This is a genuinely strange crusade.The problem with modern homework at least as it has been described to me by parents of older kids and my own decades ago experience, is relevance. Even my kindergarten daughter, who has about 30 minutes of homework a week, does not have homework that is designed to either expand or reinforce the skills and knowledge she is learning or needs to learn.
A generation of hyper-parents has larded their children's days with band practice, piano lessons, soccer practice, volleyball, martial arts, dance recitals, and swim classes. For their part, teens find time to spend something like 6 hours a day using various forms of media; Xbox 360 sales do not seem to be suffering because kids are too busy to play video games and the malls have not been emptied of teens.
And yet the cry goes up that it is Mrs. Grundy's history homework assignments that are destroying the innocence of childhood and wrecking the American family.
Of course, as any parent who has spent hours working on pointless dioramas and time-wasting cardboard volcanoes can testify, some of the complaints are not without some merit. But while some children undoubtedly do have too much homework, reports of a national homework crisis are highly exaggerated. In 2003, a study by the Brookings Institution found that the great majority of students at all grade levels now spend less than an hour a day studying, or about a quarter of the time they spend text messaging things like "NMHJC" (Not Much Here, Just Chilling) to one another.
Admittedly, there is homework that is a waste of students' time and energy. That particularly subspecies of homework can and should be eliminated. But homework, in general, is not a bad thing. The problem of course is that homework has come to be viewed,by students and their parents alike, as busy work. While the student perception is as common today as it may have always been, adults should know better and teachers should know better than parents. Homework, quite frankly, may not be utilized to its maximum potential. I am not arguing for more homework (or less homework), but for relevant homework.
Relevant homework serves two functions. First, it should reinforce current and revisit past lessons to reinforce knowledge or to keep skills sharp and refine those skills that may be getting rusty. This can be done, for example, by asking questions or presenting problems that draw on previous lessons. Second, homework should stretch the critical thinking skills of the students. This is done by presenting problems outside the norm, that call for applying what has been learned in other contexts to new situations. When employers and colleges decry the lack of critical thinking skills in the graduates they see, part of the problem is that critical thinking is not routinely asked of the students. If classtime is precious (and it most certainly is), then homework needs to be used to foster those critical thinking skills that, while clearly valuable, are apparently in short supply.
Don't get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with some drill and kill exercises for younger students. But drills should last only as long as necessary. If 20 drill questions are enough, why give 50? Why not take the time to expand the ideas and apply them.
Make homework relevant and use it effectively. But the argument that homework is unnecessary or too time consuming is ridiculous, particularly when modern students spend so little time on homwork and so much time on other things.