Homework: How much, how often?
December 9th, 2011
01:20 PM ET

Homework: How much, how often?

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) – Much has changed in classrooms over the decades, but homework is a constant in every generation’s education experience. As a result, the debate over what constitutes meaningful take-home work and how much of it to give continues.

The superintendent of the Swampscott School District in Massachusetts has recently nixed homework one night a month. Dr. Lynne Celli and her leadership team issued the order for monthly homework free nights after watching the documentary "Race to Nowhere."  The film profiles the culture of achievement and stress on students that some believe is destroying students' love of learning and burning out both students and teachers. Reactions to the no homework night policy at Swampscott High School are mixed, with some students appreciative, while others say one night off doesn’t make much of a difference.

There are some who dispute the merits of homework. Author Alfie Kohn writes in "The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing" that the usual defenses of homework – it promotes achievement, reinforces learning and promotes responsibility, among other things – are not supported by research.

Historian and educator Diane Ravitch argues that too much homework may just be "prep and drill" but that some homework is "good for kids." Ravitch  says that homework allows time to complete important educational experiences like reading a book, writing an essay or finishing a paper – things that cannot be done in a short class period.

And there are some, like teacher Karen Hollowell, who advocate homework as a way to teach character and provide opportunities for family interaction when parents or older siblings help a younger student with an assignment.

Educator Denise Pope says that homework should be "relevant and purposeful".  While few supporters of homework argue that point, there’s a lot of debate over how much time students should spend on it each night.

Some school districts aim to follow the guidelines of the National PTA – 10 minutes per grade level, maxing out at two hours per night for a senior high school student. Some districts do not have specific guidelines for time spent on homework but assign homework in part because some college admissions officers view regular homework as a necessary component of students' preparation for post-secondary studies.

So what's your opinion? Is homework necessary, and if it is, how much should students be doing? If you believe it's pointless, why do you feel this way? We'd love to hear from you on this topic.

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Filed under: At Home • Elementary school • High school • Issues • Policy • Practice
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Jo

    We homeschool, so it's all homework. One of the reasons we chose this route is the amount of time lost in the mainstream education system. If you combine time spent getting ready, class time, homework, and necessary sleep, little time is left for open play or recreational reading. The family dinner table is disappearing, which is not only important emotionally but is also a huge determining factor to future success and wise decision making (those who eat together as a family are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, be promiscuous, drop out, and are more likely to wear seat belts and do well in school). This is not even considering all of the time absorbed by the extracurricular activities.
    I’m not saying that all homework is bad, but something has got to give. There is a lot of pressure put on kids’ time, though I’m not saying to work is too hard. We spend more money (even considering inflation) now on education than our nation has in the past and there are more classroom hours, so why is education not doing better? I do have my theories, though they are not pertinent to the conversation. I don’t believe more work and time is what is needed. The hours they are in school need to be used more advantageously or shortened if there is to be additional work assigned at home (I realize this is unpopular with so many working households and child care issues). The younger children especially need to be spending time with family, playing outdoors, and creating.

    December 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  2. Sarah

    Education is important, so is homework.

    I'm an advocate for lots of homework and practice into developing oneself intellectually. Why are we debating the potential dumbing down of our children? Also, less work makes kids bigger softies when it comes to the hardships of life.

    December 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  3. NoDoubt

    I spent my 5th grade year under piles of homework that not only took away most of my evening from my family but also many of my weekends. It was truly sad, as I was so stressed out all the time I nearly failed that grade. As long as the amount of homework isn't ridiculous, it does promote a sense of responsability.

    December 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  4. Mark

    Read all the research and "experts" you like. I have yet to see anyone make the connection between the social conditions within the home and homework. Alfie Kohn would like you to believe that homework creates issues within the home and therefore should be banned. However, has anyone thought that the issues that surface around homework already existed within the family social circle and that homework just brings it to the surface? It is not the issue of homework that is a problem. The the disintegrating American family, introduction of technology into the family and a minority of bad homework assignments that are the culprits. Too often, we think one simple change will solve our problems and we neglect to look at the root of our frustration and angst. We will be hard pressed to fix the American family and limit technology intrusions into our children's lives. It is much easier for those looking for a quick fix to latch onto one of the out of the home causes and try to change it. Start within the home and family and you may see a drastic change.

    December 14, 2011 at 6:06 am |
  5. SickOfSchool

    Most of the homework my children have had has been wasteful busywork, at least until the last few years of high school. Several teachers have told me straight out that they assign homework because parents and administrators expect it and think teachers are not doing their jobs if they don't give homework. But SOME teachers do assign meaningful and fruitful - and interesting - homework. For example, measuring and plotting our entire house and yard for a combo math and map-making assignment was fun and educational for all of us. So was attempting to indentify the trees and birds in our neighborhood. 50 math word problems about dividing up pizzas and calculating taxes and discounts– not so much ! If only there were some way for parents and students alike to draw attention to and reward those teachers who do provide valuable homework, so as to encourage others to do the same.

    December 13, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  6. Daniel

    I'm a 13 year old and I have homework 2-3 nights a month. Giving 1 night of no homework is nice but doesnt make a difference because sports and other activities are a daily thing. For it to make a difference it would have to lessen the over-all homework amount.

