How best to go about closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers is a question that dominates K-12 and higher education in the US and abroad. For the newly elected president of France, François Hollande, that answer lies in homework. Abolishing it, that is.
Last week, Hollande made fans out of school children everywhere when he announced that as part of his goal to reform education, he will abolish homework in all schools in France. Strange as it may sound to those who grew up with nightly math problem sets and writing assignments, Hollande is far from alone in giving homework a second look.
Hollande, a socialist, articulated his thoughts clearly: “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school rather than at home.” This work would put students on a more even playing field, as all students would then have the same access to their teachers and school resources. This move is a dramatic one, though certainly not unheard of.
Achievement gap concerns aren’t the only thing motivating schools to ditch homework. Minnesota Daily’s Trent Kays reports that a school in Germany, France’s European neighbor, recently banned homework in an effort to “give students a break.” In the U.S. a Minnesota elementary school did the same.
For many the idea that secondary schools should abandon homework is a difficult one to swallow — but in the realm of higher education, the move to do away with homework assignments might meet a more welcoming atmosphere.
Kays does more than pay lip service to the idea of homework-free education. He is himself a practitioner. In his own college classes, Kays doesn’t assign homework, and instead uses class time to allow the students to develop skills that many professors defer to after-class assignments.
Why is banning homework in higher education a good thing? Despite my progressive teaching style, I still must contend with many of my colleagues who still require students to do some work at home. The main reason seems to be inadequate class meeting time. There simply isn’t enough time during class to go over content and allow time for students to work. But, herein lies the solution: Class content and class work shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.
For Kays, lectures are no longer about the professor droning on about the subject while students frantically take notes. A course like that almost demands homework because it would be impossible to learn the material without additional study and drill. Instead, Keys’ students start to apply concepts as they are learning them, which often means tackling problems and writing assignments while the class in session. In this way, the education flows both ways: from teacher to student and from student to teacher.