Cnn News Benefits Of Homework

(CNN)Juliet Starrett and her husband were running the sack race at their children's school field day when they noticed something was wrong -- the kids couldn't get into the sacks.

"A lot of kids at our school literally lacked the hip range motion to get into the sack and then were having difficulty jumping," said Starrett, who lives in San Rafael, California and has two daughters, ages 7 and 10.
The couple's company educates corporations, athletes and professional teams on movement, mobility, mechanics and injury prevention, and that day at the sack race "really freaked us out because we realized the only thing that could cause that kind of dysfunction in kids was sitting too much."
They'd been recommending people minimize sitting and use standing desks for about seven years. The desks are no longer an anomaly in workplaces, especially after studies showed prolonged periods of sitting can be horrible for our health. But the sack race was the first time they'd considered using the desks in schools.
Last August, Starrett and her husband worked to get 25 standing desks in their daughter's fourth-grade classroom in her public elementary school. After they raise $150,000, all 450 students in the school, even kindergartners, will be standing by January, Starrett said.
"We weren't really sure if the parents would conclude that we were torturing their children or if the teachers would be interested and engaged, so we really didn't know what to expect ... and it was a success times 1 million," said Starrett, who founded a nonprofit called Stand Up Kids, with the goal of getting standing desks in every public classroom across the country. "Educators are really seeking alternatives to the current environment and with all the technology and the amount of time that kids are sitting, teachers often bear the brunt of that in terms of behavior issues (and) attention problems in school."

Schools moving away from 'sitting all the time'

While the concept of standing desks is still a new one in education, there are examples across the country of schools moving away from the traditional "sitting all the time" approach to a standing and moving environment.
Alexandria Country Day School in Alexandria, Virginia, appears to be one of the first schools in the United States to provide adjustable standing desks in every middle school classroom. Students can use the desks to stand, sit or even kneel. The school's head, Scott Baytosh, has been using a standing desk himself for six years, so when the school received a $3 million anonymous donation and was able to renovate every classroom, he wanted to consider other options for his students.
"Kids at this age need to move and so often in education, we tell them to stop moving, sit still, sit up, pay attention. Here we are, allowing them just enough movement to be more comfortable and focus so that they can focus their mental energy on what the lesson is asking them, not thinking, 'I'm really uncomfortable. I wish I could move right now,' " he said during an interview at his school.
In West Caldwell, New Jersey, two years ago, teachers Jennifer Emmolo and Jaclyn Ginex wrote a grant to get standing desks at their public school, Wilson Elementary School. They were looking to find a way to deal with disruptive behaviors such as students going to the bathroom when they didn't really need to go or banging their pencils and disturbing a neighbor, and at the same time, give students an outlet for their energy that was not disruptive to anyone else in the class, said Emmolo.
Their research led them to standing desks. In the first year, they received three desks for each third grade classroom and rotated the students through the desks weekly. The next year, they received five additional desks for each third grade class.
The results have been stunning, said Emmolo, who works with teachers to help them integrate technology into the classroom.
"Things like talking when you weren't supposed to be talking, fidgeting with some kind of object on your desk, standing around the room and moving at not great times, all of those undesirable behaviors decreased by incredible amounts," she said. "It was pretty amazing. Kids that you might have to talk to sometimes on more than an hourly basis to refocus them or redirect them, you no longer had to do that," she said.
One of the most popular features of some standing desks, including the ones at Wilson Elementary, are so-called fidget bars on the bottom of the desks, which, as the name implies, give the kids a chance to fidget or swing the bar without affecting anyone around them.
"I kind of get my energy out with the fidget bar," said Enzo, a third grader at Wilson Elementary School.
"We love that students can swing their feet back and forth ... and be in perpetual motion and can do that without bothering anyone else," said Emmolo.
Today, the school has more than 30 desks with fidget bars, which students can use to stand or sit, said principal Scott Keena. His teachers would love more, he said.
"The teachers are now coming to me and almost saying they'll do anything for more of these," said Keena. "I'd almost argue it's as exciting for the staff as it is for the students because they're hearing from their colleagues about all the benefits their colleagues next door are having and they want the same."

