Too much homework?

Schools are setting limits on homework — typically 10 minutes a day per grade level and no work on weekends or holidays — reports the New York Times.  Usually these are schools in middle-class areas where parents worry their kids are under too much pressure — and kids have lots of extracurricular sports and lessons scheduled after school.

For elementary students, the 10-minute rule — 10 minutes in first grade, 20 minutes in second grade and so on — makes a lot of sense. Kids who do more homework don’t learn more.  However,  I worry about older students who expect breaks on weekends and holidays. One of the most valuable things students can learn in K-12 is how to schedule their time to get assignments done.

Of course, the quality of homework assignments varies: I’m not a fan of assignments that require a parent’s extensive involvement — especially if that parents is supposed to have arts and crafts skills.

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Comments

  1. Amen to your arts-and-crafts comment; I have none of those skills, my kids have none and none of us has any interest in that kind of project. It’s a wonder that any of us can look at a shoebox without a panic attack; there were far too many dioramas!

    Even worse than the arts and crafts is the group projects (which may also be arts and crafts, even worse). At MS-HS levels, the attendance areas are so large that kids have to be driven and, since all the kids have various extracurriculars, scheduling is a nightmare.

    Expecting no homework on weekends or holidays is unreasonable, at least at MS-HS levels. My kids all did serious travel sports and all the kids (not just mine)had to take backpacks for homework and there were tournaments/meets on every holiday weekend except Christmas and Easter (yes, always one over Thanksgiving). It’s a great way to learn time-managment skills; much appreciated in real-world jobs.

  2. I’d agree…the no homework for high school on weekends/holidays (1 day types) is just asinine. When I was in high school, I probably had homework at least 4-5 days a week, unless I could get it done on the bus trip home, etc. Granted, it usually wasn’t more than say 2 hours at best. We did have projects which were given on long holidays (thanksgiving, etc)…

    What are these students gonna do when they get to the real world?

  3. How can they define “time limits” for homework. What takes one student five minutes might take another 30 minutes.

    I think something that many people need to learn is you can’t do everything well. Little Johnny can’t play basketball, football, soccer, basketball, be in the school play, go to guitar lessons and get good grades. Not impossible, but unlikely. If a kid (and parents) desires to put forth inordinate amounts of time into sports then other areas will suffer; he might not do as well academically. That can be acceptable, but it seems that today parents and their kids want to be number one at everything. Need a little moderation, then maybe some can do their homework.

  4. There is no way to know how long it will take a kid to finish an assignment. At my kids’ school, EVERYONE is doing more than the recommended 10 minutes per grade level, but the teachers honestly believe they’re assigning quick little pages to do. I know this because I asked how long the teachers thought the assignments would take. Their estimates were way off and have been every year.

    I’ll ditto the arts and crafts thing. I don’t have that gene. We’ve done a few individual projects, but it was the parents doing most of the directing. At least we’re not doing it for our kids like some parents are. When my son was in second grade there were so many parent-done projects one month that the teacher didn’t grade them.

    I’m just tired of mindless worksheets that cover topics that were only breezed over during the day, causing much angst at home. Or worse, “fun” worksheets that have nothing to do with what’s being learned, but the teacher didn’t want to send the kids home with no homework.

    Just a reminder that very few teacher prep programs include how to assign homework.

  5. Hi,

    I am really not getting that why such kind of rules are made?
    There is no sense for time limits of homework and assignments, as Parker said, it depends on student that in how much time he/she is completing the task and its not the same for all.

  6. Ted Craig says:

    Forty minutes a day for a nine year old is still excessive. How about zero? Most studies show that not only is homework not helpful for elementary students, it’s harmful. I vote for zero.
    Plus, if being an educator is such a skilled position, why am I expected to do their work after hours?

  7. How come parents of an 8-year-old are ok having their kid do 2 hours of soccer practice, but not 2 hours of math practice?

  8. Peace Corps says:

    Ted Craig: You misunderstand the purpose of homework; or your child’s teacher does. Homework should be for the student to practice what he/she learned at school (for math, grammar) or to read for other subjects. The parent should not be involved other than to give the child time in the afternoon/evening to get it done.

    I teach high school math, but I have a 9-year-old. I give homework almost every day and expect my child’s teachers to do the same. For math, most students need some extra practice outside the classroom to get the things they’ve learned cemented in their brains. The ones that don’t attempt the homework usually think they know how to work the problems, but come test time they show that they really didn’t. Homework also gives me one more opportunity to catch any misunderstandings a student may have.

