Everything in moderation. Even homework?

In talking to parents about homework, two themes emerge — their children have too much or too little.

A new study out of the University of Oviedo in Spain supports moderation in homework, building on earlier research suggesting kids should not be toiling for hours on math problems or language arts essays.

The study looked at nearly 8,000 students in public and private schools; the mean age of the students  was 13.

The study can be found here.

How much homework is too much?

How much homework is too much?

According to the American Psychological Association summary of the study:

The students were given questionnaires asking how often they did homework and how much time they spent on various subjects. They were also asked whether they did their homework alone or whether they had help and, if so, how often. Their academic performance in math and science was measured using a standardized test. Adjustments were made to account for gender and socioeconomic background. Prior knowledge was measured using previous grades in math and science.

The researchers found that the students spent on average between one and two hours a day doing homework in all subjects. Students whose teacher systematically assigned homework scored nearly 50 points higher on the standardized test. Students who did their math homework on their own scored 54 points higher than those who asked for frequent or constant help. The curves were similar in science.

“Our data indicate that it is not necessary to assign huge quantities of homework, but it is important that assignment is systematic and regular, with the aim of instilling work habits and promoting autonomous, self-regulated learning,” said Javier Suarez-Alvarez, graduate student, co-lead author with Ruben Fernandez-Alonso, PhD, and Professor Jose Muniz. “The data suggest that spending 60 minutes a day doing homework is a reasonable and effective time.”

The total amount of homework assigned by teachers was a little more than 70 minutes per day on average, the researchers found. While some teachers assigned 90-100 minutes of homework per day, the researchers found that the students’ math and science results began to decline at that point. And while they found a small gain in results between 70 and 90 minutes, “that small gain requires two hours more homework per week, which is a large time investment for such small gains,” said Suarez-Alvarez. “For that reason, assigning more than 70 minutes of homework per day does not seem very efficient.”

As for working autonomously or with help, the researchers found that students who needed help and did 70 minutes of homework per day could expect to score in the 50th percentile on their test while autonomous students spending the same amount of homework time could expect to score in the 70th percentile. One possible explanation of this result is that self-regulated learning is strongly connected to academic performance and success, according to Suarez-Alvarez.

“The conclusion is that when it comes to homework, how is more important than how much,” said Suarez-Alvarez. “Once individual effort and autonomous working is considered, the time spent becomes irrelevant.”

Despite the current debate on homework, the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education from the Brookings Institution found homework rates have remained constant over 30 years, with one exception. More 9-year-olds now have some homework.

Brookings found 5 percent of 9-year-olds — one out of 20 — spent more than two hours a night on homework; 22 percent had no homework. Only 13 percent of 17-year-olds — juniors or seniors in high school — spent more than two hours a night on homework. But 27 percent of 17-year-olds had no homework.

So, why is there a widespread perception kids are overloaded and up until 2 a.m. struggling with copious amounts of homework?

My view: We are fascinated with super achievers and herculean efforts — whether bright students aiming for Ivy League colleges or elite runners seeking to break world records.

So, we write a lot about those overbooked teens stressing under the weight of seven AP classes and resorting to $1,200 SAT prep classes to raise scores. Such relentless strivers provide more interesting story lines than the larger group of students playing video games, snapping selfies and earning Bs and Cs.

The contention that kids are swamped by homework may also reflect parental overestimation of how much time their children are spending hitting the books at night.

A friend restricted her son’s computer and phone usage after viewing his Internet history and discovering most of his purported four hours of homework was going to online gaming and website browsing. When confined to his room with only his books, his homework time fell sharply.

On the other hand, parents are troubled when they feel there’s too little homework. A veteran teacher told me she used to give very little homework, seeing no boost in classroom performance. But parents kept asking her why their children didn’t have more homework, viewing homework as a sign of quality instruction.

Reader Comments 0

59 comments
AugustineBeary
AugustineBeary

You know what is really sad, my kid is an elite athlete.  She's done well in school, has a 5.1 GPA, got a 30 on her ACT and I limit her to only 2 AP or honors courses a year.   Just because she's an athlete, schools are banging down our door and rolling out the red carpet for her.  I feel bad for all the academically gifted that work far harder than she does in school and they don't get nearly the same treatment.  They have to worry about getting admitted to where they want to go, she just shows up for a visit and the coaches are telling us all the wonderful things they can do for her.

