Homework is OK, parents say

Children spend no more time on homework than on TV watching, counters a University of Nebraska study.

For years we’ve been told that children struggle each night with hours of mind-numbing homework.

But  homework “does not seem to interfere with students’ recreational and social activities,” the Nebraska study concluded.

The (seventh graders’) parents weren’t overly concerned about homework. More than half of them — 53% — said homework has “no effect” on family activities, and 61% called the current amount of homework “about right.” Many of the parents — 43% — reported that their kids were spending 90 minutes or more on homework each night, which is beyond the 70 minutes a day that experts recommend for the age group in the study. But 51% of the same parents said their kids were watching 90 minutes or more of television per night too.

Of course, some kids are wasting their time on poorly designed assignments, but there’s no rule that homework has to be boring and useless — or so complicated it can be done only by college-educated parents.

I rarely helped my daughter do homework, but I taught her to manage her time so that she could get it done without trauma.

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  1. The last line was the kicker; time management. It can’t be taught unless there is enough work assigned and/or extracurricular pressure to make management a necessity. It’s a make-or-break skill for incoming college students, since most of them haven’t learned how to study or how to organize their time before they arrive on campus.

    My kids all went to demanding high schools and passed enough APs to start college with sophomore standing, but their study and organizational skills were driven by their full-time elite sport commitments. The family rule was that school came first; if grades dropped, their sport would take a back seat. When they were young, I helped them look at their assignments and their schedules and make a plan, but they were doing it on their own before they hit high school.

    The top students figure it out fairly easily, but the kids most at risk need explicit instruction from the beginning, just like they do in academic subjects.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Was there a question for doing homework and watching tv at the same time?

  3. An hour and ten minutes on average per day for 7th grade isn’t unreasonable. But I have this suspicion that the overall average masks wide discrepancies in the actual amount assigned. I’d like to know what percent of students have more than 2 hours’ worth and what percent have less than 30 minutes’ worth.

    A friend of mine enrolled her oldest daughter in a local prep school for 7th grade after previously homeschooling her. Her poor daughter has at least 3 hours’ worth of homework every evening. It was her daughter’s choice to attend this school so she’s not complaining about it. But it does strike my friend as excessive (as it does me).

  4. This makes me wonder something: it seems that the most successful students tend to be very active in clubs, sports, volunteerism, etc. I’ve always assumed a cause-effect relationship: being a high achiever in school has spurred them to volunteer or be active in sports and clubs. Now I wonder if this packed schedule forces them to attend to schoolwork in a way that kids with open schedules could never experience. This is probably obvious to other readers, but in a way, is an epiphany for me, since I have long assumed that the best way for kids to get homework done consistently is to free up their schedule…perhaps the converse is a better solution? Take the kids getting Fs and get them in a sport or club that forces them into a regimented time management system? I can see how in some situations that might be a really good thing.

  5. I did far more homework in elementary school than in high school (where it would have done some good). As a second-grader, 2 hours/night was not unusual. I did find, though, that as I got into middle and high school (and even in college) that being busy with band, sports, volunteering, etc really helped me to avoid wasting my time.

  6. What lu-lu says….

    My elementary school kids have more homework than my middle schooler and high schooler.

    Additionally, the younger kids homework requires a lot more effort from me and my wife in correcting, interpretting, re-teaching, etc…

  7. Actually, my elementary school kids have a lot more homework than I do in my online college classes, and I have a full time course load.

  8. tim-10-ber says:

    Mark G — I don’t know if putting a student in an activity outside of school works unless they understand the importance of an education. If they do not have that connection prior to taking on the sport/activity, I doubt it will make a difference.

    Both of my sons are good students (solid B but could be higher). Both have been very active in sports or drama throughout high school. With no help from mom or dad they have learned to arrange their schedules so they get everything done they need to do and are able to balance school and activity.

    What we have done is stressed education first and then activity. I did tell them early in their school years (2nd and 3rd) grade that I would not get into homework “battles”. I did this with my mother and was not going to do this with my children.

    For them because of the schools they went to (government and then private — thank goodness) they have more homework in high school than in middle and elementary. Of course, elementary was the learning phase and to me those homework nights did seem to last forever…

    My older one is in college. He is a music major which requires him to carry 18 hours or more while only getting credit for 13 (long story). The skills he learned on his own in high school have carried over to college. Thank goodness.

    Don’t know if this helps or not…

    The short answer is it depends on the kid, the parents and the school (are they emphasizing and enforcing academics over athletics)…

  9. Mark: I think the extracurriculars help organization and also agree with the last post about academics coming first. Successful kids buy into that, but they also have to buy into the extracurricular commitment. I’m not sure that starting. extracurriculars will turn around an F student.