  9. Jill Bell says:

    Ted Craig: I agree with Peace Corps. I am also a high school math teacher. I give my kids a speech at the beginning of every school year explaining that math is more like football and band than it is like English and history. Math has to be practiced in order to become successful at it. I need all of the time I have in class to teach the skills – the practice must be done on their own time.

    Having said that, I also don’t take up homework. I tell the students that they are responsible for the amount of practice time they put in. In football, they aren’t graded on their practice – they are graded on their performance. I don’t grade my kids on their practice either – their grade comes in the form of a performance on a quiz or test. It takes the kids a little while to get used to this way of working, but most of them like it.

    There are school districts that are taking the homework controversy a step further. They are not allowing teachers to take a grade on homework at ALL. This may make some parents happy, but unless the student has the self-discipline to do what they need to do, even if it isn’t graded, they won’t be successful on the assessments in school, let alone in college.

    Six hours a day isn’t enough time to cement all of the concepts we have to teach into a kid’s brain. Some of it has to be done at home…

  10. Anytime you see someone go down the “back in my day” road, you can pretty much assume they’re wrong. If there were a real reason to support their view, wouldn’t they want to open with that?

    This discussion should have a lot of parallels with adults being forced to work unpaid overtime. When you go that direction, less homework is pretty clearly right.

  11. Cranberry says:

    How come parents of an 8-year-old are ok having their kid do 2 hours of soccer practice, but not 2 hours of math practice?

    Soccer practice is aerobic, gets kids outside, and running around helps children grow muscular, coordinated bodies? 2 hours of math practice for an 8 year old is insane. Do the other subjects demand that much practice? Reading, Science, Social Studies? We’re at 8 hours. For an 8 year old?

    I realize you were probably making a humorous exaggeration to make your point. I agree that many American families are willing to devote long hours to sports rather than homework. There are only so many hours in the day, though. There is a level of homework which is reasonable. Doing away with homework entirely would harm the students, particularly if other schools don’t join the fad.

    In my opinion, homework should be assigned over weekends, because part of the intent of homework is to teach the students to allot a period of time in their day for homework.

  12. Cranberry,

    I think that Matt was responding to Ted Craig’s ill informed and insulting post. Ted either does not understand what homework is or he is being deliberately obtuse. Either way he reveals his anti-teacher bias in an embarrasing manner. Well done, Matt, for putting him in his place.

  13. I think homework is overrated. Many kids fail math despite understanding the material because they haven’t done the homework. If the kids know the math, they can do the homework, but if they know the math, there’s not much need for the homework.

    2 hours of homework a night is absurd.

    This has nothing to do with teaching ability or knowledge, but it is this weird moralistic fetish that many teachers share.

  14. “This discussion should have a lot of parallels with adults being forced to work unpaid overtime. When you go that direction, less homework is pretty clearly right.”

    I like this. How about we divide the students between people who will work hourly based jobs and those college bound students. Can’t make the hourly based students do extra without extra pay, but the students on track to get college degrees may end up in salaried jobs that require one to put in more time than “normal” working hours without extra pay.

    In the end, I do think some have gone overboard with homework, especially for elementary school. I do however disagree with the idea that it is useless. Spending more time working on titration problems in chemistry will probably make one better at doing them, whether practicing at school or home. Taking the time to reread and study over material (yes, I call that homework) also will help. This is one reason why I am for having choices for parents, whether schools or class levels. You want a school that pushes real hard and gives lots of homework, then lets make it. Someone else wants less push, then lets have it. No homework school, lets build it. Might one of these produce more knowledgeable students? I think probably so in general. Let people choose. One method will not satisfy everyone.

  15. I too have been teaching maths a number of years. Homework is very useful for helping the child to become confident in working on the skills learnt in class. At home they’re on their own, and have configure things out for themselves.
    I’m not sure that no homework over the holidays is necessary. The summer holidays in particular are always a concern, and when I was teaching in schools we would set homework to be done before September start for those wishing to continue to study maths. This was useful in helping the students recall the maths and save them from going rusty before the new academic year.
    As for setting the right amount, that can be tricky, but never set too much, as this can lead to saturation and put the students off the subject

  16. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Shameless link-whoring: I wrote on this ~2 weeks back.

    http://higheredintel.blogspot.com/2011/06/homework.html

  17. Ted Craig says:

    Did it ever occur to the math teachers that their students would be better off if they dedicated more class time to supervising student work and less to droning on?

