Your Kid’s Homework Load Isn’t Too Much, New Study Suggests

Written on March 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm , by

So the kids are all right. That, at least, is the conclusion of a new study on homework by the Brookings Institution, which says that the average homework load for 9- to 17-year-olds has pretty much stayed the same over the last 30 years. This, of course, flies in the face of all the horror stories we’ve heard about kids drowning in nightly homework, of exhausted parents who can’t cope, and of families fraying at the seams because of it all.

So what to think? My own experience, or I should say that of my 12-year-old, is that she consistently has at least 2 or 3 hours every night—about double what the Brookings study found. She’s not suffering under the load—I half-jokingly describe it as “only mildly soul-crushing”—and our family isn’t falling apart, though it’s still too much. Then again, she’s in an honors program at a public school that’s something of a learning factory, but that was the choice we made, since the alternative was a school that wouldn’t have challenged her enough.

I’m grateful for the excellent education she’s getting. And the homework isn’t busywork. It does what I believe take-home assignments are supposed to do: that is, reinforce the lessons learned in class. So I gripe a little, but not too much. At the same time, I don’t dismiss the complainers as whiners. But here’s the thing—the gap between the homework horror stories and what the study found is a pretty big one, which says plenty about the inequality of education nationwide. That’s a much bigger problem, and one that won’t be easily solved.

Tell us what you think in the comments below. 

Your Thoughts: Do Kids Really Need Homework?

Written on August 28, 2012 at 9:02 am , by

When we (the editors of Family Circle) started kicking around the idea of a piece on homework, I grabbed the reins because it’s a huge issue in my household. To put it bluntly, after a full day of school, my 8-year-old son doesn’t want to do more work—and frankly, I’m not at all convinced he should have to. I mean, he hasn’t even reached a double-digit age yet. Shouldn’t seven hours of school cover it for younger kids academically?

Apparently not, as evidenced by his homework assignments in multiple subjects. This necessitates me having to suggest, ask, nudge, prod, and finally, flat-out demand that he do the work, which is a dynamic between us that I have come to loathe at the end of the day. (If he’s forgotten a book he needs, because of the crush to pack up quickly, that’s a whole other source of aggravation.)

Of course, absolutely and without exception, whether it is technically “assigned” or not, I would insist he spend time every day reading. I would think that would go without saying, but I will say it lest anyone be tempted to call me out on the reading issue. When I say “homework,” I’m referring to worksheets and similar tasks.

Anyway, I’m fascinated with the writings of educator Alfie Kohn, who makes a convincing case against after-hours assignments. In his piece in Family Circle‘s October issue, he writes:

Doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school. In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores, but it’s usually fairly small. And in any case, it’s far from clear that the former causes the latter. And if you’re wondering, not a single study has ever supported the folk wisdom that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility or independence.

Other educational experts obviously, and vocally, disagree. In my mind, the topic at least merits spirited debate, rather than just rote compliance.

So speak up! Tell us your stance on homework in the comments below.

Jonna Gallo Weppler is articles director at Family Circle magazine.

Alleyoop.com Helps Teens Master Math and Science Homework

Written on August 27, 2012 at 8:39 pm , by

It was back-to-school day today at our house. And that means that almost every conversation I have with my teens for the next nine months will have the word “homework” in it. Last year was a bit rough around here school-wise. So this year, I’m determined to make the homework hour as much fun as possible. To make that happen, I’m looking for entertaining educational sites my kids will enjoy exploring as much as they like poking around YouTube watching amusing videos.

Back in February, Alleyoop.com launched to help teens get college-ready with math. And just a couple of weeks ago, the site added an extensive science curriculum through collaborators like NASA eClips, and partners such as National Geographic, Scientific Minds, Patrick JMT, Virtual Nerd, Adaptive Curriculum and Brightstorm. Alleyoop.com fits  perfectly into my up-the-fun-strategy on homework. Not only does it teach science and match  in short, engaging videos and animations but the topics are easy to search and align neatly with the high school curriculum being covered in school. Added bonus? It’s all wrapped around a gaming model that infuses learning with a little bit of game fever. They take lessons to earn points. And those points can be used to buy one-on-one tutoring. It will even reach out to kids via text or email to remind them to carry on with a subject they are learning — and earn more points.

What happens in my house at homework hour usually falls into two fairly predictable scenarios: The materials covered in school was easy and clear and the homework is  done in a matter of minutes. That is obviously my favorite homework hour. But sometimes, nothing happens. No amount of poking, reminding, or prodding gets the homework done. The kids won’t say why. They are just stalled. But I have learned that the reason for this is usually that they weren’t paying attention in class – or just didn’t understand the material — so they don’t know how to do the homework. Rather than admit this, they just avoid the work.

When the subject they are stuck on is difficult science or advanced math, finding a tutor right now is not only challenging but  expensive. But calling up a quick, clear, and engaging animation that explains that difficult topic using examples kids can relate to, a video lesson by a gifted teacher, or a whiteboard lesson in math or physics that will explain the topic clearly – and explain it again…and again? Or, when all of that fails, dialing up a tutor right there? That’s exactly what I need to turn those “stuck” homework sessions into the kind that move along quickly and successfully. Alleyoop.com is now bookmarked on all of our computers.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.

Should Homework Count for Less?

Written on July 15, 2011 at 1:20 pm , by

The L.A. Unified School District recently passed a policy in which homework can’t count for more than 10 percent of a student’s grade. The idea is to give students a break—especially those who need to shoulder real-life responsibilities outside the realm of reading, writing and math assignments, like working long hours or caring for younger siblings.

But many critics balk at this policy. What if some students don’t do homework at all? They can still get a 90 percent in the class, and that’s unfair, they say.

As a student (and recent former teen) I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Homework, after all, is meant to reinforce learning, not be the teacher. According to the article, research shows that students who do their homework perform better than those who don’t, because they’ve gone over the concepts again and again. But what about students—the “smart” kids—who can score a 90 percent in a class without doing homework?

Limiting the percentage homework counts for grades gives students more power to take charge of their educations. If they’re confident in their knowledge—and okay being docked points for not completing assignments—they can skip the hours of busy work that teachers often assign. With the ridiculous amount of homework given in accelerated and Advanced Placement classes, it’s hard for a high school student—and his or her parents—to balance other valuable learning experiences like sports, jobs and other extracurriculars. In high school, I would often be at rehearsals and club meetings until late at night, leaving me little time to tackle pre-calculus problem sets at home. (It cost me a letter grade—I never made it to calculus.)

Concerned about college readiness? Limiting homework as a grading factor is actually much closer to the higher ed model, where assignments don’t receive letters and numbers, but knowledge is reflected in results of papers and exams. Not having time to do all my homework in high school was actually a blessing in disguise—it gave me the opportunity to learn how to manage my time and balance schoolwork with extracurricular responsibilities, which helped me transition to campus life. Instead of squandering the free time I have between classes like many co-eds, I prioritize the tasks on my to-do list—a skill I learned from juggling that pre-calc class with musical theater rehearsals.

But I’m also aware not every student is like me, and some teens may need assignments in order to be productive, stay out of trouble or reinforce the concepts that really give them trouble.

What do you think? Is 10 percent too little or too much? Do high school students need the structure of homework, or should they take responsibility for their own education?

—Corinne Chin