Sarah Alahmadi
Sarah Alahmadi

 Having two different themes that come up while discussing amount of homework assigned to students could be, as mentioned in the article, caused by an overestimation—or underestimation—by parents of how much their kids are studying. In one study, they found that lower-grade students reports of how much homework they received indicated a less amount of work than that of either their teachers’ or parents’ while teachers and parents had the same reports. Upper-grade students, however, reported the same amount of required homework as the one reported by their teachers. The reasons to the inconsistency, as suggested by Cooper, Lindsay, Nye, and Greathhouse (1997), could be that: (1) processing information and interpreting them might be influenced by one’s expectations, and teachers, parents, and students may have different expectations about homework; (2) Teachers and parents are not exposed to the whole homework process that take place in different places—school and home; and (3) the estimates may be biased such that each one of the respondents—teacher, parent, child—wants to show their role in the process. (Cooper et al. 1998).


Despite the divided research out there on the weaknesses and strength of homework, we cannot ignore the positive effects it has on students. In a meta-analysis of research on the effectiveness of homework, Cooper (1989) analyzed 120 empirical studies, 14 samples out of 20 of the studies related to whether or not homework is useful favored homework. (qt. in Cooper et al. 1998). Also, studies indicated that there is a difference in the effectiveness of homework based on grade levels. These studies indicated that an average high school student who is in a class where homework is given would outperform 75% of the students in a class that does not use homework; this effect of homework, however, decreased for junior high school students, and was very little in elementary school. (Cooper et al, 1998). This suggests that we should differentiate, when making decisions and judgments about homework, between grade levels, and the developmental, cognitive processes affecting kids. 

The most important point here is to, more than try to figure a specific amount of time that fits all, think about the changes that could be done in teaching practices, parental attitudes towards homework, and student behavior in order to promote cognitive and motivational strategies and maximize the experience of practicing what was learned in school at home.



Sources:

Cooper, H., Lindsay, J., Nye, B., & Greathouse, S. (1998). Relationships among attitudes about homework, amount of homework assigned and completed, and student achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 70-83. Retrieved April 12, 2015.

duke14
duke14

This is nonsense. Children in Taiwan work 12 hours per day, six days a week. Taiwanese high school students easily solve calculus problems that American graduate students cannot solve.

On the other hand, Dr. Art Robinson is author of the Robinson Home School Curriculum and father of six children who used that curriculum. Students teach themselves. All six Robinson children scored above 1470 on their SAT's, earned bachelors degrees in three years or less, and earned doctorates in subjects like organic chemistry, nuclear engineering, mathematics, and veterinary medicine. Dr. Robinson says that the optimum time for purely intellectual work is about four hours per day. The rest of the day should be spent in things like laboratory work, music, physical training, chores, apprenticeship at various trades, etc.. There is, or should be, a lot more to education than pure study. But life is  hard, and it takes long hours of hard work to survive. The sooner children learn that, the better.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@duke14 Umm I hate to burst your bubble, but the suicide rates in Taiwan and other Asian countries is far higher than the United States. You are referring to outliers in your comments.   I think your comment that "life is hard" is flawed.   Life can be hard, but it doesn't have to be.   You can be successful in life and not work as you indicate above.  You sound like the "Tiger Dad" sad to say.   Have you read that book lately - the one by Amy Chua?  I think you should.


So sadly, I'd say that not everyone subscribes to your "nonsense."   No disrespect to the Asian cultural norms, but that type of intense instruction does not work for everyone.   I have interviewed these students - many of them cannot think out of the box and are quite introverted.   I know that is stereotyping, but Asian students test well because they are taught to memorize facts and figures and learning is designed for standardized tests.

atlmom
atlmom

The schools have the kids for 6 or 7 hours a day.  that should be MORE THAN enough.  Realistically, kids should have classes four days a week and one day a week to work on their 'homework' -- that would be a much better model than we have currently.

there is no reason they should spend more than that amount of time doing 'schooling' -- it's crazy.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

This is not surprising - the law of diminishing returns applies to homework. Too much homework in a given night does not aid learning.   Teachers should be collaborating with one another where possible and ensure that they don't give students ridiculous amounts of homework on a given night.   Kids need their sleep.  They need time to decompress.   Lets not touch on @Maureen's POV regarding the students whose parents push them into countless AP classes and schedule overload.   I know these kids - I interview them every year for my Ivy League alma mater.   Leave "Race to Nowhere" out of this discussion.   


The research study makes it clear that teachers should not give homework for the sake of "drill and kill."   Guess what, people?   At a certain point in the evening, whether or not our kids have finished their homework, we make them STOP.  If they are stuck on something and can't  finish it, we communicate with their teachers and they STOP.  if they've been working on homework for hours and it's past 10 or 11 o'clock, we make them STOP.   Doing homework when tired accomplishes nothing.