  18. Peace Corps says:

    Based on the students I’ve had, if I didn’t assign homework no one would practice it. For most of my classes it counted for only 10% of the grade. Most students objected… if you are going to “make” us do it then it should count more… was the argument presented. For one subject that I had 2 class periods I changed my policy, I told the students that if they didn’t do the homework that it wouldn’t count; their grades would only be determined by unit tests. I still assigned homework so that if anyone wanted to practice they would know what to practice. Most of the students’ grades dropped significantly. I thought about changing back, but I thought that the students were old enough to live with the consequences of their decisions.

  19. Peace Corps says:

    @ Ted Craig: I can’t “make” students practice in class any better than I can “make” them practice at home. And I don’t drone on.

  20. If you have students who are willing to do work after class, and the majority of them are doing their homework, you are teaching a very different class.

    But if you design a class with the assumption that the students won’t be doing homework, then you give them the practice time in class. More of them will do that.

    Again, this happens because the demographics of kids taking “advanced” courses is very different than it used to be. Most of the kids would not be able to do their homework anyway, so what’s the point of giving it to them? Give them practice time in class.

  21. Sean Mays says:

    IF there existed a time when a teacher could give homework and expect it done, at least by the “college bound” students; then I’d begrudge giving an excessive amount of practice time in class. It crowds out coverage and it robs the student of time to be alone with their own thoughts. If I tell you that the opposite faces of a six-sided die always add up to 7 and show you that 1 spot is on the opposite side of the 6 spot; your homework is to confirm that 5 is behind 2 and 4 is behind 3.

    I can’t show you every facet to every type of problem you’ll encounter. Not only would I be guilty of droning on, but it stifles a students creativity. If I trample all over the virgin ground, they’ll never have a chance to watch the weeds grow right next to the alfalfa. They’ll might be like little clones of me, with the same biases and weaknesses, rather than making their own glorious mistakes and occasional discoveries.

  22. The whole point of practice time in class is that there is no lecture, so I don’t see what you mean about “droning on”. And the kids who don’t do homework are not the kids who will be making “glorious mistakes” and “occasional discoveries” when they do homework. However, given time to work in class, they will, on occasion, have both–and then the teacher can share it with the class.

    It does mean you can’t cover things as fast, but since most kids don’t do the homework anyway, that’s a given.

  23. Peace Corps says:

    I wanted to clarify my last comment. I did try extra practice time in all my classes. I only continued it in one class Precalculus/Trig, because the students I had in that class were so far behind where they should have been. These students clearly would not have been capable of any work on their own. Still half the class did not do the in-class work. I only covered about half of the material that the state dictates that I cover for that class.

    I had about the same compliance rate in my other classes with extra practice time, but since the other classes were Algebra I and Algebra II, I knew that I would be cheating at least a few students if I did not cover all the material by the end of the school year. Just like some of the Precal students had been cheated in the past. So, yes I still had some practice time in class, but not what I considered enough to “cement” the steps or concepts. There just was not enough time.

  24. Cementing happens with spiraling. I revisit concepts constantly, and build on them.

    I don’t know what you mean by “extra practice”. I’m talking about introducing the subject and having them work problems with it. Usually, I give one day to introduce it and start them on it, and the next day to finish the exercise. Sometimes two days.

    Of course, I have my students grouped by ability, so students who already know how to do the work are doing something else.

  25. “Shameless link-whoring: I wrote on this ~2 weeks back.

    http://higheredintel.blogspot.com/2011/06/homework.html

    I read Michal’s post and I agree with his points about broadening/deepening and practice as purposes for homework. However, there is another important reason for homework and that is developing the self-discipline to actually do it. Much of the new research being published is showing that self-discipline is just as important as aptitude and intelligence for success.

    My own kids attend a private, classical school and do about 3-4 hours of homework per night, on average, and have for years. School is their job. They have other interests and activities that they pursue, but at 15-16 years old, school is their job. And, yes, the homework counts in their grade for the classes. And, yes, the teachers check it and give them feedback. That’s a teacher’s job.

