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The second phenomenon that standardized tests measure is how skillful a particular group of students is at taking standardized tests — and, increasingly, how much class time has been given over to preparing them to do just that. In my experience, teachers can almost always identify several students who do poorly on standardized tests even though, by more authentic and meaningful indicators, they are extremely talented thinkers. These anecdotal reports have been corroborated by research that finds a statistically significant positive relationship between a shallow or superficial approach to learning, on the one hand, and high scores on various standardized tests, on the other.

To that extent, students cannot really demonstrate what they know or what they can do with what they know. Multiple-choice tests are basically designed so that many kids who understand a given idea will be tricked into picking the wrong answer. Instead, its primary purpose is to artificially spread out the scores in order to facilitate ranking students against each other. Moreover, the selection of questions for these tests is informed by this imperative to rank.

Thus, items that a lot of students answer correctly or incorrectly are typically eliminated — regardless of whether the content is important — and replaced with questions that about half the kids will get right.

This is done in order to make it easier to compare students to one another. In the latter case, a high or rising average test score may actually be a reason to worry. Every hour that teachers spend preparing kids to succeed on standardized tests, even if that investment pays off, is an hour not spent helping kids to become critical, curious, creative thinkers.

The limitations of these tests are so numerous and so serious that studies showing an association between homework and higher scores are highly misleading. The fact that more meaningful outcomes are hard to quantify does not make test scores or grades any more valid, reliable, or useful as measures.

To use them anyway calls to mind the story of the man who looked for his lost keys near a streetlight one night not because that was where he dropped them but just because the light was better there. Even taken on its own terms, the research turns up some findings that must give pause to anyone who thinks homework is valuable. Homework matters less the longer you look. The longer the duration of a homework study, the less of an effect the homework is shown to have. The studies finding the greatest effect were those that captured less of what goes on in the real world by virtue of being so brief.

Even where they do exist, positive effects are often quite small. The same was true of a large-scale high school study from the s. There is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school.

The absence of evidence supporting the value of homework before high school is generally acknowledged by experts in the field — even those who are far less critical of the research literature and less troubled by the negative effects of homework than I am. But this remarkable fact is rarely communicated to the general public.

In , Cooper summarized the available research with a sentence that ought to be e-mailed to every parent, teacher, and administrator in the country: It, too, found minuscule correlations between the amount of homework done by sixth graders, on the one hand, and their grades and test scores, on the other.

For third graders, the correlations were negative: He was kind enough to offer the citations, and I managed to track them down. The point was to see whether children who did math homework would perform better on a quiz taken immediately afterward that covered exactly the same content as the homework. The third study tested 64 fifth graders on social studies facts. All three of these experiments found exactly what you would expect: The kids who had drilled on the material — a process that happened to take place at home — did better on their respective class tests.

The final study, a dissertation project, involved teaching a lesson contained in a language arts textbook. It seems safe to say that these latest four studies offer no reason to revise the earlier summary statement that no meaningful evidence exists of an academic advantage for children in elementary school who do homework.

The correlation only spikes at or above grade A large correlation is necessary, in other words, but not sufficient. Indeed, I believe it would be a mistake to conclude that homework is a meaningful contributor to learning even in high school. Remember that Cooper and his colleagues found a positive effect only when they looked at how much homework high school students actually did as opposed to how much the teacher assigned and only when achievement was measured by the grades given to them by those same teachers.

All of the cautions, qualifications, and criticisms in this chapter, for that matter, are relevant to students of all ages. Students who take this test also answer a series of questions about themselves, sometimes including how much time they spend on homework. For any number of reasons, one might expect to find a reasonably strong association between time spent on homework and test scores.

Yet the most striking result, particularly for elementary students, is precisely the absence of such an association. Consider the results of the math exam. Fourth graders who did no homework got roughly the same score as those who did 30 minutes a night.

Remarkably, the scores then declined for those who did 45 minutes, then declined again for those who did an hour or more! In twelfth grade, the scores were about the same regardless of whether students did only 15 minutes or more than an hour. In the s, year-olds in a dozen nations were tested and also queried about how much they studied. Again, the results were not the same in all countries, even when the focus was limited to the final years of high school where the contribution of homework is thought to be strongest.

