Homework: Too little or too much? It depends
PITTSBURGH — Two complaints parents have about their kids' homework are: There’s too much and there’s too little.
In a report by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., education expert Tom Loveless says those who think there is too little homework are more numerous.
But, he adds, those complaining about too much homework get most of the attention.
“The homework horror stories need to be read in a proper perspective,” he wrote. They seem to come from the very personal problems of a small group of parents. "They do not reflect the experience of the average family with school-age children.”
And, Loveless continues, media reports about increasingly overburdened children are real but not the norm.
“The homework load has been pretty stable over the last two to three decades,” he said in an interview.
A Rule Of Thumb
The National Parent-Teacher Association and the National Education Association are in agreement when it comes to how much homework is the right amount. Both favor the rule of thumb limiting homework in all subjects to 10 minutes times the grade level. With this thinking, a first grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework a night, a sixth grader up to 60 minutes, and a high school senior up to two hours.
Some schools have policies by which kindergarten homework is limited to 10 to 15 minutes a night, growing to 40 to 60 minutes in grade 5. This is the case, for example, with the Quaker Valley elementary schools in western Pennsylvania.
“I think homework is a good time for kids to practice the skills they’ve learned in the classroom,” said Jillian Bichsel, director of academic services in Quaker Valley.
The actual amount of homework can vary widely.
Take these three Pittsburgh Public Schools students, all members of the TeenBloc at A+ Schools.
Imani Downing, of the North Side, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Perry High School, said she rarely gets homework and usually in just one class.
“I feel like we should have homework in every class,” she said, explaining that would allow for “more learning" and "a better chance to understand things.”
Time And Quality
Amma Ababio, of Highland Park, is an 11th-grader at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School who is taking advanced classes. She figures she does homework from about 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on school nights. She said her phone is off, her computer is off except for research, and she even does homework while she eats dinner.
“I have homework in every single class,” she said.
Jermalle Johns, of the North Side, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12, is between the two. He figures he spends “maybe an hour on homework tops.”
He doesn’t think the homework helps because he learns from paying attention in class. “I get it done because it’s another grade that helps me get an A.”
The Brookings report doesn’t address homework quality, a topic of many studies.
Education expert Alan Lesgold summarized what those studies had to say about the value of homework for students:
“Bottom line is that it depends heavily on the quality of the assignment, the extent of quick feedback, whether the student is motivated to do it," he said. And, he added, another important factor is whether there is support outside of school. This is especially true for "the kind of big projects that can be demanding of a lot of parent time that may be less available when the parents are working multiple minimum-wage jobs.”
Loveless based his conclusions on numbers from three surveys: a student survey that was part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as NAEP or the Nation’s Report Card; a MetLife annual survey of parents and students; and a survey of college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.
Details From Studies
In the 2012 college freshmen survey, students were asked how much time they spent per week on various activities in their last year of high school. Nearly two-thirds said they spent six or more hours a week socializing with friends.
But only 38.4 percent spent that same amount of time on studying or homework their last year in high school. Homework came in behind not only socializing but also exercise or sports as well as working for pay.
That percentage is less than in 1986. In that year 49.5 percent of college freshmen said they spent six or more hours a week studying and doing homework in their last year of high school.
“When I give this talk and show the college freshman data to college professors, they gasp and they all nod their heads, like, ‘We thought there was a problem,’” Loveless said.
The 2012 NAEP survey asked students how much time they spent on homework yesterday.
In all three age groups questioned, more than a fifth had no homework at all: 22 percent of 9-year-olds; 21 percent of 13-year-olds; and 27 percent of 17-year-olds.
For most, that was close to 1984 except for 9-year-olds, whose 1984 results show 35 percent didn’t have homework.
Of 9-year-olds, 57 percent said they received homework, but less than an hour's worth. The percentages were 44 percent at age 13 and 26 percent at age 17.
As for those receiving more than two hours of homework, the percentages in 2012 were within a point or two of those in 1984.
In 2012, 5 percent of those age 9, 7 percent of those age 13, and 13 percent of those age 17 reported they had more than two hours of homework the previous night.
“The bottom line: regardless of how the question is posed, NAEP data do not support the view that the homework burden is growing, nor do they support the belief that the proportion of students with a lot of homework has increased in recent years,” Loveless's report stated.