Thursday, January 27, 2005

Taking Work Home

Given today's article in the Baltimore Sun, that the County School Board is appointing a task force to study teacher workloads, it may be an inopportune time to raise the idea of giving students more work, but I think this topic is an important issue, and should be addressed regardless.

In the November 2004 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Jonathan Rauch broaches the notion of a low-cost, easy to implement strategy for raising student achievement levels. His strategy? More homework. Rather than extending the school day or school year, which can be expensive, Rauch suggests getting students to spend more "time on task"1 by having them put in more time (even just 20 minutes more a night), reviewing the days' notes and doing homework. Rauch's contention, that American students aren't spending enough time on school work after hours is echoed by the students themselves. He reports that in 2001, 71 percent of high school and middle school students agreed with the proposition that most students in their school "[did] the bare minimum to get by."

Does additional homework really help? A meta analysis by Harris Cooper (2001), an educational psychologist, suggests it does: "For high school students the effect of homework can be impressive. Indeed, relative to other instructional techniques and the costs involved in doing it, homework can produce a substantial, positive effect on adolescents' performance in school." Cooper offers a caveat as well though, "In the early grades, there's no relation between homework and test scores." In the middle and high school years, however, he says there is a link between achievement and homework. Something for the school board to consider next time concerns are raised about student achievement in the County.

Next week, more on the teachers.

1 40 percent of 17-year olds reported doing no homework at all on the 1999 National Assessment of Educational Progress; two-third's did less than an hour a night.



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