Usually it turned out that doing some homework had a stronger relationship with achievement than doing none at all, but doing a little homework was also better than doing a lot. Again they came up empty handed. Our students get significantly less homework than their counterparts across the globe.

Every step of this syllogism is either flawed or simply false. Premise 2 has been debunked by a number of analysts and for a number of different reasons. But in fact there is now empirical evidence, not just logic, to challenge the conclusions.

Two researchers looked at TIMSS data from both and in order to be able to compare practices in 50 countries. When they published their findings in , they could scarcely conceal their surprise:. Not only did we fail to find any positive relationships, [but] the overall correlations between national average student achievement and national averages in the frequency, total amount, and percentage of teachers who used homework in grading are all negative!

If these data can be extrapolated to other subjects — a research topic that warrants immediate study, in our opinion — then countries that try to improve their standing in the world rankings of student achievement by raising the amount of homework might actually be undermining their own success. More homework may actually undermine national achievement. Incidental research raises further doubts about homework.

Reviews of homework studies tend to overlook investigations that are primarily focused on other topics but just happen to look at homework, among several other variables. Here are two examples:. First, a pair of Harvard scientists queried almost 2, students enrolled in college physics courses in order to figure out whether any features of their high school physics courses were now of use to them. At first they found a very small relationship between the amount of homework that students had had in high school and how well they were currently doing.

Once the researchers controlled for other variables, such as the type of courses kids had taken, that relationship disappeared. The same researchers then embarked on a similar study of a much larger population of students in college science classes — and found the same thing: She then set out to compare their classroom practices to those of a matched group of other teachers. Are better teachers more apt to question the conventional wisdom in general?

More responsive to its negative effects on children and families? This analysis rings true for Steve Phelps, who teaches math at a high school near Cincinnati.

But as I mastered the material, homework ceased to be necessary. Lyons has also conducted an informal investigation to gauge the impact of this shift. He gave less and less homework each year before finally eliminating it completely. And he reports that.

Homework is an obvious burden to students, but assigning, collecting, grading, and recording homework creates a tremendous amount of work for me as well.

Nor is the Harvard physics study. People who never bought it will not be surprised, of course. Put differently, the research offers no reason to believe that students in high-quality classrooms whose teachers give little or no homework would be at a disadvantage as regards any meaningful kind of learning.

That will be the subject of the following chapter…. Two of the four studies reviewed by Paschal et al. The third found benefits at two of three grade levels, but all of the students in this study who were assigned homework also received parental help.

The last study found that students who were given math puzzles unrelated to what was being taught in class did as well as those who got traditional math homework. There is reason to question whether this technique is really appropriate for a topic like homework, and thus whether the conclusions drawn from it would be valid. Meta-analyses may be useful for combining multiple studies of, say, the efficacy of a blood pressure medication, but not necessarily studies dealing with different aspects of complex human behavior.

Homework contributes to higher achievement, which then, in turn, predisposes those students to spend more time on it. As simple as the question seems to be, the answer is quite complex. So many variables affect student achievement. Although most Canadian parents would agree that some homework is valuable, difficult questions remain: How much homework is necessary? Does homework really help my child? Research suggests that, with two exceptions, homework for elementary children is not beneficial and does not boost achievement levels.

The first exception is in the case of a student who is struggling to complete classroom tasks. The second is when students are preparing for a test. For example, students might review a list of words for 10 minutes in preparation for a spelling test the next day. Parental help with homework appears to be beneficial only if the child has already learned the concepts and simply needs more time to complete the assignments.

In fact, some evidence suggests that K—4 students who spend too much time on homework actually achieve less well. For students in Grades 6 and 7, up to an hour of meaningful homework per night can be beneficial. Things change in high school. Most studies involving high school students suggest that students who do homework achieve at a higher rate. Based on his research, Cooper suggests this rule of thumb: In other words, Grade 1 students should do a maximum of 10 minutes of homework per night, Grade 2 students, 20 minutes, and so on.

Expecting academic students in Grade 12 to occasionally do two hours of homework in the evening—especially when they are studying for exams, completing a major mid-term project or wrapping up end-of-term assignments—is not unreasonable.

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The UFT sponsors a homework help program for elementary and middle school students called Dial-A-Teacher. Classroom teachers answer homework questions at , Monday through Thursday, from 4 to 7 p.m. during the school year.

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