there’s a fascinating “viewpoint” article in the current issue of time magazine, called “the myth of homework“, by claudia wallis. the author takes a significant swing at the increased quantity of homework most kids and teenagers have every night. this rings so true with our experience. one of the primary reasons we moved liesl to a private school (and max this fall also) was the absurd quantity of homework she was assigned when hitting middle school last fall. she was spending about 3 hours (and often more) every evening, and had work every weekend. her life (especially during the week) was completely consumed with homework. claudia wallis’ narrative of her own experience with her daughter was exactly what we were experiencing.
some of the stats she mentions in the article:
• According to a 2004 national survey of 2,900 American children conducted by the University of Michigan, the amount of time spent on homework is up 51% since 1981.
• Most of that increase reflects bigger loads for little kids. An academic study found that whereas students ages 6 to 8 did an average of 52 min. of homework a week in 1981, they were toiling 128 min. weekly by 1997. And that’s before No Child Left Behind kicked in. An admittedly less scientific poll of parents conducted this year for AOL and the Associated Press found that elementary school students were averaging 78 min. a night.
• The onslaught comes despite the fact that an exhaustive review by the nation’s top homework scholar, Duke University’s Harris Cooper, concluded that homework does not measurably improve academic achievement for kids in grade school. That’s right: all the sweat and tears do not make Johnny a better reader or mathematician.
• Too much homework brings diminishing returns. Cooper’s analysis of dozens of studies found that kids who do some homework in middle and high school score somewhat better on standardized tests, but doing more than 60 to 90 min. a night in middle school and more than 2 hr. in high school is associated with, gulp, lower scores.
• Teachers in many of the nations that outperform the U.S. on student achievement tests–such as Japan, Denmark and the Czech Republic–tend to assign less homework than American teachers, but instructors in low-scoring countries like Greece, Thailand and Iran tend to pile it on.
some of the recommendations are likely a bit idealistic. but a moderated version of idealism is often what becomes reality, so i’m hopeful for that.
when we combine the recent learning about how much sleep kids teenagers need (9 hours for high schoolers), the hours of the day their brains and bodies are naturally tuned for sleep (melatonin kicks in a couple hours later in teens than it does in adults), and this stuff about homework, i sure would love to see the impact of less homework, combined with schools that start at 9 or 10am!