Yesterday we received two candid – and disturbing – answers to the question: How much homework is too much?
From a middle school student: "I am a sixth grader and I absolutely hate homework. Every day I stay up [till midnight or later] doing homework. … It is very common for me to have headache and stress…"
From a high school student: "I spend between 4-6 hours on homework at night… During [lacrosse] season I get home at 7 then have another 5 hours of homework, so I'm not even getting to sleep until beyond midnight. Then I wake up at 6:15 the next morning. Throw family dinners out the window. No time to walk the dog, clean my room, or do practically anything besides sitting alone studying. Let alone if we have a biology test, we are expected to study for more than 3 hours for the test, and that makes us have to forget about all of the rest of our homework. …"
Across the country, the homework debate is raging. Should a first grader who just learned to read be assigned a two-page research paper with a bibliography? Or should the celebrated (though of dubious origin) 10-minutes-per-grade rule apply?
The root of the problem is that we just don’t know how much homework helps. The various studies show mixed results. Basically, some homework is better than none. But what’s the sweet spot? For elementary school, there’s no evidence-based answer. Hence the disparity between none at all (San Francisco Friends School has reportedly banned K-1 homework) to hours upon hours of it (the case of the first grader’s two-page report). The difference boils down to philosophy: Do these early study habits help later in life, or should young kids spend after-school time playing or simply having free time? For older kids, the results are clear: Research points to an absolute maximum of 90 minutes per night for junior high school students, and a range of 90 minutes to two and a half hours per night for high school students, both of which are exceeded by yesterday’s GreatSchools' posters.
Thankfully, schools and education advocates across the country are taking notice. Galloway Township (GS Rating 4) in New Jersey is contemplating a holiday and weekend homework ban. In addition, they may codify the 10-minute-per-grade rule. In California, the Coronado Unified School District (GS Rating 10) is looking at revising their attitude (though not quantified) towards homework time: “Time spent on homework should be balanced with the importance of personal and family well-being and the wide array of family obligations experienced in our society today.”
But what’s so often lacking in the great homework debate? That it contributes to kids' appalling lack of a biological necessity: sleep. Your elementary schooler needs 10 to 11 hours per night. Your middle or high schooler needs 8.5 to 9.25 hours per night. Tragically, it seems that neither our tween nor teen poster is getting enough sleep.
Coincidentally, yesterday the New York Times published its latest lesson plan: No rest for the weary? Analyzing sleep habits. It suggests a personal sleep study with math, language arts, science, and health lessons that are relevant for middle and high school. If you’re concerned for your sleep-deprived child, here’s a way to advocate for change: Ask your school to try this lesson. It could be an eye-opening experience that just may lead to a little more shut-eye for some weary teens and tweens.
Given what we do – and don’t – know: What’s your take on homework? Is less really more? Or must kids lose sleep to get ahead?