    Many of the attitudes about homework expresed here explain why the majority of students in my college classes think that anything outside the classroom meeting time is optional But, it also explains why these same students largely achieve low gradesand either drop or fail my classes. It also explains why their basic reading, math, and writing skills are, quite frankly, awful.

  26. BadaBing says:

    I teach English and used to assign reading and writing for homework. The students didn’t do it. Pressured by admin to pass more students, I stopped assigning homework that I knew would be done by only 10% of the class. And it’s not an English problem, it’s a school-wide problem. (One of our finest math teachers was put on PAR for failing too many students.) Our students don’t do homework. Therefore, I rarely assign it. What would you do?

  27. Homework can help students understand that learning is not just related to the classroom alone.The average time spent on homework should be Kindergarten 10 minutes .Grade 1 30 minutes .Grade 2 30 minutesGrade 3 30 minutes .Grade 4 45 minutes .Grade 5 60 minutesGrade 6 60-90 minutes .

  28. Jason Zimba says:

    The rule you describe isn’t ‘ten minutes a day per grade level’…it’s ‘ten minutes a day times grade level.’

  29. I always thought that my college courses had the right idea: assign problem sets but the student can do as much or as little of it as he/she needs to in order to pass the exam. Some weeks I did only a handful of problems before deciding I’d mastered the material. Other weeks I did every single one *PLUS* extras from supplemental books.

  30. But, it also explains why these same students largely achieve low gradesand either drop or fail my classes. It also explains why their basic reading, math, and writing skills are, quite frankly, awful.

    No, it really doesn’t. Most of the kids I’m talking about will never get to college, because their skills are low for reasons that have nothing to do with not doing homework. If they do go to college, they will be in remediation until they drop out.

    The issue I face is whether to set a standard for passing that involves doing homework, which will result in a 50-60% failing rate, or a “homework negotiation” in which the school comes in and pressures me to forgive the homework–or the kid going through the motions giving me paper with problems “worked”. It’s a bunch of busy work for no result.

    Now, are there kids who would do better with practice, who do have the ability and would benefit from setting a higher standard that got them into the habit of working outside the classroom? Maybe. But these kids are passing algebra without any work, and there’s no way I can hold them to a higher standard when the flunking kids aren’t doing homework. And then the top ability kids are probably getting less work in most heterogeneous classrooms, although I differentiate and give them a high intensity class–but no homework.

    Teachers are balancing two different problems. First, they are required to teach students who are forced into classes that they don’t want to take, that they are perfectly happy to take three times and fail until they are kicked out to alternative school. Second, they are faced with classes with an unimaginably wide range of ability.

    So if you set a standard in which 60% of the kids will fail simply because they don’t do homework, you are costing the school a HUGE amount of money, as these kids have to take the courses over and over again until they go to alternative school. Then, there will be reporters and others who will point out that the students failing are disproportionately of one race or another, and the school will be at fault.

    Then there’s a fundamental fairness issue here–if 30-40% of the kids can do the work to a basic standards level, and are only failing because they don’t do homework, why fail them just because some weird teacher morality norm demands a work ethic? These kids didn’t want to be in this class. They didn’t ask for a ridiculous pretense that everyone’s going to college, everyone’s got the potential to be academically excellent.

    It’s wrong to fail kids who can do the work just because they don’t do homework. I’m speaking here about math. In English, I just make them do the work, if they don’t turn it in on time.

    But the kids who aren’t ready for college, for the most part, just aren’t supposed to be there in the first place.

  31. Cranberry says:

    The ironic feature of this debate? The parents complaining most vigorously about the pressure of homework have children who could do the homework. Their children do have quiet areas to complete work at home, and educated parents who could help to interpret teachers’ instructions, and set aside time in the family schedule for homework. The parents don’t want to. They set a higher priority on other activities. They also don’t want their children to be placed at a competitive disadvantage when they don’t do the homework.

    As a parent, the type of homework makes an enormous difference–and the type of homework varies by school. The homework assigned in certain subjects at the public school (mainstreamed, wide range of ability in the classroom) was often pointless, and time-consuming busywork. Many of the tasks were easy, but time-consuming (coloring in maps and diagrams, decorating assignments and objects.) At times, much of the homework wasn’t very interesting or challenging, due to the wide ability level. Frequently, homework would be collected, but not handed back promptly. The worst was homework for group work. If one member of the group chose not to do his task, everyone in the group would be penalized, even though they had no control over the slackers. At worst, they wouldn’t be able to use their prepared work, because it would depend upon the segment the slacker failed to do.

