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May 26, 2011

The great homework divide: Which side are you on?

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?

Comments

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We've suffered through the "too much" homework mentality and this year we're LOVING a more balanced approach. Teaching to the test and the push for higher test scores will always have some teachers trying to squeeze more and more in to an already crammed day.

The funny thing is motivated children spend more of their free time on academic pursuits when they're not already doing inane busy work.

We've tried unsuccessfully to codify the 10-min rule, but it is district policy, so the teachers can only assign so much extra before knowing parents push back. In our school it seems it's 50-50 between the heavy homework and the balanced/family matters approach.

Homework is supposed to reinforce the day's lessons. It's obvious that these students are not benefiting from the deluge of homework being assigned by their teachers. I don't see how this much homework can induce good study habits and a love of learning. I hated homework. And the more rote and repetitive it was, the more I hated it. If I was assigned that much homework, it was a good bet that most of it would be incomplete for the next day.

I am not a fan of tons of homework after my kids have been at school for 8 hours. some homework is fine. But really, sons, grade 2 and 4 would rather relax, play outside. My little one, is a wiz kid, he flies through homework that would have taken my older son at that age two hours in a matter of less than half an hour or minutes and passes with perfect scores.My older son is LD with anxiety and is easily overwhelmed by mountains of work. I try not to reduce the lessons because he needs all the practice he can get, but sometimes I have to because he needs some down time. We don't do after school activties, there is not enough time, to bathe, eat, do homework and read and still get to bed on time. I set bed time by the time they get up. Sleep is so improtant. At age 7 1/2 and 10 I try to get them in bed by 6:45 so they can read (they read for pleasure, not what I choose although i do buy alot of material for them to choose from, I found a reading light and choosing for themselves made all the difference in the time they spend reading)for 30-45 minutes, then it is lights out. They listen to lullabies or classical music as they fall asleep. The stress of too much homework is crazy, they are little kids. When those crazy big projects due in two weeks come home, who do think does all the work? i hate homework as much now as I did when I was a kid and it isn't much easier. I do not want my child loosing sleep because some lazy teacher on a power trip piles on too much work because they can't get it done in class. something has to give.

As a teacher of 40+ years I can say that homework is the great separator. It helps me weed out those who accept the challenge of education and those who don't. I give extra credit for early turn-ins; and I even give them up to 10 days to turn it in late (with penalties) and still there are those who do it and those who don't. And you know, as a teacher; that those that get it done go on to be a success; and those who don't go on to be the N'er-do-wells of society.

Really, who is advocating for lots of homework? I know teachers often assign lots because it makes them feel like they are accomplishing something, but the studies don't support that notion as realistic.

What are the arguments you have heard to justify/support a heavy homework load?

"As a teacher of 40+ years I can say that homework is the great separator. It helps me weed out those who accept the challenge of education and those who don't. I give extra credit for early turn-ins; and I even give them up to 10 days to turn it in late (with penalties) and still there are those who do it and those who don't. And you know, as a teacher; that those that get it done go on to be a success; and those who don't go on to be the N'er-do-wells of society."

Don't you know that the world is primarily run by the 'C' students? It is a well known fact that they tend to end up CEOs more often, give more money to schools, and tend to have more success in their careers.
So, how is your homework enabling those 'C' students to excel? Or, are you just rewarding those who do hard work for work's sake, regardless of whether it is actually helping to make them think better, learn better, or become better people?

At the beginning of the schoolyear, I set the tone for homework by giving lots of it. Once I see that the good habits of doing homework is learned, I loosen up and lessen the workload little by little. Students ask if there is homework during weekdays and holidays and the answer is a big yes reasoning that they have time to do it. The habit of doing homework has to be learned by student and providing more problems teaches them how to manage their time wisely. I occasionally do pop surveys on how long it took them to finish the homework to enable me to get an idea of how good and how fast these learners are with the homework. I was a hot topic qmong parents blogging among themselves regarding the homework that their kids had in my Algebra I class. The teacher leading the blog complained that his son/daughter was not learning anyhting new as the problems were repetitive.(well practice makes perfect).Later during the schoolyear. I started getting sick and the parent had the chance to substitute for me. When I returned he had nothing but praises for my Algebra I classes as none of the learners complained when he gave a 25 problem seatwork... I told him that there was noreason to complain as they are used to getting 50 with me. Call me mean but my learners appreciate me for the tough times I gave them...saying that they learned a lot...it was Math that they learned but for me it was the perseverance and the good study habits that they learned ...a simple life lesson.

To Nate Carmody;
I'm quoting your response to my post; "Don't you know that the world is primarily run by the 'C' students? It is a well known fact that they tend to end up CEOs more often, give more money to schools, and tend to have more success in their careers.
So, how is your homework enabling those 'C' students to excel? Or, are you just rewarding those who do hard work for work's sake, regardless of whether it is actually helping to make them think better, learn better, or become better people"
Nate;
Don't YOU know that those who graduate with C's from colleges get the menial, mid-to low level jobs? I think the world is run by the "Cum Laude's" of the world - those who've graduated in the top 10% - and the competition is only getting tougher. And any CEO that doesn't "do their Homework" - working 12 to 18 hour days researching their strategies, their stock performances, their business trends - will not move up the ladder of success. To those who want to get ahead, "homework" is a life-long requirement. Those who don't respect the homework challenge are destined to be the "9 to 5"ers; if they're lucky enough to get a job.

To Nate Carmody, in response to the second half of your post; "So, how is your homework enabling those 'C' students to excel? Or, are you just rewarding those who do hard work for work's sake, regardless of whether it is actually helping to make them think better, learn better, or become better people?"
Nate;
Homework, as I posted earlier, is the great separator. It's never work for work's sake. It weeds out those who are not committed to learning from those who are. It's every teacher's dream to have that average to below average student mature up to the challenge and do their homework; but in reality, some do, some do not. The doers achieve success, the one's who don't, in general, do not.

Any quality teacher monitors their homework assignments; they don't give assignments that will obviously dominate the students' time nor frustrate them; the trick is to challenge and motivate not frustrate. I also give ample opportunity for those debilitated by absences to make up their assignments; HW should never be a punishment, it should serve as enrichment only. Those who abuse the HW strategy - and I'm sure there are a few - make the rest of us look bad. The overall goal of a quality teacher is to improve our world; and I find Homework an absolute necessity.

So cute! I already like you on FB and also get your posts on Google Reader. :)

let's join our hands together to stop this kind of wrong doings. It may risk lives in the future if we just let them continue.

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