Homework Sucks — And We Have the Research to Prove It
If you always had a sneaking feeling that homework was a useless time-suck, prepare yourself for some sweet, sweet validation.
According to a new study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), homework may not be helping American kids get ahead after all.
The study looked at the scholastic habits of 15-year-olds around the world and found that American students complete about six hours of homework per week. While this number has decreased since 2003, it's still greater than most other developed countries on the list.
The twist: Things get interesting when you factor in test performance. In nearly every country included in the study, more time spent on homework meant a higher score on the math section of the Programme of International Scholastic Assessment (PISA), a standardized test.
Nearly every country, that is, except the United States, where test scores decreased with more time spent on homework:
While it's not an enormous dip, it's significantly less than the OECD average. When students spend more time on homework, test scores go up about five PISA points. In the United States, test scores go down about two PISA points.
There's a caveat: As the chart above shows, more time spent on homework often leads to better test performances when you consider the world as a whole. And on average, the study found that socioeconomically advantaged students, who had more time for homework, did better than their disadvantaged counterparts.
But the fact remains that the United States, despite all the homework it forces upon its teenagers, lags behind other comparable countries.
Should we be surprised? Other recent surveys have illustrated a similar waning. In 2012, the U.S. fell behind in its PISA ranking — in fact, as U.S. News & World Report put it, we're doing worse today than we have in the past.
"The big picture of U.S. performance on the 2012 PISA is straightforward and stark. It is the picture of educational stagnation," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at the time. "The brutal truth, that urgent reality, must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations."
Similarly, a 2012 study by the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that "[t]he United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role."
Homework obviously isn't the only cause of these problems, but it certainly doesn't seem to be helping them.
Why is the United States falling behind? Many have pointed to the negative effects of homework — the past few years alone have produced books like The Case Against Homework, and articles headlined "Do Kids Have Too Much Homework?" and "The Myth About Homework." But as the OECD study demonstrates, homework isn't the bad guy in most countries. So why is it having that effect in America?
In short, it's not an easy question to answer. There are many factors that influence education: the ever-looming prospect of standardized testing, rising inequality, a decline in the number of people choosing teaching as a career, to name a few. Homework is simply part of the equation.
What is clear, however, is that it isn't the answer to our educational problems. Plying kids with work isn't the magical solution — in fact, it seems to be making things worse.