    At their private schools, homework runs from 3 to 4 hours a night. They write. They prepare for class the next day. They complete exercises in grammar and prepare lab reports.

  32. I said: “But, it also explains why these same students largely achieve low gradesand either drop or fail my classes. It also explains why their basic reading, math, and writing skills are, quite frankly, awful.

    Cal said: No, it really doesn’t. Most of the kids I’m talking about will never get to college, because their skills are low for reasons that have nothing to do with not doing homework. If they do go to college, they will be in remediation until they drop out.

    Sorry, I was away for awhile. Cal, two-thirds of my college students should never have entered a four-year liberal arts college. At best, they should be in a vocational or technical training program and some should not even be there. But, with entrance standards as low as they are and funds that are easy to obtain, they are permitted to be in my little institution. Not only are they unprepared academically but they are have no work ethic or sense of individual responsibility, in part, because they have never had to work hard to pass their courses (or do very much homework).

    Cal said: “So if you set a standard in which 60% of the kids will fail simply because they don’t do homework, you are costing the school a HUGE amount of money, as these kids have to take the courses over and over again until they go to alternative school. Then, there will be reporters and others who will point out that the students failing are disproportionately of one race or another, and the school will be at fault.”

    No, the school is costing itself money by accepting these students. I am simply assigning the grades that they earn. And, no, it is not my concern about reporters and others. It is my concern that the students learn the content and then demonstrate mastery. If other want to snipe, let them. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and I’m still here.

    Cal said: “Then there’s a fundamental fairness issue here–if 30-40% of the kids can do the work to a basic standards level, and are only failing because they don’t do homework, why fail them just because some weird teacher morality norm demands a work ethic? These kids didn’t want to be in this class. They didn’t ask for a ridiculous pretense that everyone’s going to college, everyone’s got the potential to be academically excellent.”

    I don’t even know how to respond because your comment is foreign to me. But, I’ll try. Weird teacher morality norm that demands a work ethic? This WAS the norm when I was in school when educators were concerned about teaching and learning content and then responsibly evaluating one’s mastery of the content. If your attitude is the attitude of the average teacher, then God help us all because it’s over. (Fortunately, it’s not the norm at my kids’ school.) But, it does explain why my college students look at me oddly when I talk about work ethic and tell them that they are responsible for their grades, not me. The notions of work ethic (yes, even the Protestant work ethic), self-discipline, and individual responsibility are lost to many of these students.

  33. No, the school is costing itself money by accepting these students.

    Oooh, big tracking error here. I’m talking high school.

    Weird teacher morality norm that demands a work ethic?

    Homework wasn’t a graded part of high school for a long time. It was really normal for kids who didn’t do homework to do well in school until the 80s or so (speaking generally) when homework became the way to focus on effort, not results.

    But, it does explain why my college students look at me oddly when I talk about work ethic and tell them that they are responsible for their grades, not me.

    No, it doesn’t. They get explained that by every other teacher in the universe, who thinks effort is more important than results.

  34. “Homework wasn’t a graded part of high school for a long time. It was really normal for kids who didn’t do homework to do well in school until the 80s or so (speaking generally) when homework became the way to focus on effort, not results.”

    Perhaps we are of different generations. I graduated from high school in the late 60s. Homework assignments were graded and returned to me through high school. Our teachers got from us both effort and results. They expected no less.

    “No, it doesn’t. They get explained that by every other teacher in the universe, who thinks effort is more important than results.”

    Frankly, we live in different universes. I know of few public school teachers who talk openly about work ethic and individual responsibility. There are still a few. But these notions have become quaint. My college students, most of whom come from public schools, have not learned these lessons about school because they haven’t had to do so.

    I’ll say it again–if effort is more important than results, then God help us.

  35. How come parents of an 8-year-old are ok having their kid do 2 hours of soccer practice, but not 2 hours of math practice?

    Because they don’t spend all day at soccer school. Homework is excessive at my kids school. It’s also very disruptive to family life and outside activities and is used punatively against the kids.

  36. Mark Roulo says:

    What bandit said.

    Also, I suspect vastly diminishing returns after about 30 minutes of math and 60 minutes of soccer for an 8 year old.

    Very few 8 year olds have 2 hours of soccer practice 180 days per year.