    Elite single-sport commitment has been given a bad rap in many quarters as reflecting parent pressure instead of kids’ choice. My twenty years of experience in three sports says otherwise; parent pressure to participate can only work in the short term. Beyond that, kids simply won’t spend 3-5 hours a day training – sometimes at very inconvenient hours – unless they want to do it. Think about getting up at 4 a.m. for swimming or playing hockey or soccer at midnight (indoor rinks and fields are full 18-20 hours a day). That means planning ahead, taking naps, doing homework in the car or during an away tournament etc.

    In short, I think the successful students are different; the academics and the activities drive each other but the individual commitment drives both. Not all kids have that drive and they can only go so far without it.

  10. Phillip Gonring says:

    I would love my children — one in middle school, one in high school — to have 90 minutes of meaningful homework a night, and perhaps we ought, as parents, to propegate a list of what are acceptable and unacceptable forms of homework. I write this because I will never forget the night that my son walked upstair in frustration after spending 30 minutes on a gigantic word find for native American words. This wasn’t just any word find, this was a word find that was 50 columns by 50 columns. A perfectionist, he spent at least 90 minutes on the task. It would be interesting to compile a list of what we as parents would not tolerate. Here’s a start:

    1. No word finds.
    2. No crossword puzzles.
    3. No using a vocabulary word in one sentence.
    4. No “cut out a news article a night and paste it in a notebook that I’ll examine at the end of the semester.
    5. No . . .

  11. I’d like to see the same problem set policy instituted as in my college math classes: Do as many or as few problems as the student feels he/she needs to in order to prepare for the exams. No more wasting time completing 30 problems where 3 would suffice. If students choose to skip the problem sets entirely, that’s their prerogative but if they go on to fail the exam, they will have to suffer the consequences.

  12. I agree with Philip’s list, though I do find that #3 is a good way to practice vocabulary…the clincher must be that the vocab list is SHORT, not fifty words to write fifty out-of-context sentences.

    I assign less homework to my students than many other English teachers, partly because when I had my own kids I wanted to spend time raising them and it forced me to really analyze the value of what I was asking my kids to do. I now look at homework through the parent lens now and am better at asking myself whether the task is really moving the kid forward toward a skills goal as opposed to filling the gradebook (and therefore taking me away from time I could be spending with my own kids). On top of all this, I realized that when I took out all those extra fillers I was asking kids to do they were actually making greater measurable skills gains and their grades reflected their actual skills as opposed to whether they’ve turned everything in.

  13. I’d like to see more short quizzes in class. It’s a quick way to find out who knows what in a short piece of time and often can be corrected in class. For English/history, it could be 1 or 2 short-answer questions. As was said above, not all kids need to do many problems/worksheets to learn the material. (Back on my hobby horse, that issue would probably be smaller with homogeneous classes)

    I’ve been told that there’s pressure to have more graded homework, as opposed to quizzes and in-class writing, and to count the homework more heavily on report cards. Questioning who did the homework is not encouraged, even when there is a clear delta between homework and test performance.

  14. Don Bemont says:

    I don’t know about primary schools, but when it comes to homework in high schools, I think there are two distinct Americas out there.

    I keep reading media reports of high school students burdened with hours upon hours of outside assignments. Parents are in rebellion, and students’ emotional well-being is at risk.

    Then there are the high schools like the one I have taught at for many years: most students do little or no homework. Teachers are welcome to make assignments, but only perhaps 30% of the work is turned in on time, with perhaps twice that being turned in eventually. What is turned in, as often as not, is slopped together in homeroom or on the bus, frequently copied. Administrators do not exactly forbid homework, but grading homework is certainly frowned upon, and the teacher is considered to be at fault if students fail because they did not study or do assigned readings.

    Most of the politicians and policy debaters come from the first kind of high school; most of the students whose performance is so poor according to policy debaters come from the second kind of high school, which is the norm in urban and rural areas.

    Ironically, efforts to convince parents or administrators that our students really need to do the work in order to get a quality education often lead to references to stories about the dangers of huge homework loads — written in all sincerity by people associated with high schools that might as well be on a different planet.

  15. I do agree that homework really plays an important role for students’ succes in learning, that’s why I never forget to give my students homework before closing class.

  16. “I don’t know about primary schools, but when it comes to homework in high schools, I think there are two distinct Americas out there.”

    Actually, three.

    There’s suburban, high income, America, which is represented in the comments here.

    There’s urban, low income, America, which is represented in your post.

    But then there suburban, low income America. These kids go to suburban schools, don’t do their homework, and fail–purely for not doing their homework. Their knowledge, based solely on in-class work, might be at a C level–but they are flunked because they never did homework.

    This is an enormous issue in the Bay Area, for example, in all the corridor schools along 101 that have heterogeneous classrooms.

    Students should not be graded on homework in classes such as math and science. In English and history, where some projects are necessary, students should not be flunked for not doing the work, but rather required to do it.

    And all of this is generally irrelevant because, of course, the teachers can grade any way they like.