Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cutting Back On Homework

Many moons ago I read that a "reasonable" amount of homework would be 10 minutes per grade level. That would mean 3rd graders should have half an hour, 6th graders an hour, and seniors two hours of homework a night. I've also read that there are no studies showing homework has any valid academic purpose below 8th grade or thereabouts. Go figure.

From an academic standpoint, what is the optimal amount of homework students should have? What influences this determination? Does taking AP/IB classes affect this amount?

I ask because of this LA Times story about school districts' limiting the amount of homework students can receive:

Bennett is part of a vocal movement of parents and educators who contend that homework overload is robbing children of needed sleep and playtime, chipping into family dinners and vacations and overly stressing young minds. The objections have been raised for years but increasingly, school districts are listening. They are banning busywork, setting time limits on homework and barring it on weekends and over vacations.

I'm curious how they set time limits in high school. Must the math teachers coordinate with the English teachers? "Essay due tomorrow, cut down on the math problems tonight."

As for "banning busywork", I'd be really interested in how that's done. Who is to determine what is practice and reinforcement and what is homework for its own sake?

While I agree that the concept of homework should be discussed at schools, there's a lot of populism at work in the "cut back on homework" movement--and not the good kind of populism, either.

I wonder if the same districts that are mandating reductions in homework are also trying to "hold teachers accountable" for student learning. I also wonder how that conversation would go at a staff meeting.

Update: Link fixed now.


Dustin Scott said...

Your link sent me to a page about fighting...

Darren said...

Thanks for letting me know. It's fixed now.

Ellen K said...

On one hand, I think too many teachers use homework as a way of forcing kids to read and think at home. It's what they should be doing in the classroom instead of socializing. On the other hand, AP/IB courses are supposed to be as rigorous as a college class. Therefore, it should be expected that the students who elect to take these classes will find themselves doing what college freshmen do-work like crazy to learn the material. If parents want their kids to pass the AP exams, that is what it takes. I never could get that point across to my AP Art History classes. Instead they wanted to be spoonfed material to regurgitate. That's not rigor, that's parroting. And if parents want their kids to avoid these programs,that's their perogative, but don't drag down everyone else's kids because your kid can't cut it in AP classes. I have seen too many parents demand their kids be placed in AP classes when their kids were just average students. These classes are NOT for the average student.

Anonymous said...

Just make it optional. Answer questions if they have them, problem fixed!

Anonymous said...

"I've also read that there are no studies showing homework has any valid academic purpose below 8th grade or thereabouts."

I have read similar claims (by Alfie Kohn, I belive), but these claims are wrong.

As an existence proof, I offer page 67 from "The Art and Science of Teaching", by Robert Marzano. He writes, "In his 1989 meta-analysis, Cooper reports the following effect sizes (p. 71):
   Grades 4-6 ES=0.15 (Percentile gain = 6)..."

This gain is considered small by Cooper, but it is not 'none.'

One can also find studies by Walberg on homework that find positive academic benefit (but I don't know what ages of students he studied).

-Mark Roulo

Donalbain said...

The way it works at my high school is that each subject is given a day on which to set the homework. So, Science homework is set on a Tuesday to be returned the next Tuesday. The aim is usually to set about 30 mins to one hour per subject per week.

Darren said...

If it *was* Alfie Kohn, then I dismiss his claims outright.

Anonymous said...

Homework is a hot topic in our district with many teachers not assigning it simply because the students won't complete it and this leads to failing students. With the pressure to decrease failures so that our graduation rate will go up, teachers feel they must pull back on homework. I agree that some homework could be classified as busy work but I also think that part of the reason for homework is to teach students responsibility for completing tasks on time.

Stopped Clock said...

I've met teachers who've admitted that they give homework just to keep kids busy when their lesson doesn't make it all the way through the class period, and they have to keep the kids busy for the rest of the period. Some of them will finish the extra work during class and the rest will do it at home.

Anonymous said...

Elementary school classrooms are hetergeneously mixed. For example, there is a 10 year spread in reading skill levels and a five year spread in math skills in my daughter's fifth grade classroom. The kids all get the same homework. Some of the homework for some of the kids will be busywork, some will be far too difficult and some will be just right.

As a parent,

1) I figure the school has my kids for six hours. They should be able to get their work done there. I have been in the classrooms often enough to see the vast amount of time wasting that goes on.

2) I am sick of dealing with busywork. We have productive things to do at home. There are few things less productive than busywork. It reinforces the idea that the school is not serious about learning and has NO idea where my kids are academically.

High school should be different. Kids should be learning new materials in their classes and homework should be useful. I am SO hoping it is.

Anonymous said...

"If it *was* Alfie Kohn, then I dismiss his claims outright."

Alfie Kohn *has* made the claim. Here, for example:

where he writes: "To begin with, I discovered that decades of investigation have failed to turn up any evidence that homework is beneficial for students in elementary school."

But I don't know if that is/was the first time I saw the claim. I think my first exposure to the claim was from the book "The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning." Whether Alfie took their claim at face value or actually explored the literature himself, I do not know.

-Mark Roulo

PeggyU said...

Speaking from a parent standpoint, I agree ... too much homework at the grade school level. Especially "busy" work. For example, creating a stoneage spear (good at killing drywall, by the way), a popsicle hogan, or a chicken-wire-and-plaster volcano are busy work. And then you are stuck with the project sitting around the house and taking up space. Since our youngest boy is taking classes online now, the timing is more flexible, and there is less "busy" work - but there's still a mountain of school work, especially writing assignments.

Left to his own devices, our 11-year-old will read about physics, poker, chemistry, history ... the things that interest him. He knows a lot more about these subjects than most adults I know. Or, he will spend time building things or riding his bike. These activities have provided him with at least as much knowledge as school work has. I imagine he has retained the knowledge better, though, since he was interested enough to find it independently.

I haven't noticed that our high school son is particularly burdened with homework, though.

Scott McCall said...

i remember back to school night that my parents went to when i was in highschool, EVERY TEACHER said there would be about an hour of homework for their class each night......times 6 classes, total abotu 6 hours of homework a night.......

....even though it wasnt true, each teacher made the claim that it would be

Anonymous said...

"High school should be different. Kids should be learning new materials in their classes and homework should be useful. I am SO hoping it is."

Anon, shouldn't ALL grade levels be teaching new material? your statement makes it sound like kids aren't learning new material until high school.


Mr. McGuire said...

In my sixth grade class, the only homework is to read a fictional book. The more students read, the better the grade they earn.

Every year I have several parents that comment about how their child has read more this year than ever in their life. I assign it with the hope that maybe TV and video games might take a back seat, at least for a little while.

Anonymous said...


I think that ALL grades should be learning new material. I am irate that my daughter has been expected to sit in class and wait for the others to catch up.

But there is nothing that can be done about it. Or, if there is, I haven't figured it out. We have about two months left of elementary school. My daughter went skiing today. She will probably miss more school before the end of the school year.

Is this a good solution? NO! But I don't have a better one.