Contributed by guest blogger, Conchi Ruiz Cabello, Smartick

When Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher from Dallas, Texas sent a letter home stating that she would not assign homework to her students, people reacted strongly.

Young said,

"Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance. Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early."

Some agreed, saying they preferred kids spend time playing, doing chores, and enjoying family time. Others thought skipping homework was a mistake, pointing to studies that prove homework contributes to higher test scores and future academic achievement.

Is it really all or nothing?

Harris Cooper, a PhD in social psychology from Duke University, along with several colleagues, analyzed dozens of homework studies made between 1987 and 2003. In a piece he wrote for the SEDL Letter, Cooper mentions they focused on two types of studies.

  • The first set of studies compared students who were assigned homework to similar students who weren’t. The results of these studies suggest that homework can improve student scores on class tests.

  • The second type of study, correlational studies, suggest little or no relationship between homework and achievement for elementary school students. The average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement was substantial for secondary school students, but for elementary school students, it hovered around no relationship at all.

Much of the research around homework can only prove correlation. In other words, dinner with the family may correlate to higher grades but it may also indicate a family with involved parents.

Those same involved parents may have read to their child from the earliest age, another correlation. The proof of Young’s claim is anecdotal, not scientific.

So, what’s the verdict? According to Cooper,

“Practice assignments do improve scores on class tests at all grade levels. A little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits.”

Homework vs. Busywork

The National Education Association recommends 10 minutes of homework per grade starting in first grade. Educators assert this small amount of homework shouldn’t get in the way of family togetherness, play time, or sitting down together for a meal.

At the end of the day, it's less about the volume of homework worksheets, and more about assignment that have real value for the students.

Young hopes her policy will start a larger conversation about homework in all grades.

“Any homework that’s given just needs to be meaningful. The kids are so busy and they work hard days, and when they go home, they don’t need busy work, let’s just make sure we’re not giving busy work,” she adds.

The creators of Smartick, an online math tool endorsed by the MIT G-Lab program, wanted to find a way to help children avoid homework frustration, build self-confidence and develop positive attitudes toward learning.

Smartick's software addresses basic math concepts, using the latest in artificial intelligence to adapt to a child's learning style and individualize the experience.

During 15-minute practice sessions, any child (age 4–14) can work on mental calculation and algebra while developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which improves both math and reading comprehension.

Encouraging natural curiosity and fostering a love of learning is at the core of Smartick's mission. Improving mental calculation skills leads to better reasoning skills, problem-solving techniques and life-long success.

Smartick is supported by the European Union and is now available in the U.S.