Does More Homework Mean Better Grades?

The Milley children of Calgary, Alberta, will never have to do homework again thanks to a unique legal contract hammered out between their parents and the school. The "differentiated homework plan" spells out the responsibilities of both parties but the bottom line is a ban on homework.

Like many parents, Tom and Shelli Milley were tired of the nightly struggles with their children over homework. "My wife was getting disgusted with the sheer volume that was coming home and I was getting frustrated with the busy work," explained Tom Milley, an attorney in Calgary. And by busy work, Milley means assignments like color-by-number pictures for a French lesson or clipping pictures out of magazines.

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The Milley's have three children, Jay, now 18 and off to college, Spencer, 11 and Brittany, 10. For most of the past 10 years, the family has spent their evenings following a frenzied schedule familiar to any parent of school-age children.

The late afternoon involved after school activities, in their case speed skating and girl scouts, which was followed by a rushed dinner and then heading up to the bedroom for several hours of homework. "Like most kids they whined and cried after an hour or two…and I would always tell my wife it's really hard to teach a weeping child anything," said Milley.

Those nightly battles escalated until the Milleys said enough is enough and started to crack the books themselves -- researching studies on homework. What they found was that in many cases – especially at the elementary level – more homework does not necessarily mean better grades.

For two years, the couple argued with teachers and administrators over the homework policy at their children's school, St. Brigid Elementary School in Calgary, until finally their "homework rebellion" resulted in the "differentiated homework plan." The contract spells out the responsibilities of both the teacher and the student. Brittany and Spencer will not have work sent home, and must be graded on what they do in class. For their part, the two tweens must read daily and complete all work assigned in class. And they must practice a musical instrument at home.

Hating homework is not a new phenomenon. There are dozens of anti-homework books and Web sites devoted to denigrating the time-honored practice. On Facebook a petition to ban homework has more than a million members.

Even those whose career involves researching the effectiveness of homework can have issues with it. Harris Cooper, a professor of social psychology at Duke University, described one particularly irksome Spanish assignment that his daughter brought home which seemed to involve nothing but coloring the months of the year.

"The only thing I could figure out is that they wanted her to stare at the word October in Spanish for 15 minutes while she colored and that didn't seem to be a good use of my daughter's time," said Cooper.

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