Student Overwhelmed With Homework

I believe in homework because it serves as an opportunity for the student to display his or her understanding of the day's lessons without direct help from the teacher. It also provides parents with an insight. Each individual can measure the amount of homework differently. Too much is when the time reserved for homework is more than forty-five minutes to an hour depending on the age and performance level. Not all but some parents feel 15 minutes is too much. It has to be understood that parents were the first teachers their child ever had and they need to interact with the child and see how well he comprehending. That is my belief about the subject of homework. Is there too much? Again, it depends on one's definition of too much.

A. Nicks, Ville Platte, LA, First grade

My rule for my fourth graders is that if they are overwhelmed by homework, they can send a note from home saying they have tried but can't figure it out. I believe homework is a way for students to practice, not to fail or become discouraged. It's too early for these kids to be stressed out by school. They have enough time to worry about it.

Kate, Lake Forest, IL, Fourth grade

I do not think students are receiving enough homework. There are so many people who feel that I send home too much homework. The work that gets taken home is not homework; it is class work that is not finished in class. Why is it not finished? Because the students are wasting their time doing other things. I wish I were able to send home actual homework, as it is an important learning tool. It helps students apply what they have learned outside of the classroom. I value homework. This is my first year teaching, and I have already decided that homework and class work will be two different things next year. There will be math and language homework each day the subject is taught. Those two subjects need all the practice they can get.

Rose McIntyre, Walburg, TX, Fifth and Eighth grade

What I have found is that the amount of homework is just right; but that many kids do so many after-school activities that they don't have time at home. I have spoken with some parents over the years about changing schedules.

Laura Reeve, San Jose, CA, Fifth grade

I think students are receiving too much unnecessary homework. Homework should be reinforcement of what is learned in the classroom. I do not think it should be three and four hours a night. It should be an hour at the most.

E Ward, Chicago, IL, Second grade

I think that students are getting the right amount of homework. It strengthens what they have already learned during the school day.

Jennifer Gutierrez, Santana, CA, Fifth grade

Students receive too much homework. They must sacrifice family time and/or church on Wednesday night and on Sunday in order to keep up. I am in college now and I cannot attend church at all this semester because of the workload. I can say as a student that when I am given so much work, I am so busy rushing to get it done that I do not learn any of the material. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of going to school? Educators need to rethink their objectives and give appropriate lessons to be learned, not just rushed through.

Becky Jancze, Griffin, GA, Kindergarten

What students are lacking is the way to approach their assignments. They have no idea how to organize their time and supplies. So much time is wasted just looking for ruled notebook paper, colored pencils, or an eraser. When they have a long-term assignment due, they don't know what needs to be done first. They don't know how to organize their ideas to write a report in a logical sequence from introduction to conclusion. If students don't acquire these skills in elementary school, they are going to be in over their heads the first week of middle school.

Carrie Bildstein, Atherson, CA, Fifth grade

As a mother of a first grader, an elementary substitute teacher, and a "Homework Associate" for a family of four boys, my answer is a definite yes! I was assured that my son would have 20 minutes of homework during school nights, and no homework on the weekends. Yet, my son is sent home every weekend with his sight word vocabulary box, and a literature book read in class during the week. Homework definitely doesn't mesh with family time, as many households have two working parents. Some students with learning issues need twice the amount of time to do their homework, while still needing time to connect with their parents, siblings, and neighborhood friends. These connections are so important in students'development of self-esteem. I praise the teachers that assign the week's homework ahead of time, for example, sending home the assignments for Monday through Friday. I find this more manageable as a mother, and as a "Homework Associate." It also helps students to better organize their personal time! A "No homework Month" would be wonderful, even though that sounds far-fetched. The cherubs would definitely be smiling-and the teachers might be too!

Michelle Izzo, Commack, NY, Grades K-8

I think that students are receiving too much homework. It can be a useful tool, but we need quality, rather than quantity. Students also need to make some choices of their own, because if they learn about what they love, they will love to learn. It is important that we sometimes do things we don't like, but the time spent at home should be quality time with families, as well as extracurricular and safe social activities. Bogging children down with homework deprives them of learning some important social skills.

