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Homework Helpers        < Previous        Next >



Homework: How Much Is Too Much?


Q. I know some parents who are muttering a lot about our district giving out too much homework. Are they just whiners? Or is there something to what they say?


The old rule of thumb used to be that a child had to get all his or her homework done before TV, and certainly before dinner. But now, with after-school sports, lessons and activities, and working parents who can't supervise 'til after the sunset hour, that's becoming more and more difficult to achieve.


The old rule of thumb also seemed to be that a teacher in grade school would rarely give more than a half-hour of total homework per evening. But once kids get into middle school and high school, that could be a half-hour per class - times six classes.


And with today's increasing emphasis on group projects, which are notorious time-wasters since the kids mess around so much, it's easy to see how cries of "too much homework" might be ringing out in many homes and neighborhoods.


There's even a book out about it: The Case Against Homework (Nancy Kalish and Sara Bennett, Crown). Critics say that without enough down time, kids aren't able to let lessons really sink in and connect with their existing bank of knowledge; instead, they're always stressing out over the next homework assignment.


ON the other hand, there are plenty of parents who are advocating for MORE homework, not less. A 2003 study by the Brookings Institution showed that among study participants, only 5% of children are doing two or more hours of homework per day, across the country.


Also a complaint: is the homework introducing new material instead of helping the child go over "old" or already-introduced information and stretch thinking and connections? Teachers who don't use good time management in class may resort to that, but it's not what we're paying teachers to do.


Moderation is always a good goal. According to a review of 60-some studies on homework between 1987 and 2003, there's no link between increased homework in elemetnetary school and higher test scores, and for secondary-level students from 6th through 12th grades, those who do homework for 90 to 120 minutes a night do the best. Those who work longer actually have less impressive test scores, according to the reviewer, Harris Cooper, director of education at Duke University, Durham, NC.


It helps to give your child's teacher the benefit of the doubt: maybe your child is obsessing and over-doing the homework to the point of perfectionism. Talk it over with your child's teacher and find out.


Also make sure your child hasn't fallen into the familiar trap of procrastination. A lot of complaining and excessive hours of homework may be traced right to that childish (OK, all ages are prone to it!) tendency to put off 'til tomorrow what you'd be much better off doing today.


If your child is really getting into a mess, you can always call your district office and find out what the homework policy is. The elected school board should have an official policy which states how many hours, as a rule of thumb, kids should have in the way of homework at various grade levels. Many districts also direct teachers not to give homework on Wednesday night or schedule big tests on Thursdays, since so many Christian students have religious classes and activities on that night of the week which should take first precedence.


Also share this tidbit: if homework is too "hard," kids will hate it. And if homework is too much of the same thing - say, nothing but reading or nothing but group drama projects - kids will hate it. Smart teachers will spread out the homework content and style. And smart parents will support them.

Homework: Teachers say that not enough parents supervise homework, except for a few, who actually DO the homework; both styles are bad for kids. See the paragraph under "Nightly Dilemma" in this survey report:


By Susan Darst Williams Homework 04 2008


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