How Much is Too Much Homework?

When Homework is Overwhelming

There’s a big debate in the classroom, on the playground, in coffee shops, in living rooms and anywhere else you might find parents or teachers. It’s the debate about how much homework is too much.

You’d be surprised at some of the answers. Some people say homework isn’t debatable and at least an hour a day should be given, some say the solution is no homework at all, and there are answers all in between.

What’s the Teacher Say?

The other day I went to open house at my son's school and was thrilled to hear his teacher say, “If they don’t have homework for the night, they don’t have homework. It’s that simple. I do NOT give homework just for the sake of giving homework.”

She went on to explain that, in her classroom, homework would consist of work that was started in class and needed to be completed, skills that needed more practicing and that no assignment would be “cold.”

That is, no assignment will ever go home that my child doesn’t already enough of the skills that he could complete it successfully. She also added that twenty minutes a night of reading was a permanent assignment, one which can take place in many formats.

I would have stood up and cheered, but that might been a bit over dramatic. But I was happy. I thought her approach was incredibly reasonable, especially when you factor in that homework other than reading should take about twenty minutes.

My son is in fourth grade. Forty minutes of homework is perfect.

Is It Really That Much More?

The late 90’s and early 2000’s brought forth a slew of media reports on the backlash against homework, the No Homework Revolution and how children are being overloaded with homework. Surprisingly, a study by The Brown Center Report on Education, “Do Students Have Too Much Homework?” found that this was misleading.

The amount of homework has increased since the 1980’s, but not per individual. The increase seen on data is driven by the fact that children in the age group of 6-8 rarely had homework in the 1980’s and now do.

Furthermore, the National Association for Educational Progress discovered that in children under nine, 90% of them only had a half hour or less of homework per day and even older children are really only spending about an hour a day on homework, a point which has held fast for the past 50 years.

How Much is Too Much?

That amount of time is actually less than the National Education Association’s recommended amount. The NEA  follows the lead of educational researcher, Harris Cooper, whose “ten minute rule” is considered best practice. That means 10 minutes of work per night in first grade, 20 minutes in second grade,and so forth.

These are guidelines and not set in stone. So, if a teacher like my son’s teacher doesn’t feel she has anything academic that needs to completed one night, it’s perfectly fine not to send home busywork instead of homework.

Why Does it Seem Like Too Much?

Even following the ten minute rule can seem like an overwhelming amount of homework to some students. What takes ten minutes for one child can take thirty minutes for another.

As you add more time, the homework pile can seem daunting. It’s not meant to be. If your child is spending way too much time on homework every night, don’t hesitate to get in touch with his teacher and ask whether his struggle is typical for the class.

You’ll get one of two answers: it’s the norm or it’s not the norm. Each answer sends you in a different direction. The first means it’s time to sit down with the teacher and administrator to discuss the concern about too much homework and how that can be fixed. The second leads into a conversation about how your child’s homework can be reduced or redesigned to make it easier for him.

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