June 18, 2014 -- The Swedish town of Hallstahammars could become the envy of school children everywhere. It is debating whether to do away with homework in an effort to help students learn without being overly stressed.
Leena Millberg, the head of schools in Hallstahammars, said officials for the municipal government are still investigating if the proposal to ban homework makes sense. However, the students of Hallstahammars shouldn’t jump for joy just yet. Millberg said if the proposal does go through it’s likely that the school day would be lengthened.
“When children learn to read, for example ... we often give them homework to train,” Millberg told ABC News. “If we want to do that in the school day, we may need to make the school day a bit longer.”
The debate is not unique to the town hall of Hallstahammars, according to education experts.
Arguments for and against homework have raged on and off for decades according to Harris Cooper, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, who has researched how homework impacts families.
“It comes in waves,” said Cooper. “Generally it comes into public consciousness, giving kids too much or too little, depending on broader societal [news].”
Cooper said when a country’s reading or math comprehension is ranked lower than expected it can lead officials to want to ramp up homework. However, when studies show children are overworked or stressed, Cooper said officials will look at pulling back on assignments. In 2012, French President Francoise Hollande proposed banning homework in the country, though that proposal did not go through.
Cooper said he did not know of a country or region that has fully banned homework from schools. “Homework has been with us for a century,” said Cooper.
According to experts in the U.S., homework can end up being a flashpoint for stress for both children and their parents if the emphasis is on the outcome rather than the process.
“You always praise process. You don’t worry about outcome when you praise children’s [work],” said Alan Kazdin, professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University. “We want the child to get used to studying outside of class.”
Some education experts say they have seen backlash against overly rigorous academic regimens. Matt Cruger, a psychologist and learning and diagnostic expert at the Child Mind Institute in New York, said he knew one elementary school that banned virtually all homework with varied reactions from the parents.
“The notion behind the ban is that the homework is not helping and it’s busy work and it’s causing stress,” Cruger told ABC News. “I think the reaction from the parents I see is mixed. Some parents have said this is great. ... There are parents who don’t like the idea of no homework because they feel like the challenges are not as high.”
Cruger said homework still serves a purpose but it’s up to the parents and educators to make sure the daily assignments actually help the student learn skills rather than just rote information.
“Rather than having homework or not having homework ... having teachers in school be more explicit about the skills you’re supposed to master,” would be helpful, Cruger said.