Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Little evidence that the homework load has increased for the average student

This year’s Brown Center Report on American Education updates a study on homework presented in the 2003 Brown Center Report. That study was conducted at a time when homework was on the covers of several popular magazines. The charge then was that the typical student’s homework load was getting out of control. The 2003 study examined the best evidence on students’ homework burden and found the charge to be an exaggeration.

Now, a little more than a decade later, homework is again under attack. In 2011, the New York Times ran a front page story describing “a wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, especially in elementary grades.”

A September 2013 Atlantic article, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me,” featured a father who spent a week doing the same three or more hours of nightly homework as his daughter.

The current study finds little evidence that the homework load has increased for the average student. Those with a heavy burden, two or more hours of homework per night, do indeed exist, but they are a distinct minority.

The maximum size of the heavy homework group is less than 15%, and that’s true even for 17-year-olds. In national polls, parents are more likely to say their children have too little homework than too much. And a solid majority says the amount of their children’s homework is about right.

With one exception, the homework load has remained stable since 1984. The exception involves 9-year-olds, primarily because the percentage of 9-year-olds with no homework declined while the percentage with some homework—but less than an hour—increased.


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