Now, the research is arming educators and parents with a different philosophy about learning.  "How is more important than how much."   Sounds obvious, doesn't it?  Well, it's not.   Some teachers understand this, and some do not.  We need ALL to understand it.

booful98
booful98

@living-in-outdated-ed Can you elaborate a little more on the "overloaded" kids? Are you saying that when Ivy Leagues are not impressed by a resume filled with AP classes?

This is an honest question, I am not trying to be dense.

atlmom
atlmom

@booful98 @living-in-outdated-ed even the ivies have changed how they do things.

but who cares what the ivies think?  do you think that making your child crazy with spending ALL their free time on school work just to impress somoene at an ivy league school is the way to go?

popacorn
popacorn

@atlmom @booful98 @living-in-outdated-ed Not all their time, but enough to learn punctuation. Send an application with your punctuation to an 'ivie' school, and it will end in the round file after the first sentence.

booful98
booful98

@atlmom Well, I am not about killing my child with work, but I have been VERY curious about what really matters when applying for college. College (non Ivy Leagues) is ridiculously more competitive now than it was back 25 years when I was applying.

I was asking because I'd like to know where the balance is. I don't know about yours, but my kid is gonna have to earn a living when he grows up (there is no trust fund), so I'd like to prepare him in the best way possible to do that.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@booful98 @atlmom 

I don't know whether your child is already in high school or not, but this seems to me like an excellent question to ask your school counselor if he/she is in high school, where the counselors should have experience with the answer. It depends upon what sort of college you think your child will wish to attend. Some schools, such as UGA, require some AP classes. Others only prefer them. But the counselors should have more specific information. Even if your child is in middle school, I think it's good to think ahead.


I will say that at just about any college or university, the student should expect to do about two hours of outside work for every hour of classwork; and the homework is usually considered to cover additional material to what's covered in the lecture.

booful98
booful98

@OriginalProf My oldest is in 8th grade now. And he's going to Walton. The way they are doing it, the 8th grade teachers recommend them for whatever level they think they are ready for. My kid has been recommended pretty much at the highest level in all the classes, including one AP class as a freshman (it's just Human Geography and they take all year to do it, so they get used to the depth of an AP class, but the pace is slower).

So I am a little concerned that he may already be in a path to be overloaded. But I thought that's pretty much what it takes to get into college. Specially if he is to get at least some financial aid that doesn't come from loans (he is white and we are middle class, so forget any need based aid)

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@booful98 @OriginalProf 

If he's coping all right now, I should think that he should do fine.  And when he gets to high school, get in touch with the counselors to advise you.  Also, it's common for colleges to send PR people to the high schools to encourage admission applications, and you can ask them your questions.


As to financial aid, there are many guides in the library. Make it a research project during your son's sophomore-junior year! There are some surprising ones. I remember one for the child of a mining labor union member in Pennsylvania...

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@booful98 @living-in-outdated-ed The Ivies are not impressed by a resume filled with AP classes.  I am serious about that.  It's about course progression and how you do in your classes that matters most.  This comes from college counselors.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@living-in-outdated-ed @booful98 

Well, this comes from the UGA website, and I expect that the Ivies are more rigorous:

"To be most competitive, you should challenge yourself by pursuing the most rigorous courses available in your high school that you, your parents, and your guidance counselor deem appropriate to your level of ability. The number of courses taken beyond the minimum requirement of 17--not to mention those designated as advanced, Honors, gifted, AP/IB or dual enrollment--will be considered in the admission process. In fact, in recent years, 98% of first-year students admitted to UGA pursued an honors or advanced level curriculum track."

http://www.admissions.uga.edu/prospective-students/first-year/admissions-criteria

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@booful98 @OriginalProf 

And good grades in those courses.  From the same link:


"High School Grades Carry the Most Weight

We make no bones about it: more than any other single factor, the grades that you earn in your high school courses play the most important role in determining your competitiveness for admission to UGA. Since there are so many different grading scales, not to mention weighting methodologies, we recalculate a GPA for every first-year applicant based only on academic courses taken in the five core academic areas (with the addition of AP Art and Music Theory courses). Using a standard 4.0 scale, we convert each grade earned according to the grading scale in use at your high school at the time the course was taken."

And all that means homework, which functions as a sort of reinforcement for what's already learned in class.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@OriginalProf @living-in-outdated-ed @booful98 That quote does not assume you have to take a full load of AP courses.   You can take rigorous courses, but let me make this VERY clear to all of you.   Colleges look at leadership.  They look at what you do when you're not in school.   I have interviewed kids who have taken 5 AP courses in a year and gotten 4s and 5s on them, and still they get rejected.   It's about leadership - or demonstrating you will do great things in the world.


