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Join the Great Homework Debate

Some people think there should be limits to how much homework kids get. What do you think?

Feb 20, 2018

Are you among the 13% of American kids who spend more than 2 hours per night doing homework? Or are you one of the lucky 13% who has no homework at all? If you do the math right, you’ll find 74% of all kids grades 2-12 falling somewhere in the middle. You’ll also find that if you’re frustrated and overwhelmed by mounds of homework, you share that frustration with 87% of kids across the country. 

1800s classroomHere’s a little-known fact: parents and kids have been weighing in on the homework debate since the 1800s!Courtesy of William Cresswell via Flickr

What is homework for?

People who speak out in support of homework give several reasons for sending students home to continue their studies after school. 

  • Some homework supporters believe that school time is for learning and taking in information while working at home lets you practice the information and internalize it or “bake” it into your brain. 
  • In some curriculum-heavy classes like advanced, honors, or AP classes, there simply isn’t enough time to transmit all the information students will need to complete the course, so they go over the ideas and basics in class, leaving it up to students to “fill in the blanks” through research and homework. 
  • In many other classes like foreign language and science, students do projects to take what they learn and build on it at home. 
  • And then there are assigned papers, from the five-paragraph essay you learn in grade school and middle school to the lengthy term papers you get assigned starting in 7th or 8th grade.

Homework may serve another positive purpose: teaching students how to work independently. In the classroom, there is a lot of collaboration while kids work together and the teacher walks students through the curriculum. At home, it’s up to you to direct the show, solve problems, manage time, and figure things out on your own. Homework doesn’t sound so bad when you put it that way, does it?

And then there’s the parent part of the equation. Your parents don’t know what you do all day at school unless you come home and tell them. And they definitely don’t know what you’re learning or struggling with unless you practice it at home. While you might argue that parents can easily stay on top of the curriculum through online portals like Aeries, Edmodo, and Google Classroom, they don’t know what you’re doing with the information or how you’re learning. Or how they can help you or get help before you come home with a bad grade. Parents can also be a great resource for help, guidance, and support. A parent can provide additional background information on the topic you’re studying, or provide a new way of looking at the problem to help you understand it more deeply and fully. And, in the case of too much homework, a parent can provide hugs, encouragement, emotional support, and a cup of hot cocoa, as well as be your advocate for your teacher when you both feel enough is enough with the homework load already.

mom helping with homeworkDon't underestimate the power of a parent when you need homework helpCourtesy of Ministry of Education, Guyana

The history of homework

Back in the late 1800s, schools focused on repetition, drills, and memorization. They memorized lists and facts and spelling by writing and repeating words and phrases out loud and in print. Starting in the early 1900s, there was a movement in the field of education to make learning more interesting, relatable, and creative for kids. They changed course and started assigning “homework”. Shortly afterward, parents started to revolt. 

“Around the turn of the 20th century, the Ladies’ Home Journal carried on a crusade against homework,” says Brian Gill, a senior social scientist at the Rand Corporation, in an interview on the website Great Schools. “They thought that kids were better off spending their time outside playing and looking at clouds. The most spectacular success this movement had was in the state of California, where in 1901 the legislature passed a law abolishing homework in grades K-8. That lasted about 15 years and then was quietly repealed. Then there was a lot of activism against homework again in the 1930s.”

The debate continued through the 1930s, when many parents were concerned their children’s homework load would cause their children to have nervous breakdowns. These days, we use the term “stress” to replace the nervous breakdown symptoms they were worried about, but it all boiled down to the same thing: does homework do more harm than good? At the time, graduate students conducted a study to show that homework had no effect on how much or how well a child learned. They concluded that homework didn’t help kids learn or retain the information any better than having no homework at all. Homework has changed since the 1930s, and new research has made a good case for both the homework and no-homework groups. It stands to reason that the effectiveness of any assignment should be looked at on a one-case-at-a-time basis. 

The case for no homework

Many parents and kids are frustrated with the amount of homework kids are bringing home, saying there isn’t enough time for play, family, sports, or sleep. 

Physically, a heavy homework load can also cause actual weighty problems, with heavy backpacks leading to back injuries, headaches, posture problems, and muscle strain.

Short of starting a multi-year campaign to wipe out homework where you'll have to do tons of research, write a proposal, and address the PTA, among other things, you won't be able to wipe out homework in your district altogether. But you can start the conversation with your teacher, classmates, parents and school administration to make sure the work that is assigned is age-appropriate and is work that achieves a purpose other than keeping you busy.

How much is too much? Start by referring to “The 10-Minute Rule” that was created by the National PTA and the National Education Association. The rule suggests that kids should be doing about 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level. In other words, 10 minutes for first-graders, 20 for second-graders and 90 for 9th graders. 

If you find your homework is taking too long for one class, don't be so quick to complain to your teachers, however. It may not be the work that's the challenge. When you do your homework, are you setting yourself up for success with a good study environment, enough time, no distractions, and all the information you need? Check with friends to see how long they're taking and if it's not taking them as long, ask if you can do homework together one night so you can learn new study habits from them.

Make Your Homework More Productive

Having too much homework or busywork can really make you feel powerless. Fortunately, there is something you can do about it. If you feel comfortable talking to your teacher about it, schedule a meeting and talk about your concerns. You could also email your teacher, or if you really feel uncomfortable, you can go through your parents. While this last plan won’t go over too well in high school, having a parent or guidance counselor advocate for you can help you get through tough times in elementary and middle school.

Make Your Homework More Productive

Too Many Problems

Repetition may be good for storing facts and processes in long-term memory, but how much is too much? When you are assigned a page full of math problems that repeat the same question with different numbers to plug in, once you understand the concept, the rest is busywork. And if you don’t understand the concept, doing the whole page becomes a frustrating exercise that, let’s face it, can end in tears more often than it can end in learning. If you’re having trouble with a subject or if you feel the workload is too much, talk to your teacher after school or before class, or if you can, contact him or her over email with any questions. Even if they can’t get back to you before the assignment is due, they will still be able to address your questions in class.

Group Project Woes

Have you ever had to work with a classmate or a team to create a group project? More often than not, the workload doesn’t quite get distributed evenly. Someone ends up doing more work, someone doesn’t do any, people argue, someone’s work gets erased accidentally on purpose, and rarely does the final grade reflect each member’s true contribution. If you are assigned a group project and can't seem to gel with your group, hold a quick group meeting to make sure you're all on the same page. Assign each member of the group specific tasks with specific deadlines, and check in with each other regularly to make sure you're on track. And if a member of the group isn't pulling his or her weight, it's okay to hold an intervention and call that person on their slackadasical attitude that could get you all a bad grade. (It's not okay to do it all yourself and then tell the teacher after the fact that one slackster didn't lift a finger.)

Term Paper Blues

Most people would agree that there is a case for writing essays and term papers at home, outside of the classroom, away from distracting chatter, and outside of the rigid time constraints of a bell schedule. Same goes for doing solo projects. If you’re having trouble making it to the deadline, your teacher can give you time management tips, or you can read up on how to improve your study skills

Have Your Say

How much homework do you do on an average night? Is it too much or does it feel manageable? Reply with what grade you’re in and share your homework load horror stories or success secrets in the comments below!