the myth of homework

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!

9 thoughts on “the myth of homework”

  1. And then Youth pastors complain about Students not being committed to church on top of their homework. lives, extra activities etc. I really wonder if some youthworkers know what life as a student is really like?

  2. I’ve always thought 3-5 hours of homework after an 8 hour school day was a little excessive for jr high kids.

    There are kids in my group who literally go to school, go straight to a sports practice for 1-2 hours, come home and do 5 hours of homework, go to bed, and repeat the same routine daily.

    What happened to being a kid?

  3. My son actually had a teacher a couple of years ago that did not grade homework for students that didn’t need the extra work to grasp the material. Likewise, she did not grade tests for students who suffered from test anxiety. What a blessing she was! And this was in the public school system. You see, she saw her teaching as a ministry, and she blessed the lives of her students by looking at what they needed individually. I know for a fact that I don’t want to do an extra 2 hours of work at home after being at the office all day, and I think it is crazy to expect my son to do that either. I wish that more school systems would grasp the realities in this research! Thanks for posting.

  4. I graduated high school in 2001 and am a “rookie” in youth ministry and have been shocked at how much homework some kids have. I was expecting the extracurriculars like sports and band, but not homework.
    I hardly recall ever taking homework home in school. All I needed was study hall and I’d get everything done…and I was at a good school with high test scores!

  5. Pingback: ben's blog

Leave a Reply