Standing to boost engagement

There hasn't been a ton of research on the effectiveness of standing desks on children, but early studies are promising, experts said.
In a study of nearly 300 children in second through fourth grade over the course of a school year, researchers found a 12% greater "on-task" engagement, or an extra seven minutes per hour of engaged instruction, in classrooms with standing desks. Engagement was measured by activities such as whether students were focused on their teacher when the teacher was speaking and raised their hands and participated in class discussions.
The leader of the study, Mark Benden, director of the Ergonomics Center at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, said the anecdotal response from teachers and principals was significant. Teachers called him and told him they had to create more lessons because, for the first time ever, they had gotten through all their material already, he said in an interview.
And the kids who typically had been sent to the principal's office for misbehavior were no longer turning up there, he said.
"I mean literally, I've had principals tell me, 'I went out looking for this child to see if they were still in my school because I was worried that something had happened,' that they were gone," said Benden, author of "Could You Stand to Lose? Weight Loss Secrets for Office Workers." "They were just standing at the desk, happy as can be, functioning like any of the other kids."
Benden's other research found students in grades K-12 with so-called "stand-biased" desks burn 15% to 25% more calories than students in seated desks.
"Things have changed a lot, for kids, especially, and we've got to get them up and going and being more active," said Benden.
Other international research also shows the benefits of standing desks. In a study of a class of 9- to 10-year-olds in England, a bank of six standing desks was provided to students. The teacher rotated the children around each day to ensure the children were exposed to the desks for at least an hour a day.
The study found that overall classroom sitting time dropped by about 52 minutes per day, said researcher Stacy Clemes, senior lecturer of human biology at Loughborough University's School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences in the United Kingdom. The results mirror those of an Australian study of 11- to 12-year-olds who had standing desks, researchers said.
"We saw similar changes between the two countries in terms of classroom sitting time, so I mean it does provide some flexibility" if schools can't afford a lot of standing desks or fit them all in the classroom, said David Dunstan, head of the physical activity laboratory at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and the lead researcher for the Australian study. "It's good to have at least some so that the kids can rotate through."
In the English study, teachers were also given questionnaires to fill out before and after the study, commenting on students' concentration, attention to task and general behavior.
"We recently just analyzed the data and we find there was significant improvement in behavior" when the children had access to standing desks, said Clemes. "I would say that we definitely saw positive changes in behavior."

Could standing be the new normal?

Researchers say more studies are needed to assess the long-term impact both on health and students' academic performance from using standing desks at least some of the time during the school day.
"I think that's what will make a more convincing case to schools, parents, etc. that this is going to lead to improved learning and a greater learning experience and ... that this is the way to go," said Dunstan.
What's also exciting about working with children, researchers say, is that if they spend more time standing in school, they'll fully expect to be doing the same when they begin their careers.
"You're told traditionally, 'Sit, be quiet and learn,' so the sitting is kind of ingrained from a very early age," said Clemes. "If we can get in and start changing ... behaviors in children ... standing will become the norm, so when these individuals then go into the workplace, they'll hopefully expect similar furniture and will be reducing their overall sitting time, which hopefully should then have long-term benefits to health."
Cost is certainly an issue, as standing desks are definitely not cheap. A single desk can range from $260 to $550, depending on the model, although schools often get discounts by buying in bulk.
Right now, Starrett of Stand Up Kids is trying to raise $1 million to help fund any teacher request for standing desks on Donors Choose, the website that connects teacher requests in high-need communities with donors who want to help.
Before January of last year, there were about 25 to 30 requests on the site for standing desks, said Starrett. Since January of this year, there have been nearly 300 standing desk projects funded. That's gotten 15,000 kids standing across the country, about 75% of them in high-poverty schools, she said.
"We have just been getting emails from all over the place, including from across the globe, so something about this has sparked something to people," she said.
Would you like to see standing desks in schools across the country? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv or CNN Parents on Facebook.
Study: Too much sitting is bad for you 02:24
Stand up, put your phone down04:30
Study: Your kids are doing too much homework 01:32
Teens use media 9 hours a day, report says02:04

Alfie Kohn writes about what a new homework study really says — and what it doesn’t say. He is the author of 12 books about education and human behavior, including “The Schools Our Children Deserve,” “The Homework Myth,” and “Feel-Bad Education… And Other Contrarian Essays on Children & Schooling.” He lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at www.alfiekohn.org.

By Alfie Kohn

A brand-new study on the academic effects of homework offers not only some intriguing results but also a lesson on how to read a study — and a reminder of the importance of doing just that:  reading studies (carefully) rather than relying on summaries by journalists or even by the researchers themselves.

Let’s start by reviewing what we know from earlier investigations.[1]  First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school.  In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement.  If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homework despite what the evidence says.

Second, even at the high school level, the research supporting homework hasn’t been particularly persuasive.  There does seem to be a correlation between homework and standardized test scores, but (a) it isn’t strong, meaning that homework doesn’t explain much of the variance in scores, (b) one prominent researcher, Timothy Keith, who did find a solid correlation, returned to the topic a decade later to enter more variables into the equation simultaneously, only to discover that the improved study showed that homework had no effect after all[2], and (c) at best we’re only talking about a correlation — things that go together — without having proved that doing more homework causes test scores to go up.  (Take 10 seconds to see if you can come up with other variables that might be driving both of these things.)

Third, when homework is related to test scores, the connection tends to be strongest — or, actually, least tenuous — with math.  If homework turns out to be unnecessary for students to succeed in that subject, it’s probably unnecessary everywhere.

Along comes a new study, then, that focuses on the neighborhood where you’d be most likely to find a positive effect if one was there to be found:  math and science homework in high school.  Like most recent studies, this one by Adam Maltese and his colleagues[3] doesn’t provide rich descriptive analyses of what students and teachers are doing.  Rather, it offers an aerial view, the kind preferred by economists, relying on two large datasets (from the National Education Longitudinal Study [NELS] and the Education Longitudinal Study [ELS]).  Thousands of students are asked one question — How much time do you spend on homework? — and statistical tests are then performed to discover if there’s a relationship between that number and how they fared in their classes and on standardized tests.

It’s easy to miss one interesting result in this study that appears in a one-sentence aside.  When kids in these two similar datasets were asked how much time they spent on math homework each day, those in the NELS study said 37 minutes, whereas those in the ELS study said 60 minutes.  There’s no good reason for such a striking discrepancy, nor do the authors offer any explanation.  They just move right along — even though those estimates raise troubling questions about the whole project, and about all homework studies that are based on self-report.  Which number is more accurate?  Or are both of them way off?  There’s no way of knowing.  And because all the conclusions are tied to that number, all the conclusions may be completely invalid.[4]

But let’s pretend that we really do know how much homework students do.  Did doing it make any difference?  The Maltese et al. study looked at the effect on test scores and on grades.  They emphasized the latter, but let’s get the former out of the way first.

Was there a correlation between the amount of homework that high school students reported doing and their scores on standardized math and science tests?  Yes, and it was statistically significant but “very modest”:  Even assuming the existence of a causal relationship, which is by no means clear, one or two hours’ worth of homework every day buys you two or three points on a test.  Is that really worth the frustration, exhaustion, family conflict, loss of time for other activities, and potential diminution of interest in learning?  And how meaningful a measure were those tests in the first place, since, as the authors concede, they’re timed measures of mostly mechanical skills?  (Thus, a headline that reads “Study finds homework boosts achievement” can be translated as “A relentless regimen of after-school drill-and-skill can raise scores a wee bit on tests of rote learning.”)

But it was grades, not tests, that Maltese and his colleagues really cared about.  They were proud of having looked at transcript data in order to figure out “the exact grade a student received in each class [that he or she] completed” so they could compare that to how much homework the student did.  Previous research has looked only at students’ overall grade-point averages.

And the result of this fine-tuned investigation?  There was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grade, and “no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”

This result clearly caught the researchers off-guard.  Frankly, it surprised me, too.  When you measure “achievement” in terms of grades, you expect to see a positive result — not because homework is academically beneficial but because the same teacher who gives the assignments evaluates the students who complete them, and the final grade is often based at least partly on whether, and to what extent, students did the homework.  Even if homework were a complete waste of time, how could it not be positively related to course grades?

