Every few weeks or so an article pops up in the news about homework. Yesterday, the Boston Globe (which I won't link too because they are starting a pay for use program on their website) had one discussing some new and, as ever, inconclusive evidence. For math, yes; for english and social studies, no. Or something like that. The disappointment was that the study used data from 1988. "Anyone working in schools think homework has changed much since 1988?" he asked, on a blog, using the internet.
More helpful are articles like the one last week in the New York Times reporting about the usefulness of "spaced repetition." Or learning about the school district in Los Altos that is using Khan Academy to flip its math classrooms: learn the material at home on Khan Academy and come to school to do homework type activities when a teachers assistance would be most helpful.
Most of the articles, the Globe included set up a false dichotomy between kids who hate homework on the one hands and parents and teachers who like homework on the other. But this is false. Kids don't hate doing extra academic type work at home. They hate busy work. Work that doesn't contribute to their learning. I know a third grader who spent a great deal of free time for months collecting shark teeth and researching sharks on the internet. I know a fifth grader who, having learned about Pangea in school wrote a movie script about a group of kids who time traveled back to see if the theory was accurate.--not for homework, but for fun. I know many, many students who read books outside of those assigned in school.
The question is not whether homework works or not. Student can, do, and want to learn outside of the classroom. The question is: How do we assign homework that students actually want do do?