Article On Too Much Homework

From kindergarten to the final years of high school, recent research suggests that some students are getting excessive amounts of homework.

In turn, when students are pushed to handle a workload that’s out of sync with their development level, it can lead to significant stress — for children and their parents.

Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA (NPTA) support a standard of “10 minutes of homework per grade level” and setting a general limit on after-school studying.

For kids in first grade, that means 10 minutes a night, while high school seniors could get two hours of work per night.

But the most recent study to examine the issue found that kids in early elementary school received about three times the amount of recommended homework.

Published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, the 2015 study surveyed more than 1,100 parents in Rhode Island with school-age children.

The researchers found that first and second graders received 28 and 29 minutes of homework per night.

Kindergarteners received 25 minutes of homework per night, on average. But according to the standards set by the NEA and NPTA, they shouldn’t receive any at all.

A contributing editor of the study, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, told CNN that she found it “absolutely shocking” to learn that kindergarteners had that much homework.

And all those extra assignments may lead to family stress, especially when parents with limited education aren’t confident in their ability to help kids with the work.

The researchers reported that family fights about homework were 200 percent more likely when parents didn’t have a college degree.

Some parents, in fact, have decided to opt out of the whole thing. The Washington Post reported in 2016 that some parents have just instructed their younger children not to do their homework assignments.

They report the no-homework policy has taken the stress out of their afternoons and evenings. In addition, it's been easier for their children to participate in after-school activities.

This new parental directive may be healthier for children, too.

Experts say there may be real downsides for young kids who are pushed to do more homework than the “10 minutes per grade” standard.

“The data shows that homework over this level is not only not beneficial to children’s grades or GPA, but there’s really a plethora of evidence that it’s detrimental to their attitude about school, their grades, their self-confidence, their social skills, and their quality of life,” Donaldson-Pressman told CNN.

Read more: Less math and science homework beneficial to middle school students »

Consequences for high school students

Other studies have found that high school students may also be overburdened with homework — so much that it’s taking a toll on their health.

In 2013, research conducted at Stanford University found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance in their lives, and alienation from society.

That study, published in The Journal of Experimental Education, suggested that any more than two hours of homework per night is counterproductive.

However, students who participated in the study reported doing slightly more than three hours of homework each night, on average.

To conduct the study, researchers surveyed more than 4,300 students at 10 high-performing high schools in upper middle-class California communities. They also interviewed students about their views on homework.

When it came to stress, more than 70 percent of students said they were “often or always stressed over schoolwork,” with 56 percent listing homework as a primary stressor. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.

The researchers asked students whether they experienced physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss, and stomach problems.

More than 80 percent of students reported having at least one stress-related symptom in the past month, and 44 percent said they had experienced three or more symptoms.

The researchers also found that spending too much time on homework meant that students were not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills. Students were more likely to forgo activities, stop seeing friends or family, and not participate in hobbies.

Many students felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.

"Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good," said Denise Pope, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education, and a co-author of a study.

Read more: Should schools screen children for mental health problems? »

Working as hard as adults

A smaller New York University study published last year noted similar findings.

It focused more broadly on how students at elite private high schools cope with the combined pressures of school work, college applications, extracurricular activities, and parents’ expectations.

That study, which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology, noted serious health effects for high schoolers, such as chronic stress, emotional exhaustion, and alcohol and drug use.

The research involved a series of interviews with students, teachers, and administrators, as well as a survey of a total of 128 juniors from two private high schools.

About half of the students said they received at least three hours of homework per night. They also faced pressure to take college-level classes and excel in activities outside of school.

Many students felt they were being asked to work as hard as adults, and noted that their workload seemed inappropriate for their development level. They reported having little time for relaxing or creative activities.

More than two-thirds of students said they used alcohol and drugs, primarily marijuana, to cope with stress.

The researchers expressed concern that students at high-pressure high schools can get burned out before they even get to college.

