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When I first started teaching middle-school English, I believed that giving lots of homework would push my students to receive better grades. However, I quickly realized that homework (or lots of it) wasn’t necessarily the best way to learn and eventually I gave up on it, with the exception of assigned reading.
I’m no longer a teacher, but I now I have young children of my own, and I worry when I hear about kids getting loaded down with hours of worksheets and word problems each night. High-school students do up to 17.5 hours of homework a week (that’s more than three hours per school night), and I know people whose kids in elementary school spend more than an hour per night toiling away at the kitchen table. One Atlantic writer recently shared his experience doing his 13-year-old daughter’s homework for a week in an essay titled, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me,” and found that even he couldn’t keep up.
It would be one thing if homework really did lead to the leaps in achievement that I imagined when I started teaching, but there’s little evidence to support that theory. And science agrees — one study conducted by Duke University found that while homework does have an effect on academic achievement, it’s only statistically significant for those in grades seven through twelve. Meanwhile, a Stanford University study showed a connection between homework and stress and sleep deprivation.
Cynthia McClelland, a middle-school teacher in Boston, says her son became overwhelmed by his homework last year – as a first grader! Each night, he had more than an hour of spelling, math, and reading work. “We were pretty frustrated,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “He was literally sprawled out on the floor saying, ‘I can’t do this!’”
To cope with the workload, McClelland had her son complete the spelling portion at night and then finish the rest before school the next morning. She never considered telling him to just skip the work, in part because she was worried he would fall behind.
In second grade this year, McClelland’s son is still assigned about an hour of work a night. That sounds like a lot, but she says it’s “manageable,” tailored to his needs, and that his new teacher is sensitive when her son struggles.
John Spencer, a middle-school teacher in Phoenix, stopped assigning homework completely after he became a father. “Being a parent made me realize, this time is my time with them,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s not school time.”
However, his own kids still receive homework from their teachers. Sometimes Spencer negotiates and teachers allow his kids to complete an independent study project instead of worksheets. But other times, the homework is reviewed as part of the class, so his kids have no choice in the matter.
“It’s really hard to say, ‘No, you can’t read Harry Potter, and instead you have to do this packet,” he says. “It’s just kind of a frustrating chore that they have to do.”
Jeffrey Benson, a parent and education consultant, says a good rule of thumb for homework is “ten minutes per grade level” – ten minutes a night for a first grader, twenty minutes for a second grader, and so on. When his kids were in middle school, they received way more than that – two to three hours a night – inspiring Benson and another parent to request a meeting with teachers.
Their efforts didn’t result in a reduced workload but it did open a conversation between Benson and the school. Afterward, he occasionally gave his kids permission to complete only part of an assignment and encouraged them to email their teachers when they felt overloaded.
“What we know about social and emotional learning and development is that kids get stressed out [by too much homework], and it’s unnecessary,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “As a culture, we’re so off track.”