Race to Nowhere

A documentary called Race To Nowhere is making its way around the schools in my neighborhood. The film was made by a mother who was disturbed by the amount of homework that schools were assigning, as she felt her children were focusing too much on homework and not enough on play. This has been a discussion that has been going on for the last few years in the education world, in addition to other conversations about parents over-scheduling their children.

While in theory I agree with many of these notions, I wondered what the evidence says. I found a study that summarized research done over 6 years, from 1997-2003. In an examination of the trends shown in 69 studies, the researchers found evidence that academic achievement was positively correlated with homework, especially in the upper grades. However, after one to two hours a night, the correlation no longer exists. Another study examined a variety of factors about what best predicts academic achievement (measured by grades), and found that it was NOT IQ, high school, school attendance, hours watching TV or hours spent doing homework. Instead the most important predictor was self-discipline (e.g., able to delay gratification and self-regulate).

After the movie, parents posed questions that offered many ideas and thoughts, from abolishing homework, realizing not every child is meant for college, to changing the way schools grade, test, and evaluate students. These ideas all have merit, and I believe some of these kinds of changes should be considered. But self-regulation, as well as persistence, are crucial skills that are somehow being missed in these discussions.

I believe that it is important for all adults to allow children to take risks and fail and to then teach children to pick themselves back up once they do, these are the kinds of practices our children need to learn. As they learn how to pick themselves back up after failure and to try again at the task, children will learn that much success comes from effort and hard work, and ideally will learn the practices and self-regulatory skills that can make them feel competent and become successful learners.



5 Replies to “Race to Nowhere”

  1. I appreciate your level-headed insight into this subject – as soon as school, homework etc is on the table for discussion, emotions rise sometimes to the detriment of logic. (I am guilty of that myself)

  2. Interesting research and I agree that self-regulation skills have been overlooked in this discussion because it’s easier for parents to point the finger at schools/’the system’ than model good self-regulation skills themselves. 

    1. Thanks so much…. I could not agree more, parents want to blame the school system too often when they should be working with the schools to help their children… schools can be great partners.

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