Do Kids Have Too Much Homework?
Nov. 10, 2000 -- It's late afternoon, the kids have just had their after-school snack -- and they're already working on homework. Math problems, science reviews, reading assignments: This could go on for hours. Are they getting too much homework? "Borderline," one parent says. "It's a lot more than I used to get."
In October, a survey by Public Agenda, a nonprofit research group, found that 10% of parents think their kids are getting too much homework. Two-thirds of parents felt their children were getting the right amount -- and 25% thought they were getting too little.
"It's a small but vocal minority -- mostly in affluent neighborhoods," says Harris Cooper, PhD, chair of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is author of The Battle Over Homework, a bookfor administrators, teachers, and parents. In his research, Cooper reviewed more than 120 studies on homework.
Evidently, this "vocal minority" is having an impact on local school boards: Earlier this year, a New Jersey school superintendent imposed a homework policy limiting nightly assignments. Reportedly, congratulatory calls came in from parents across the country.
In fact, about every 15 years a new public attitude emerges toward homework, Cooper says. "I'm not sure if it's a generational thing or reactions to reforms moving too far in one direction or another," he tells WebMD. In the 1950s, when the U.S. grew nervous over Russia's launching of Sputnik, the nation's kids saw an upsurge in homework to prepare them for complex technologies. As we eased into the 1970s, the tenor of the times begged that less pressure and stress be placed on children.
Then the mid-1980s report, Nation at Risk, alerted educators that kids were not reading at expected levels, and the catch-phrase "rising tide of mediocrity" was created. "One of the suggested solutions was to increase homework," Cooper says. "The concern was about staying economically competitive with the Japanese.
"Today's educators are getting pressure from state school boards to cover more material and in greater depth -- all without a corresponding expansion of the school day," Cooper tells WebMD. "Students are spending homework time learning extra material rather than reviewing the day's lessons."
Also, competition-driven parents are placing "homework pressure" on teachers -- "to ensure that children will get into the best colleges and universities when they graduate," Cooper says. "But not all parents agree that more homework is the correct approach."
Indeed, homework was invented for a good reason -- as Cooper's research shows. At least 70% of studies indicated that students who do homework had higher achievement scores than those who didn't. But that effect is strongest for kids in high school, he tells WebMD. "For elementary school students, homework has little impact on how well they will do in school."