Jan F. Hirsch, New York, NY, Fifth grade

Yes, children are definitely receiving too much homework. My daughter has had way too much homework in both fifth and sixth grades! She is also in the band, and this makes it difficult for her to practice playing her instrument 30 minutes every night.

Deane Hymel, Houma, LA, Sixth grade

Many students and their parents are frazzled by the amount of homework being piled on in the schools. Yet researchers say that American students have just the right amount of homework.

“Kids today are overwhelmed!” a parent recently wrote in an email to GreatSchools.org “My first-grade son was required to research a significant person from history and write a paper of at least two pages about the person, with a bibliography. How can he be expected to do that by himself? He just started to learn to read and write a couple of months ago. Schools are pushing too hard and expecting too much from kids.”

Diane Garfield, a fifth-grade teacher in San Francisco, concurs. “I believe that we’re stressing children out,” she says.

But hold on, it’s not just the kids who are stressed out. “Teachers nowadays assign these almost college-level projects with requirements that make my mouth fall open with disbelief,” says another frustrated parent. “It’s not just the kids who suffer!”

“How many people take home an average of two hours or more of work that must be completed for the next day?” asks Tonya Noonan Herring, a New Mexico mother of three, an attorney and a former high school English teacher. “Most of us, even attorneys, do not do this. Bottom line: students have too much homework and most of it is not productive or necessary.”

Homework studies

How do educational researchers weigh in on the issue? According to Brian Gill, a senior social scientist at the Rand Corporation, there is no evidence that kids are doing more homework than they did before.

“If you look at high school kids in the late ’90s, they’re not doing substantially more homework than kids did in the ’80s, ’70s, ’60s or the ’40s,” he says. “In fact, the trends through most of this time period are pretty flat. And most high school students in this country don’t do a lot of homework. The median appears to be about four hours a week.”

Education researchers like Gill base their conclusions, in part, on data gathered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

“It doesn’t suggest that most kids are doing a tremendous amount,” says Gill. “That’s not to say there aren’t any kids with too much homework. There surely are some. There’s enormous variation across communities. But it’s not a crisis in that it’s a very small proportion of kids who are spending an enormous amount of time on homework.”

Etta Kralovec, author of The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning, disagrees, saying NAEP data is not a reliable source of information. “Students take the NAEP test and one of the questions they have to fill out is, ‘How much homework did you do last night’ Anybody who knows schools knows that teachers by and large do not give homework the night before a national assessment. It just doesn’t happen. Teachers are very clear with kids that they need to get a good night’s sleep and they need to eat well to prepare for a test.

“So asking a kid how much homework they did the night before a national test and claiming that that data tells us anything about the general run of the mill experience of kids and homework over the school year is, I think, really dishonest.”

Further muddying the waters is a AP/AOL poll that suggests that most Americans feel that their children are getting the right amount of homework. It found that 57% of parents felt that their child was assigned about the right amount of homework, 23% thought there was too little and 19% thought there was too much.

One indisputable fact

One homework fact that educators do agree upon is that the young child today is doing more homework than ever before.

“Parents are correct in saying that they didn’t get homework in the early grades and that their kids do,” says Harris Cooper, professor of psychology and director of the education program at Duke University.

Gill quantifies the change this way: “There has been some increase in homework for the kids in kindergarten, first grade and second grade. But it’s been an increase from zero to 20 minutes a day. So that is something that’s fairly new in the last quarter century.”

The history of homework

In his research, Gill found that homework has always been controversial. “Around the turn of the 20th century, the Ladies’ Home Journal carried on a crusade against homework. 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 proponents of homework have remained consistent in their reasons for why homework is a beneficial practice, says Gill. “One, it extends the work in the classroom with additional time on task. Second, it develops habits of independent study. Third, it’s a form of communication between the school and the parents. It gives parents an idea of what their kids are doing in school.”

The anti-homework crowd has also been consistent in their reasons for wanting to abolish or reduce homework.

“The first one is children’s health,” says Gill. “A hundred years ago, you had medical doctors testifying that heavy loads of books were causing children’s spines to be bent.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems. There were also concerns about excessive amounts of stress.

