up after school yesterday and surprised them with a day at a farm I used to frequent as a kid. They climbed haystacks piled high for their enjoyment, and took turns pretending they were kings. They pulled each other on rustic wagons through grass, dirt, and pavement, comparing the speed, velocity, and physical exertion required for each route. They fed the animals, drank wholesome, farm-fresh smoothies, and handpicked pumpkins to carve for Halloween.

After hours of uninterrupted play, they decided they were hungry for dinner. They chose one of their favorites; a restaurant I have been going to for 30 years. The owner gives them responsibilities that make them feel good about themselves while they wait for dinner. She lets them greet customers and visit tables to inquire about food quality. They were so carefree they imitated their parents, much to customers’ amusement, with a kiss on the cheek.

When we got home, they took their showers without argument. They dived into books of their choosing, devouring the pages readily, beyond the 20 minute teacher recommendation. They threw their arms around their dad/bonus dad in exuberation when he got home from work, eager to fill him in on every aspect of their day.

Yesterday was a memory maker; one for the vault. It was a day made possible because the kids’ school is rethinking its homework policy.

I have long been a critic of the demands on elementary school children. My boys, aged 7 and 9, get a scant 20 minutes for recess, leaving little time to expel energy, move their bodies, or play games. They have to scarf down their mid-day meals in a 25 minute lunch period. Most days one or both of them come home with half-eaten lunches; they choose socializing with friends over snacking on apples, missing out on nutrients that would help them during their 6-hour school day. (I am pleased they’re clearly not chewing with their mouths open—my Master’s in Nagging pays off at times—but when special treats are left uneaten, it is indicative of a serious time crunch issue.)

They used to get off the bus and immediately start an hour plus of homework, completely burnt out, overworked, and cranky. And I’d beg, bribe, or threaten to take things away if they didn’t comply with my time sensitive, stressed out homework requests before I had to start dinner.

It was ugly.

The daily struggle drove me especially batty because there’s no scientific evidence that homework improves the academic performance of elementary students. Homework research czar Harris Cooper, of Duke University, compiled 120 studies in 1989 and another 60 studies in 2006 that prove this fact. All it does is negatively impact kids’ attitudes towards school, learning, and their parents (the homework enforcers).

We’re two months into the school year, and the homework vacation has delivered so many unexpected gifts:

Neighborhood reminiscent of the 80s. Kids in our community are coming out in droves. There’s impromptu flag football games; bike rides to “the circle,” an area rich with rocks to climb, woods to explore, and room to run; and skateboarding and/or scootering on small inclines to sharpen their skills. There’s boys and girls coming in and out of our house, asking for snacks and drinks to keep going, and eating together outdoors. There’s kids playing outside until the sun sets instead of asking for electronics after homework is completed.

Better grades. Both of my kids came home with hundreds on their tests this past week. My little one aced his math exam, and my older one crushed his states and capitals test. They weren’t bogged down with busy work after school and chose to practice on their own.

I did not have a week like that—two perfect scores!—despite hours of daily homework and preparation last year.

Reading rocks. Reading used to be such a chore for my kids, sandwiched between homework assignments and showers. It was something to endure, not enjoy. They take their time now…because they have the time.

Ample opportunity to be who they want to be. Both of my kids play sports that have practices and/or games at least three days per week. No homework gives them time to decompress before their extra-curricular activities, or to daydream, or to play with their musical instruments or Legos or air hockey table…whatever gives them joy.

Improved relationships with teachers and administrators. My kids used to complain that teachers gave them so much homework, and now they see them in an entirely different light. They try harder during the school day, giving it their all…knowing they will have free time when the last bell rings.

More confidence in the school. The underlying message of testing a ‘no homework’ policy is trust. It shows me, as a parent, that administrators believe in the chosen curriculum. They believe in teachers’ ability to connect with students. They believe kids will learn what they need to learn during the day. And they believe in us, as a community, to embrace change.

The homework reprieve has created a seismic shift in my house. The boys are happier. I am happier. They have more time to be kids, and I have more time to be a mom/bonus mom…a perfect score in my book.

Do you think elementary school kids should have daily homework?

This post originally appeared on Jodi Meltzer Darter’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook , Twitter, and Mommy Dish.

It turns out that parents are right to nag: To succeed in school, kids should do their homework.

Duke University researchers have reviewed more than 60 research studies on homework between 1987 and 2003 and concluded that homework does have a positive effect on student achievement.

Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and director of Duke's Program in Education, said the research synthesis that he led showed the positive correlation was much stronger for secondary students --- those in grades 7 through 12 --- than those in elementary school.

"With only rare exception, the relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes was found to be positive and statistically significant," the researchers report in a paper that appears in the spring 2006 edition of "Review of Educational Research."

Cooper is the lead author; Jorgianne Civey Robinson, a Ph.D. student in psychology, and Erika Patall, a graduate student in psychology, are co-authors. The research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

While it's clear that homework is a critical part of the learning process, Cooper said the analysis also showed that too much homework can be counter-productive for students at all levels.

"Even for high school students, overloading them with homework is not associated with higher grades," Cooper said.

Cooper said the research is consistent with the "10-minute rule" suggesting the optimum amount of homework that teachers ought to assign. The "10-minute rule," Cooper said, is a commonly accepted practice in which teachers add 10 minutes of homework as students progress one grade. In other words, a fourth-grader would be assigned 40 minutes of homework a night, while a high school senior would be assigned about two hours. For upper high school students, after about two hours' worth, more homework was not associated with higher achievement.

The authors suggest a number of reasons why older students benefit more from homework than younger students. First, the authors note, younger children are less able than older children to tune out distractions in their environment. Younger children also have less effective study habits.

But the reason also could have to do with why elementary teachers assign homework. Perhaps it is used more often to help young students develop better time management and study skills, not to immediately affect their achievement in particular subject areas.

"Kids burn out," Cooper said. "The bottom line really is all kids should be doing homework, but the amount and type should vary according to their developmental level and home circumstances. Homework for young students should be short, lead to success without much struggle, occasionally involve parents and, when possible, use out-of-school activities that kids enjoy, such as their sports teams or high-interest reading."

Cooper pointed out that there are limitations to current research on homework. For instance, little research has been done to assess whether a student's race, socioeconomic status or ability level affects the importance of homework in his or her achievement.

This is Cooper's second synthesis of homework research. His first was published in 1989 and covered nearly 120 studies in the 20 years before 1987. Cooper's recent paper reconfirms many of the findings from the earlier study.

Cooper is the author of "The Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents" (Corwin Press, 2001).

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