“School, homework, extracurricular activities, sleep, repeat — that’s what it can be for some of these students,” said Noelle Leonard, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the New York University College of Nursing, and lead study author, in a press release.

Read more: Lack of mental healthcare for children reaches ‘crisis’ level »

What can be done?

Experts continue to debate the benefits and drawbacks of homework.

But according to an article published this year in Monitor on Psychology, there’s one thing they agree on: the quality of homework assignments matters.

In the Stanford study, many students said that they often did homework they saw as "pointless" or "mindless."

Pope, who co-authored that study, argued that homework assignments should have a purpose and benefit, and should be designed to cultivate learning and development.

It’s also important for schools and teachers to stick to the 10-minutes per grade standard.

In an interview with Monitor on Psychology, Pope pointed out that students can learn challenging skills even when less homework is assigned.

Pope described one teacher she worked with who taught advanced placement biology, and experimented by dramatically cutting down homework assignments. First the teacher cut homework by a third, and then cut the assignments in half.

The students’ test scores didn’t change.

“You can have a rigorous course and not have a crazy homework load,” Pope said.

Editor’s Note: The story was originally published on March 11, 2014. It was updated by Jenna Flannigan on August 11, 2016 and then updated again on April 11, 2017 by David Mills.

Family stress worsens as children’s homework loads increase, and the long hours kids spend on homework could be used for exercise, sleep, or extracurricular activities. Then again, these assignments do help children practice their skills and dive deeper into subjects they haven’t mastered during the school day. Are children getting too much homework? The answer may be “yes.”

Homework by the Numbers

Since every school has its own policies, and the amount of homework a child is assigned does fluctuate, no hard and fast statistics about homework distribution exist.

However, researchers provide some insight into general trends. One major study, done in 2007, polled more than 2,000 3rd- through 12th-grade students. The researchers asked how much time students spent doing homework on a typical weeknight. Thirty-seven percent of elementary students and fifty percent of secondary students reported spending an hour or more on homework. Eight percent of secondary students spent three or more hours doing homework on a typical weeknight.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress also tracks the homework practices of American students. In 2012, 9-year-old, 13-year-old, and 17-year-old students were asked how long they had spent on homework the previous day. About one in five students said they had not been assigned any homework. Most students had less than two hours of homework, but 5 percent of 9-year-olds, 7 percent of 13-year-olds, and 13 percent of 17-year-olds had more than two hours of homework.

The Case Against Homework

Between long school days, afternoon club meetings, sports practices, sports games, and time spent commuting, many children do not get home for the day until late afternoon or early evening. Fitting in two hours of homework after dinner cuts into time children could be using for sleep, exercise, family time, and fun. If students do not finish their homework, however, they risk falling behind their classmates and getting reprimanded by teachers.

Parents suffer too, according to a 2015 report published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, which found that “family stress … increased as homework load increased and as parents’ perception of their capacity to assist decreased.” While most parents can help with elementary school homework, they may discover that advanced calculus homework is beyond their abilities.

The Case for Homework

Does homework actually help students succeed? Researchers say it can, although it seems to be more effective for kids in grades 7–12 rather than those in K–6. Homework helps kids retain information, develop responsibility, and hone their time-management skills.

Children who do homework also tend to have higher test scores than those who do not, but only up to a certain point. A Duke professor and author of The Battle over Homework found that junior high students reached a point of diminishing returns after 90 minutes of homework per night. Students who did more than 90 minutes of homework did not have higher test scores than those who did 90 minutes only.

What’s Next?

More and more, teachers are turning away from traditional homework. One Texas elementary school teacher announced she would not be assigning homework in the 2016–2017 school year, and she was met with overwhelming support from parents around the country. And some schools have created no-homework policies, while administrators at other schools are considering the idea.

The homework tide may be turning, but it is a slow process. If you believe your child’s homework requirements are not effective for him or her, consider online learning, which offers students a personalized education experience and a number of benefits for young learners.

How much homework do your students have during the week? Is it too much or too little? Let us know in the comments section!

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