“Although they didn’t use the term ‘stress,'” says Gill. “They worried about ‘nervous breakdowns.'”

“In the 1930s, there were lots of graduate students in education schools around the country who were doing experiments that claimed to show that homework had no academic value – that kids who got homework didn’t learn any more than kids who didn’t,” Gill continues. Also, a lot of the opposition to homework, in the first half of the 20th century, was motivated by a notion that it was a leftover from a 19th-century model of schooling, which was based on recitation, memorization and drill. Progressive educators were trying to replace that with something more creative, something more interesting to kids.”

The more-is-better movement

Garfield, the San Francisco fifth-grade teacher, says that when she started teaching 30 years ago, she didn’t give any homework. “Then parents started asking for it,” she says. “I got In junior high and high school there’s so much homework, they need to get prepared.” So I bought that one. I said, ‘OK, they need to be prepared.’ But they don’t need two hours.”

Cooper sees the trend toward more homework as symptomatic of high-achieving parents who want the best for their children. “Part of it, I think, is pressure from the parents with regard to their desire to have their kids be competitive for the best universities in the country. The communities in which homework is being piled on are generally affluent communities.”

Homework guidelines

What’s a parent to do, you ask? Fortunately, there are some sanity-saving homework guidelines.

Cooper points to “The 10-Minute Rule” formulated by the National PTA and the National Education Association, which 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 so on.

Too much homework vs. the optimal amount

Cooper has found that the correlation between homework and achievement is generally supportive of these guidelines. “We found that for kids in elementary school there was hardly any relationship between how much homework young children did and how well they were doing in school, but in middle school the relationship is positive and increases until the kids were doing between an hour to two hours a night, which is right where the 10-minute rule says it’s going to be optimal.

“After that it didn’t go up anymore. Kids that reported doing more than two hours of homework a night in middle school weren’t doing any better in school than kids who were doing between an hour to two hours.”

Garfield has a very clear homework policy that she distributes to her parents at the beginning of each school year. “I give one subject a night. It’s what we were studying in class or preparation for the next day. It should be done within half an hour at most. I believe that children have many outside activities now and they also need to live fully as children. To have them work for six hours a day at school and then go home and work for hours at night does not seem right. It doesn’t allow them to have a childhood.”

International comparisons

How do American kids fare when compared to students in other countries? Professors Gerald LeTendre and David Baker of Pennsylvania State University conclude in their 2005 book, National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling, that American middle-schoolers do more homework than their peers in Japan, Korea or Taiwan, but less than their peers in Singapore and Hong Kong.

One of the surprising findings of their research was that more homework does not correlate with higher test scores. LeTendre notes: “That really flummoxes people because they say, ‘Doesn’t doing more homework mean getting better scores?’ The answer quite simply is no.”

Homework is a complicated thing

To be effective, homework must be used in a certain way, he says. “Let me give you an example. Most homework in the fourth grade in the U.S. is worksheets. Fill them out, turn them in, maybe the teacher will check them, maybe not. That is a very ineffective use of homework. An effective use of homework would be the teacher sitting down and thinking ‘Elizabeth has trouble with number placement, so I’m going to give her seven problems on number placement.’ Then the next day the teacher sits down with Elizabeth and she says, ‘Was this hard for you? Where did you have difficulty?’ Then she gives Elizabeth either more or less material. As you can imagine, that kind of homework rarely happens.”

Shotgun homework

“What typically happens is people give what we call ‘shotgun homework’: blanket drills, questions and problems from the book. On a national level that’s associated with less well-functioning school systems,” he says. “In a sense, you could sort of think of it as a sign of weaker teachers or less well-prepared teachers. Over time, we see that in elementary and middle schools more and more homework is being given, and that countries around the world are doing this in an attempt to increase their test scores, and that is basically a failing strategy.”

Additional resources

Books

The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning by Etta Kralovec and John Buell, Beacon Press, 2001.

The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents by Harris M. Cooper, Corwin Press, 2001.

Seven Steps to Homework Success: A Family Guide to Solving Common Homework Problems by Sydney Zentall and Sam Goldstein, Specialty Press, 1998.

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