    December 12, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  7. yahmez

    I tell my kids to pack it up after ninety minutes. If they are not done with their homework, it just doesn't get done. I resent my life being taken over by what a teacher decides to send home. My kids spend 7 hours a day in school. They do not need another 3 1/2 hours of work to do when they get home. They need time to be kids.

    December 11, 2011 at 4:24 am |
  8. Matt

    To whom this may concern, I am a 9th grade student at a Private School just outside of Philadelphia. At my school, they offer a wide range of rigorous courses and College Placement (CP) classes. I take all of the Honors classes, which is a very tough work load. Many nights I come home stressed. For myself, our classes run from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. I play after school sports beginning at 4:15 PM. From 3-4:15 I study and complete assignments, and when sports are over and I return home at 6:30 I tend to have around 2 hours tacked on to the work I already completed. I also have a sister, also at this school, a 3rd grader who seems to me, receives much more work then I did when I was that age. Study Hard and Prosper!!

    December 10, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  9. Humberto Munoz

    I attend a serious magnet school in Texas and take plenty of advanced subjects, totaling to only 3 classes of mine actually being shared by peers of my same grade level. So I do tend to get a lot of homework. The block scheduling [4 classes per day, 8 total classes, two different days]] allots two or four school days to do the homework. I've observed that the block scheduling provides a much greater advantage and leeway in time management, although one must tend to resist the urge of procrastinating. I sometimes get very stressed out when the homework load is high, resulting in weeks in which I sleep less than 6 hours per night.

    I experimentally tried waking up at earlier hours to do my homework. I found it somewhat useful, but I later found myself not disciplined enough to actually be waking up at 4:30 AM. It actually worked for the short time I tried it. It might actually be an attractive option to many younger students with moderate homework loads: Have a little fun with your friends after school, eat, etc.., but go to sleep much earlier, and do your homework in the early morning, where you'll be much more concentrated, rested up, and ready. The concept actually makes a lot of sense. It might be worth a try with kids that could be able to handle such a shift

    From experience, sometimes I am just obligated to prioritize classes. Which class would I least want to fail? Which class can suffer a low grade in which grade category? I can literally crunch the numbers from the online grades and determine how to distribute effort for that certain week. I don't like doing, but sometimes it's been necessary.

    Also, I find the concept of homework being measured in minutes pretty darn silly. 30 minutes of physics homework, for example, might be 10 minutes for me and an hour for this girl that sits in the back of the class. But 30 minutes of history homework for me might be 50 minutes for me and 15 for this girl that sits next to me [I'm not that much of a history person, and I'll admit the time taken for me tends to be more of a concentration problem]. The inconsistency can be serious. I think if parents knew what it was like going to school 10 years after they graduated, they'd understand with experience and observation. It's not about parents not forgetting what it was like to be in school, it's about parents realizing and experiencing the differences. It's also about parents knowing their kid's school, and not recalling their own school. Minor details DO make a difference.

    A slight idea: We need a standardized measurement for homework measured in something like difficulty-concentration-hours times a like-dislike coefficient.

    December 10, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Jen

      Amen. As a freshman I have about an hour of homework at night, but being in the top 2% in my class in a private school, I tend to finish quicker than the average student. I have friends who take 3 hours for homework on an average night. I feel that some homework is a good thing, be it finished at 4 in the afternoon or 4 in the morning. But taking 3 hours is a sign to lay off a lttle bit.

      December 11, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  10. Mike

    Homework should be a requirement...as long as it's relevant and not "busy" work. It teaches children they are responsible for deadlines...much like today's corporate world. I'm sure China isn't letting up on their children...We've become a society of coddling and helicopter parents. If my kid has two hours of homework...ok. Stop complaining. This country has gone way too soft.

    December 10, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  11. Will S

    My first grader has about three hours a week. Four pages of math, four pages of English, four pages of handwriting. Ten spelling words. Also, he's in a dual-immersion program so he has another ten Spanish vocabulary and ten Spanish spelling words and five more pages of Spanish language worksheets.

    To me, this is *way* too much homework for a six year old.

    December 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  12. Teresa

    "...who advocate homework as a way to teach character and provide opportunities for family interaction when parents or older siblings help a younger student with an assignment."

    As a teacher and parent of 4, I have this to say...I don't need my children's teachers to teach MY children character and responsibility. That's my job!!! And with 2 working parents and 4 children, I don't need you to assign homework so my family and I will interact with each other. In fact, our time to interact has been greatly inhibited by the amount of homework that has been piled on my children's plates.

    Homework needs to be an extension, a chance for extra time to complete a task. But most often it is rote extra work that has little connection to what my kids do in class.

    December 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  13. Melissa

    Som homework has merit I have 3 children whom I help with homework and some nights it's 3 or 4 hours no time for decompression from the stress of the day and back at it in the morning. Weekend homework, vacation homework We expect sooo much of our children forgetting that they are children and they need time to be kids and they need time to get outside and play, run around and explore & use their imaginations in whatever way they find relaxing and giving them time to recharge. We need less homework much of it is just busy work, State testing samples prepping for state tests. It's great for family interaction unfortunately in our society today too many kids don't have any type of help from parents. I have a college degree and some of their homework is complicated for me I can't imagine a parent who feels like less because they can't help their child at all. We just need to remember they are kids and they need to be free of stress and pressure to grow up mentally, physically and emotionally healthy there must be a balance

    December 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm |