I recently read an article by Alfie Kohn regarding homework (available here). Finally someone is saying what I have been saying for years. Whenever my students ask if there is homework in my class I emphatically reply NO. I am not particularly fond of working at home so why would I force it on someone else. With that said, I don't want to imply that the students never work outside of class, but any work that they have usually involves putting the finishing touches on a project that we started on in class. Drafting a paper that we thoroughly pre-wrote in class. Editing a piece of writing that was conferenced earlier that day. I would never dream of sending a student home to identify the nouns in a sentence or some other type of grammatical fill-in-the- blank.
This type of work has its place, and that place is during 10-15 min. mini-lessons during class, not during time that they should be spending with their family or friends. I would rather them go home and watch a well written TV show (Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, Lost) than waste time faking their way through some mindless assignment.
As a teacher I have never been too concerned about this. If homework was required I would just assigned something easy. My favorite thing to do was to tell students to go home and discuss a topic for a paper with their parents. Often after asking the students to brainstorm a list of fifty possible writing topics a student would say they couldn't come of with fifty. I would would respond by saying, "then your assignment is to go home tonight and get a life."
As a parent of a three year old I am afraid that as he progresses through school that homework will begin to eat into his life. My wife and I (mainly my wife) make sure that our son has a very enriching and entertaining life. We visit museum, attend concerts, make monthly forays into the zoo, play sports, and create art, and occasionally even eat dinner. If that time is eroded by the mundane grunt work of work sheets and repetitive problems, then I will become extremely depressed.
Homework is seen as a tangible measure of hardwork and worse than standardized tests it measure absolutely nothing. Mental growth can't be measured on an Albert Pujols growth poster. Maybe someday we will come up with accurate diagnostic test, but until then we should not substitute the weight of a text book or the height of a stack of homework.