And yet it wasn’t.  Again.  Even in high school.  Even in math.  The study zeroed in on specific course grades, which represents a methodological improvement, and the moral may be: The better the research, the less likely one is to find any benefits from homework.  (That’s not a surprising proposition for a careful reader of reports in this field.  We got a hint of that from Timothy Keith’s reanalysis and also from the fact that longer homework studies tend to find less of an effect.[5])

Maltese and his colleagues did their best to reframe these results to minimize the stunning implications.[6]  Like others in this field, they seem to have approached the topic already convinced that homework is necessary and potentially beneficial, so the only question we should ask is How — not whether — to assign it.  But if you read the results rather than just the authors’ spin on them — which you really need to do with the work of others working in this field as well[7] — you’ll find that there’s not much to prop up the belief that students must be made to work a second shift after they get home from school.  The assumption that teachers are just assigning homework badly, that we’d start to see meaningful results if only it were improved, is harder and harder to justify with each study that’s published.

If experience is any guide, however, many people will respond to these results by repeating platitudes about the importance of practice[8], or by complaining that anyone who doesn’t think kids need homework is coddling them and failing to prepare them for the “real world” (read:  the pointless tasks they’ll be forced to do after they leave school).  Those open to evidence, however, have been presented this fall with yet another finding that fails to find any meaningful benefit even when the study is set up to give homework every benefit of the doubt.

NOTES

1.  It’s important to remember that some people object to homework for reasons that aren’t related to the dispute about whether research might show that homework provides academic benefits.  They argue that (a) six hours a day of academics are enough, and kids should have the chance after school to explore other interests and develop in other ways — or be able simply to relax in the same way that most adults like to relax after work; and (b) the decision about what kids do during family time should be made by families, not schools.  Let’s put these arguments aside for now, even though they ought to be (but rarely are) included in any discussion of the topic.

2.  Valerie A. Cool and Timothy Z. Keith, “Testing a Model of School Learning: Direct and Indirect Effects on Academic Achievement,” Contemporary Educational Psychology 16 (1991): 28-44.

3.  Adam V. Maltese, Robert H. Tai, and Xitao Fan, “When Is Homework Worth the Time?  Evaluating the Association Between Homework and Achievement in High School Science and Math,” The High School Journal, October/November 2012: 52-72.  Abstract at http://ow.ly/fxhOV.

4.  Other research has found little or no correlation between how much homework students report doing and how much homework their parents say they do.  When you use the parents’ estimates, the correlation between homework and achievement disappears.  See Harris Cooper, Jorgianne Civey Robinson, and Erika A. Patall, “Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?: A Synthesis of Research, 1987-2003,” Review of Educational Research 76 (2006): 1-62.

5.  To put it the other way around, studies finding the biggest effect are those that capture less of what goes on in the real world by virtue of being so brief.  View a small, unrepresentative slice of a child’s life and it may appear that homework makes a contribution to achievement; keep watching, and that contribution is eventually revealed to be illusory. See data provided — but not interpreted this way — by Cooper, The Battle Over Homework, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin, 2001).

6.  Even the title of their article reflects this: They ask “When Is Homework Worth the Time?” rather than “Is Homework Worth the Time?”  This bias might seem a bit surprising in the case of the study’s second author, Robert H. Tai.  He had contributed earlier to another study whose results similarly ended up raising questions about the value of homework.  Students enrolled in college physics courses were surveyed to determine whether any features of their high schoolphysics courses were now of use to them.  At first a very small relationship was found between the amount of homework that students had had in high school and how well they were currently faring.  But once the researchers controlled for other variables, such as the type of classes they had taken, that relationship disappeared, just as it had for Keith (see note 2).  The researchers then studied a much larger population of students in college science classes – and found the same thing:  Homework simply didn’t help.  See Philip M. Sadler and Robert H. Tai, “Success in Introductory College Physics:  The Role of High School Preparation,” Science Education 85 [2001]: 111-36.

7.  See chapter 4 (“’Studies Show…’ — Or Do They?”) of my book The Homework Myth (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2006), an adaptation of which appears as “Abusing Research: The Study of Homework and Other Examples,” Phi Delta Kappan, September 2006 [www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/research.htm].

8.  On the alleged value of practice, see The Homework Myth, pp. 106-18, also available at http://bit.ly/9dXqCj.

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