Too much homework

Homework Can Turn Your Kid Into a Stressed-Out Wreck, writes J.D. Tuccille on Reason‘s Hit & Run. But the homework burden falls much more heavily on affluent students.

At high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class communities, students average more than three hours of homework a night, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Education.

Students who did more hours of homework experienced greater behavioral engagement in school but also more academic stress, physical health problems, and lack of balance in their lives.

My daughter went to a high-performing Silicon Valley high school.  She averaged three hours of homework a night.

Test prep explains only a small part of the large gap in SAT scores between rich and poor kids, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution  Perhaps, in addition to being the children of better-educated,  smarter parents, affluent kids go to schools that make them work harder.

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  1. Three hours of homework a night! I can’t remember anything like that when I was a kid. I probably did most of my homework (to the extent that I did it at all) while riding the bus to school..

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      I’m with you. I wrote a substantial chunk of my English papers on the typewriter in the ROTC room during Lunch, and any class that wasn’t totally hard-core usually had enough “down time” (as JKB points out below) that you could do all of its homework while you were sitting in the actual class.

      Home — when I finally got there after Choir, Theatre, ROTC, Cross Country, Wrestling, and being the school’s AV Tech — was not where I wanted to have to think about school.

      (Of course, the reason that I spent so much time at school was to avoid having to think about home, so there’s that. I had some really nice compartmentalization going on…)

  2. Which is unfortunate but the instruction has to happen somewhere. Glenn Reynolds reported his daughter discovered back in 9th grade there was only about 1 1/2 of actual instruction during the school day. I saw a commenter who claimed to have been a high school teacher say the same at Althouse.

    Proactive students should audit their school day to see how much is actual instruction during the 7 hr school day. The compare that to how much of their own time is impacted making up for the difference. 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for school (including commute), 8 hours of student independent time. With 3 hours of homework, that 5 hours to eat, bath, do routine maintenance, relax, have family time. Oh, sports, extracurricular activities and sports now require professional level practice/training commitments. Hmm? I wonder where the the stress comes in?

  3. There’s appropriate, skill & knowledge-building homework, and there’s busywork, too often of the artsy variety. I’m all for the first and all against the second. With good curriculum choices in all subjects, effective and efficient instruction in class and leveled classes, homework should be perfectly manageable. However, sacrifices in time spent on video games, Facebook/cell phone and random internet entertainment are likely to be necessary – because high-quality extracurriculars are demanded for admission to competitive colleges. Some schools are pressure-cookers, with large numbers of highly-qualified kids competing against one another for Ivy slots, some are more-or-less OK and some are academic jokes; the latter ones need to step up their games.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      I remember that the most time-consuming homework was often the least valuable in terms of actually gaining any academic benefit from it. Dioramas and whatnot.

      • palisadesk says:

        One advantage of teaching in a high-performing but very low-SES school is that we are not *allowed* to assign such homework (dioramas, artsy stuff, etc.) I haven’t seen that shoebox junk for a decade. Project work has to be done almost entirely in class, as it cannot be assumed children have access to a library or to the Internet outside of school. Also, work done outside of school might be done by siblings or whoever, so we are not allowed to grade such work (or at least, to count the grade for reporting purposes). Maybe the focus on essentials explains why we outscore schools where the average family income is 5x as much. We assign a maximum of 90 minutes of homework in elementary (through eighth grade)

  4. palisadesk says:

    Nothing new here. I remember having *at least* three hours a night of homework from around 6th grade onward — 1 or 2 hours before that (but not in primary, K-3). I went to a high-performing school, but neighbors and friends who went to a variety of schools — Catholic, Montgomery Co. (out of district), private, had similar workloads.

    At a high school reunion not long ago, several of us compared notes — including people who had gone on to become physicians in demanding specialties, PhD academics, engineers etc. and agreed they had never had to work so hard again. Neither undergraduate nor graduate school had the workload I experienced from 4-12, perhaps because one had so much more ability to manage one’s time to work effectively. Of course for those who lacked this skill such freedom was deleterious. However I certainly did get a good education; when the SAT came around, there was only one word on it that I did not know — that word was “factotum,” but I was easily able to infer its meaning from the Latin roots.

    The quality of the assignments and the feedback on same also matter. However I don’t think a majority of families would necessarily support this level of academic challenge. It makes major demands on family life as well as on the student. In talking about homework and related issues with parents, I find many who do not consider the school has a right to intrude upon family time beyond a very minimal extent.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      In high school, I went to class for 6 hours per day and then did 2-3 hours’ worth of homework & studying. In college, I went to class for 2-3 hours and then did 6-8+ hours’ worth of homework & studying. So the total number of hours spent per week on academics was similar but most of that was spent outside of class.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        I found college less stressful than high school. I think the big factors were:
        1. On the quarter system, a full courseload was 4 classes at a time. In High school, it was 8. So I only had half as many classes where everything was due at once.

        2. In college, you don’t attend every class every day, and I had some control over my schedule, so I had 3 hours or so in a classroom every day, and Fridays totally off. And I scheduled in a break for an afternoon nap!

        3. There was no busy work in college.So while we had longer and more difficult assignments, they weren’t irritating.

        4. My commute dropped from 1:15 each way to about 5 minutes, if I was dawdling on the way out the door. (My dorm was literally attached to the chem building. My furthest class was about 2 blocks away. It was wonderful)

        5. Less pressure to engage in extracurriculars. So more free time.

        6. More freedom about what I took and who I took it from. (We had a core, but the issue was more ‘there are too many classes that look interesting’ rather than ‘I’m being forced to take this stupid class with a boring teacher.’ So everything was fun, nothing FELT like work, and school was easy.)

  5. SC Math Teacher says:

    In my college prep classes, one third of the students routinely don’t do the HW (I go through stretches where it can get as high as one half). I still give HW, but it’s such an exercise in futility. In don’t give much…just a handful of problems to practice what we covered in class. Checking it is instructive for me because I can see, for example, if a bunch of students are making the same mistake or having trouble on the same problem. In this manner, it tells me what to teach or re-teach. I know this isn’t unique, but I felt it needs saying. Would that more students would respect the importance of HW.