And there you have it.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@living-in-outdated-ed @OriginalProf @booful98 

I'd suggest that any parent do some online research about the specific schools in which they're interested, for very often their websites (as with UGA) have information about their emphases. I used the statements from UGA simply as a guidance, since the questions were whether to take AP courses or not, and, more broadly, how much homework middle school-high school students should be expected to do. It seems pretty obvious that good students should be handling quite a bit of daily homework if they expect to get into good colleges/universities. (And they will get even more homework when they get there.)

Yes, of course you're right about the importance of leadership. But there are many factors that are weighed in a college's acceptance. For example, a student's personal story of a successful struggle to maintain high grades while going through some personal troubles may impress some schools. And "the Ivies" differ in what they seek--they aren't all the same.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

Students whose teacher systematically assigned homework scored nearly 50 points higher on the standardized test. Students who did their math homework on their own scored 54 points higher than those who asked for frequent or constant help."


And here we have the answer to the question "Why do US students do so poorly in math?"  PRACTICE is necessary for students to become proficient in math, just as it is for a student to learn to play an instrument.  Alas, many students are sorely lacking in the work ethic required for this.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@AlreadySheared Actually, I'm not sure that your conclusion is what can be deduced from the study. It's not how much practice you do, it's how you practice.   It's the process and technique that matters, just as it does in music or sports.   You keep practicing bad habits, you don't become proficient in anything, just continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.  So I must respectfully disagree with your interpretation.

atlmom
atlmom

@AlreadySheared the last sentence is the key.

I do a math program with my kids that is NOT kill and drill -- it's wonderful. I can tell you as a mathy person who has mathy kids and tutors and teaches...kill and drill is what is killing us and making kids hate math (it's not the only thing, but one of the biggest).  Once you have a concept down...you don't need more problems.

What if the kids who are more willing to do their homework are the ones who are already good at math?  should they be spending more time doing more problems? 

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@atlmom @AlreadySheared Conceptual understanding and procedural fluency are two separate and equally important issues in mathematics - once you have the concept down, you DO need more problems.  On a varsity high school basketball team, I am sure that every player has the "concept" of layups and jump shots down pat, but darn if i don't see them warming up with layups and jumpers before every single game.

Once the problem solution is jumping out of your pencil and onto the paper without you thinking about it, THEN you don't need more problems.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@atlmom @AlreadySheared  A year or so ago, one of my kids finished a year-long campaign of dragging a 53 on the math portion of the PSAT up to a 720 on the math part of the SAT.  He didn't have any problem with mathematical concepts per se, but initially speed and accuracy were killing him.  Steady hard work - review followed by drilling on multiple practice tests, got him where he needed to be in order to gain admission to the college of his choice.


EdUktr
EdUktr

Let's bring our K-12 education system into the 21st century. 

Allow parents to spend tuition vouchers at the competing school whose philosophy and methods best meet the needs of their child.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@EdUktr What does this comment have to do about the research study regarding homework?  Can't we all just stay on the topic???

newsphile
newsphile

One teacher in our school assigns three or more hours of homework almost every night.  Clearly, something is wrong with her teaching style.

jw-abravesfan
jw-abravesfan

Homework is a touchy subject - I try to balance mine out and try very hard to be mindful of after school schedules - it's hard, but homework does have a place, it just can't be volumes of useless paperwork, it has to be relevant to what's going on in the classroom and be in moderation.

I'm a teacher popacorn - rather than engage in useless banter, how about you go to your local school and volunteer for a week - all day long, not during concession time at the ball games - you'll probably see things a little differently. If not, I will respect your opinion much more after you report back on what you saw.

Just give it a try and be objective and you will see the teachers you blast really are doing a lot of the things you expressed concerns about. Plus, your local school would be happy to have you help out and you would get first hand knowledge instead of biased opinions based on what so and so says or what you read on a political website.

No griping until you walk a couple of miles in our shoes.We chose our path, like you chose yours - we know the limitations of what we can/can't do - so help us make it better by observing firsthand what goes on and talking to your local lawmakers about change - as employees of the great state of Georgia, we follow what our bosses legislate us to do - head scratchy as that may seem, at times.

booful98
booful98

@atlmom @jw-abravesfan Really? I'd like to send my kid to THAT school. Where I am, if you don't volunteer you are a pariah and might as well stitch a scarlet letter to your t-shirt and walk in perpetual shame. Not to mention the endless "donations" you are require to do in order for your kid to have a "quality experience"/

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Popanut, What makes you the last word. What school system are you running? Your a troll and feel free to repeat as often as you need.  

popacorn
popacorn

@JBBrown1968 Repeat after me: The proper form of 'you are' is you're. I learned that through practice and repetition. You? Teacher, I assume?


JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@popacorn @JBBrown1968 

You also ASSume you're an education expert. Wrong on both accounts. Thanks for correcting my YOUR for the third time. Trolls only come out when they feel superior.

popacorn
popacorn

Incredibly, educators seem to be the only bunch that don't understand the value of repetition and practice. Repeat after me, teachers: Repetition is the mother of all learning. Again, repetition is the mother of all learning. Finally: Repetition is the mother of all learning. Get it?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@popacorn 

Has homework changed so much over the decades? As I remember it, homework involved additional readings and the application of classroom teaching to other situations.  It was not "repetition."


Also, I think the issue raised here is how much "independent practicing of acquired skills" should be required, not whether it should be required.

popacorn
popacorn

@hssped @popacorn Many HS kids don't know basic multiplication facts. All of the poster-making, touchy-feely group 'collaboration', videos, projects, positive reinforcement, ribbons, trohpies etc in the world won't effectively imprint these crucial skills on anyone. It seems that every 'latest thing' in education is designed to make learning as easy and work-free as possible. It shows more and more each year. 

atlmom
atlmom

@hssped @popacorn but 10-20 mins TOPS each day is enough.  really.  at some point one can't do any more.

it's like a language, or an instrument.  you should be doing it every day (or every other day) but only as long as you can.  if you're hating it, stop.

popacorn
popacorn

@atlmom @hssped @popacorn 10 minutes a day to learn to play an instrument? You obviously don't play an instrument. Play it well, anyway. 

hssped
hssped

@popacorn @hssped

I am against collaborative learning.  It may work with the truly gifted but it sure doesn't fly with the lower IQ kids.  

anothercomment
anothercomment

It also doesn't fly when my high IQ kid gets put in a group with dummy. Or worse yet assigned out of class projects with section 8 occupants. My child is not going to those unsavory locations. So I get stuck with all at my residence. Rummaging through my pantry, then telling my child my food wasn't good enough, it came from fresh market, they has her buy them food with her money at chipotle ( these are free lunchers) . They got a virus on my daughters computerr by bringing a disc., and down loading on her computer, that cost $149 ) use all my color ink). Show up with camera's and AV equipment that must be HOt ( how can one afford in section 8)

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@anothercomment 

You've been making these same borderline racist comments about your child's problems with her "Section 8" classmates for about 4 years now.  Isn't she ever going to graduate?

hssped
hssped

@popacorn

I have to write, that with math, repetition is really important.  Math is like a sport and you have to know which plays to utilize on a test (when the problems are all mixed in together).  To learn the plays you have to run drills and you must practice, practice, practice.    


For example if factoring isn't something you practiced and mastered in 9th or 10th then woe to you when you get into 12th grade and have Math IV (or whatever it will be called next year) and you have to factor trig identities.  



OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@atlmom @popacorn 

I should think that the field being studied makes a difference, and the student's natural aptitude. But, yes, to an extent, I agree with popacorn. (I can't believe it! Arghhh!)  Learning is work, and not always fun.

EdUktr
EdUktr

How is it that we're even having this discussion in 2015? 

Does the nature of human beings change every few years—or does the inability of some of us to accept facts continue to keep unresolved what should have been resolved decades, even centuries, ago?

The independent practicing of acquired skills is a necessary part of learning. It shouldn't be a political issue; it somehow has become one.

DrProudBlackMan
DrProudBlackMan

@EdUktr 


Do you ever agree with ANY of Maureen's blogs or are you just here to argue ad nauseam?

EdUktr
EdUktr

@DrProudBlackMan @EdUktr

Like most readers I'm afraid I find your "pride" unfounded. Your other two identifiers are, of course, mere coincidence.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@OriginalProf

You wonder that I have a different opinion than you and Maureen. Is that even worthy of comment?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@EdUktr @OriginalProf 

But (and here I'm being serious) you never express the reasons for your differing opinion, which I assume are due to your conservatism. You simply express contempt for the blog topic or the blog facilitator. There are other conservative bloggers on here, and while I may not agree with them I do appreciate learning more about their reasoning.  Name-calling gets nowhere.

DrProudBlackMan
DrProudBlackMan

@popacorn 


Yep! Thank goodness I bought my Ed.D before PSC ruined this fine school's reputation. But back to the same question I asked miss Eduktr; do you ever agree with ANY of Maureen's blogs or are you just here to argue ad nauseam?

bu2
bu2

@EdUktr 

Because people have ignored studies that have said the same thing for decades.  Excessive homework adds no value.