Family Forum: Too Much Homework?

When does a lot of homework become too much?

We’re only one week into the new school year and already students—and parents—are complaining about the homework load. Could they be right?

In “The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It,” authors Nancy Kalish and Sara Bennett found there’s limited verification that the traditional rationales for student homework—namely that it increases academic performance and teaches discipline and hard work—actually yield positive results.

According to them homework doesn’t measurably improve academic achievement for kids in grade school. In fact, some experts say that there’s almost no correlation between homework and academic achievement in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school. Even in high school, any benefits start to decline after kids reach a maximum of two hours a night.

Further, says Alfie Kohn, author of “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing,” there’s no evidence that doing homework builds character or develops good work habits.

“If kids  dread it and see it only as something to be gotten through as quickly as possible, it’s very unlikely it will have a positive effect,” he says.

At the same time, Kohn says homework does have the potential to be a positive experience. The critical issue is how it’s used, how much is given and how the assignments will be constructed.  

Homework generally falls into two broad categories: busy work and meaningful work. Busy work is doing 20 math problems after learning it in school. If your child can answer the first two correctly, how does it help to do the next 18? Meaningful homework is doing assignments that enhance class work, like writing research papers, preparing presentations and going online. An academic edge comes from work that helps kids to think beyond school lessons.   

According to the National Education Association and National Parent Teacher Association, the right amount of homework is the 10-minute-per-grade rule. That means for children in grades K to 2, homework is more effective when it doesn’t exceed 10 to 20 minutes each school day. Children in grades 3 to 6 can handle 30 to 60 minutes a day. By high school, students should have no more than two hours, though AP and honors classes may require additional time.

But if the real issue is you’re frustrated by the amount of time you put into your child’s homework or the time wasted arguing about it, step back. Once you’ve established a quiet, comfortable study area with good lighting and needed school supplies, the rest is up to your child, says Michael Salamon, director of the Adult Developmental Center, Inc., in Hewlett.

“Parents who sit with their kids to make sure they do their homework and do it the right way, aren’t helping,” he says. “You’re teaching them to be dependent, rather than learn on their own, and that they’re not capable of doing it without you.”

If your child’s fighting you, don’t engage. “If you’re your child’s external motivation to do his homework, he’s not motivated,” says Kalish. “Let him go to school and experience the consequences on his own. But if you’re fighting, especially every night, it could be a sign he has more than he can handle and you need to speak to his teacher.”

l hilden November 12, 2011 at 03:19 PM
the purpose of homework is to reinforce skills that are taught that week or that day..many teachers lose sight of that purpose and often give hw assignments arbitrarily without previous introduction of new material. This can cause a lot of frustration especially if a new math concept is part of a hw assignment. As an educator myself, I also believe that teachers have the responsibility to grade hw assignments quickly so that their student's efforts are acknowledged....when you give too much you are likely to return it too late to be of any value if you grade it at all. The other point is that teachers should address hw problems the next day in class so that he or she can do a quick lesson if necessary.........What in the world has happened to diagnostic teaching?........something principals should be addressing with their staff and perhaps we would have better education in the good old usa.


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