The Homework Debate: How Much is Too Much?
When a Texas teacher announced a new no-homework policy for her second-graders in August, many parents cheered. A posting about the policy on Facebook has been shared more than 74,000 times. Some teachers and entire schools have adopted similar policies, but most have not. Homework remains a source of great debate: Does it improve student performance?
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The Case for Homework
Parent Teresa Ebbs of Atlanta, a mom of four, explains her approach to homework: “It should all be review. There should be nothing that they have never seen before. It should just be checking for understanding … That way their teachers can see gaps in learning on homework instead of on tests and quizzes” and adjust their instruction.
This approach to homework has helped to minimize stress and allowed Ebbs to see the benefits of the work that her three oldest children have been assigned at Immaculate Heart of Mary school in Atlanta. Her children have developed time management skills, responsibility and independence. She also appreciates the way the school gradually increases homework so that the students will be prepared for middle and high school.
In a recent Harvard Ed Podcast, Duke University Professor Harris M. Cooper echos Ebbs, saying that his extensive research has revealed the following benefits of homework:
- The opportunity to practice material learned at school
- The opportunity to emphasize the importance of learning
- Parental insight into what their child is learning
- Teaching study skills, time management and independence
The Case Against (Too Much!) Homework
While working as a tutor, Mary Beth Martin of Decatur was disheartened to see students “come home despondent and broken down from a full day of school and having three hours of homework. They were being robbed of the best part of being a kid.”
Martin’s training as an educator and experience with students both inside and outside the classroom have given her an even greater appreciation for her eldest son’s school and their approach to homework.
She explains, “The Globe Academy homework is more project based; they do not have nightly homework. They say to go home and read, go outside and play, take a sport, pick a hobby, play with a friend, do a service project … They say that when you are not in the classroom, go and experience meaningful things and we will do our best to give you the foundations at school.”
“The Homework Myth” author Alfie Kohn states that homework “may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.” Like Martin, he believes that kids – especially young kids – will be more curious about the world around them without worksheets coming home every night.
The Middle Ground
Several Atlanta-area schools have recognized the drawbacks of homework-overload and have adopted child-focused policies. Megan Vitale, Director of Admissions and Registrar at Cliff Valley School in Atlanta, shares their approach to homework:
“At Cliff Valley students are engaged in challenging work in small groups throughout the day. That’s how we define rigor – not by giving hours of homework each night. Homework is about developing student skills, independence and responsibility and we’re able to accomplish that by giving approximately 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night.”
“Students are welcome to stay after school, in their classrooms, for supervised quiet time to finish homework. This allows students to be independent with their homework and gives families time to enjoy the evenings together.”
Bobby Scott, Headmaster of Perimeter School in Johns Creek, also feels a commitment to help students – and parents – have balance in their lives. Perimeter School has had a minimal homework policy since its founding in 1983, though it has evolved over time as the pressures on students and parents have increased.
Perimeter School emphasizes nightly reading with a parent for all grades and focuses on project-based work for the younger grades. This encourages a connection between home and school and reinforces concepts learned at school.
Scott elaborates: “We don’t believe in busywork homework or that we should give homework just because every other school gives it. It has to be purposeful … One major benefit [of our minimal homework policy] is that it gives parents more undistracted time to build relationships with their kids; time to have conversations about what they’ve learned.”
The upper grades at Perimeter School, Cliff Valley School, as well as Holy Spirit Prep in Sandy Springs all begin to gradually increase homework in middle school. This philosophy not only falls in line with the national PTA recommended “10 Minute Rule,” but also reflects the research, which reveals minimal (if any) benefits to elementary school homework, but positive benefits of homework for students in grades 7-12.
Like most things in education and in parenting, there is no one-size fits all solution that works for every child – or even for every child in every stage of his life. This is not a case of military school versus Montessori or Tiger Moms versus Finish Moms.
Some children need more time for free-play and the length of the school day alone makes them feel stressed. Others do well with lots of structure and need to extend their learning in order to master the material or be challenged.
And often times the same child that needs extra time for free-play and would only be frustrated by homework in the elementary grades, can benefit from thoughtful and reasonable amounts of homework in middle school and high school.
– Jennifer V. Hutcheson
How Much Is Too Much?
Even Professor Cooper, who is an advocate for homework and its benefits admits that too much homework is counter-productive, especially for younger grades. But how do you know if your child is bringing home too much? Signs of severe stress, like panic attacks, sudden changes in sleeping or eating habits, as well as changes in temperament can indicate a problem. But sometimes the signs can be more subtle.
To help determine if your child may be overloaded with homework, start with these telling questions:
- Does your child’s homework regularly surpass the 10 Minute Rule? That is, he should have no more than 10 minutes of homework for each grade. So 10 minutes for a 1st grader, 20 minutes for a 2nd grader, and on up to 120 minutes for a 12th grader.
- Does homework prevent free-play after school? Kids work hard in school all day and need time to relax and unwind. Time for free-play is especially important for the youngest learners.
- Does homework prevent regular and relaxed family interactions? While quality family time may not be possible every day, when it does happen it should be focused on togetherness – not stressing about homework.
- Is homework interfering with sleep? Kids and teens need sleep, and if they sacrifice sleep for the sake of study, research indicates that their academic performance may suffer.
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your child may have too much homework.
Child-Friendly Homework Policies
In lieu of busy work, these are some of the schools that put an emphasis on the importance of reading at home.
Cliff Valley (Atlanta) – adheres to the “10 Minute Rule”
Perimeter School (Johns Creek) – minimal homework policy
Parkview Christian School (Lilburn) – minimal homework policy
East Cobb Christian School (Marietta) – minimal homework policy
Oak Grove Elementary School (DeKalb County) – adheres to the “10 Minute Rule”
Holy Spirit Preparatory School (Sandy Springs) – no homework policy through 6th grade