Local teachers respond to study calling homework ineffective

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HARRISBURG — For most, homework is a hassle, but the promise of it paying off with a better quality of learning is what has kept the practice going.

A new Duke University study, however, says elementary school students aren't learning more by doing homework. 

That doesn't necessarily mean homework isn't beneficial, though. Harrisburg Elementary School teacher Sarah Earlywine said homework shouldn't be teaching as much as it should be reinforcing concepts from the classroom. 

"It's more of trying to master those skills independently," Earlywine said. "Everything I send home for homework should be mastered already and just continued practice to help build confidence in those skills."

Even if it's helping master skills in the classroom, the study says too much homework can hurt students' lives at home. First grade teacher Kelsey Fisher said keeping the workload manageable and tailored to the students' abilities is the best way to avoid added stress with homework. 

"The most important part of assigning homework is ensuring that it is truly on their level and that it is not above their level, because you want them to feel confident," Fisher said. 

Both teachers emphasized keeping a steady workload throughout elementary school, but Earlywine changes her homework policy for her fifth graders in April so they can prepare for middle school, which comes the following year. 

Often, the jump to middle school can be challenging from a workload perspective, according to local teachers. Homework becomes even more important once students reach that point, though, because the same Duke study said there is a correlation between homework and learning for that age group. 

Earlywine said fifth graders can build independence by working on homework, which prepares them for the next step in their academic careers. 

"In fifth grade, I really think independence is good for them to build, so that way they're building those skills for middle school," Earlywine said. 

As the students progress, the study suggests homework becomes more important, with the correlation between homework and learning at its strongest in high school. Beyond trying to build students' independence, Earlywine said reiterating useful lifelong skills is one of the biggest benefits of homework. 

"Especially when it comes to math skills, it's going to be part of their daily life. You want to see them master those skills and be able to say 'I can do this on my own' and have their parents be able to see that as well," Earlywine said. 

If homework truly doesn't benefit students from a learning perspective, Earlywine and Fisher are trying to make sure it's benefitting them in a number of other ways.