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The Myth of Too Much Homework?

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A favorite, or maybe I mean never-ending, debate in education circles is whether students are overburdened with homework, blowing it off at will, or simply doing about the right amount.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln concludes that students are not saddled with an undue amount of homework—at least according to their parents. As described by Time magazine, the study found that mothers and fathers reported that their kids spend about as much time watching TV as they do on their out-of-school studies.

The research counters some past reports suggesting that the amount of homework has increased over time, or that it's more than students can handle. As EdWeek's ace reporter on research issues, Debbie Viadero, put it in a story last year: "A perennial parade of authors, newspaper stories, and parents have raised questions over whether the nation’s schoolchildren are doing too much homework, or doing it at too young an age, and whether too much of it is busywork." Yet as that story noted, a poll showed that 85 percent of parents polled in a recent study believed their children are doing the right amount, or even too little homework.

Whether the latest study moves the homeworkometer one way or another remains to be seen. I'd be curious to see any research that compares different generations of parents' attitudes toward homework. Do parents today have noticeably different beliefs about how much time children are spending on homework than they did in, say, the 1970s, or 1980s?

If anybody's seen research of this sort, enlighten me.

11 Comments

The myth about homework is not about amount. It's about whether it is worthwhile. Check out Alfie Kohn.

I dont think you should cloud that judgment by basing it on generations. EVERY generation feels that the next is working less than they did. I do the same! It seems to me that I did a lot more homework than these kids today, what with their laptops and palmtops. But then, who is to say they know any else than I did?
homework help at www.aafter.com

Ah, and when the teacher checks for homework completion, many times it has not been done. That would explain why parents might think they don't have much homework.

On the other hand, at our house, we were regularly up until 2 a.m. getting homework done for 3 kids and most of it was a waste. As a teacher, I altered my view of homework drastically after helping ours make posters and fill in worksheets for hours, all pretty meaningless.

Time Magazine's article did not include the millions of parents too busy working or helping their children with homework to discuss homework. It did not include the millions of homeless parents trying to find somewhere for their family to sleep. It did not include the millions of parents at work worrying about their children left home alone.

I do not believe it is about too much but rather cross discipline. Do TEACHERS coordinate with each other to be sure students are getting the most out of their "homework"? We, as educators, are missing a huge opportunity to reinforce cross curriculum real world opportunities.

I feel that discussions of homework should focus on the quality of the work instead of on the quantity or time limits set for it. For example, if homework was not graded and used only rarely and only when it really helped turn the kids onto learning, it would be a more useful tool. Too much homework that my own kids have done in the last ten years has been bland, non-creative, non-inspired busywork. Most of it seems to be about how well kids can follow the teacher’s directions, instead of how well kids can think for themselves. Is this really the best way to prepare our kids for the 21st century?

Check out my blog: East Bay Homework Blog - http://eastbayhomework.blogspot.com/
and check out the film Race To Nowhere, http://www.RacetoNowhere.com

The purpose of education is to develop the ability to learn and think. Memorizing the quadratic equation is not learning, but knowing how to derive it leaves the student's mind stretched beyond where it was before. School and all the related activities must be designed and implemented with that in mind.

The primary purpose of homework is to reinforce the material provided by the teacher. Redoing the same math problem with different numbers doesn't do that. Doing different problems that use the same principles does.

A secondary purpose of homework is to establish the discipline needed to learn independently, in other words, how to study. This is critical for those who hope to go on to higher learning. Spending hours gluing pictures downloaded from the internet to a piece of poster board fails to support either the primary or secondary goals. It just keeps the kids occupied.

In response to Doug Hall, I do not agree with your contention that homework is critical to progress to higher learning. I have an M.A. and I'm working on my doctorate (5 years into it), yet in my earlier years in school I was an unmotivated flake. My attention was directed to other pursuits, e.g. reading books that teachers wouldn't dare assign us. Now I'm a scholar, not a burn out.

Any survey of opinions must be taken lightly, given the diversity of parents today. I'm sure I could find a group of parents in which 85% of them felt their kids had TOO MUCH homework. Here's the problem: Today's parents are more diverse than ever, in parenting style(laid back, democratic, or dictatorial), and in their level of involvement in homework(from no involvement to over-involved), but most importantly in their belief about the place of academic work in their child's life. Some parents WANT their kids to have 3 hours of homework a night, others want to balance homework with activities they or their child have chosen, some are forced for economic reasons to prioritize chores and paid work over homework, and some just want their kids to have time for leisure and family time. Are parents today different than from 20 years ago? Most definitely--they've decided THEY should have some control over what their child does outside of school.

Dr. Cathy Vatterott is the author of "
"Rethinking Homework: Best practices that support diverse needs." Learn more at www.homeworklady.com

My problem with homework is they give too much and it takes too long. I have children in 9th and 6th grade. I'll use tonight's 6th grade work as an example. My son had homework in 4 classes and had to study for a test on top of it all. The work took him 6 hours and 15 minutes to complete. He understood how to do it all, but it was the sheer work and volume involved. For example he had 28 math problems that had to be worked out (work shown) each problem took nearly an entire sheet of paper to show this work on.

Example- 26.2/ 3.2143= 8.1510748841116261705503531095417

He had 28 of these to do. Now he understood with problem 1 how to find the answer and do the problem. Why must he do 28 of these to prove he's learned the math concept?

He has homework every night in all 4 major core classes. (Math, Science, Language Arts, and Social Studies) that require different amounts of time, but on average 4 hours. (5 pages written for Lang. Arts iteself takes awhile)

My 9th grader averages close to the same 4 hours a night. (She is in 4 advance classes, but still) Now, when the bus gets my child home at 5:30 in the evening and we still have to work in dinner and showers, plus occasional social things) HOW do you expect them to spend 4 hours of the 4 and a half hours they are home before they go to bed on homework? They are already in school 8 hours a day...when is it enough.

No, my kids aren't slow at the work (both are advanced) but they just send so much of it home to do it's insane.

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