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GR Student: We Need a 'Homework Revolution'

Lauren Miller, now a sophomore at Glen Rock High School, argues the level of homework given by teachers overloads students; says reduction or elimination of homework would benefit all parties

[Editor's note: The following essay was submitted for publication by Lauren Miller, who wrote the essay while in 7th grade. Miller is a member of the Student Leadership Board and has plans to show the film at Glen Rock High School. The essay is unedited.]

A young girl sits at her desk, reviewing her homework assignments for the evening. English: read three chapters and write a journal response. Math: complete 30 problems, showing all work. Science: do a worksheet, front and back. French: study vocabulary for tomorrow's test. It's going to be a long night.

This describes a typical weeknight for students across the country. Now is the time to start a homework revolution.

Do students in the United States receive too much homework? According to guidelines endorsed by the National Education Association (NEA), a student should be assigned no more than 10 minutes per grade level per night. For example, a first grader should only have 10 minutes of homework, a second grader, 20 minutes, and so on. This means that a student in my grade – seventh – should have no more than 70 minutes of work each night. Yet this is often doubled, sometimes even tripled! 

There are negatives to overloading students. Have you ever heard of a child getting sick because of homework? According to William Crain, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at City College of New York and the author of Reclaiming Childhood, “Kids are developing more school-related stomachaches, headaches, sleep problems, and depression than ever before.” The average student is glued to his or her desk for almost seven hours a day. Add two to four hours of homework each night, and they are working a 45- to 55-hour week! 

In addition, a student who receives excessive homework “will miss out on active playtime, essential for learning social skills, proper brain development, and warding off childhood obesity,” according to Harris Cooper, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

Everybody knows that teachers are the ones who assign homework, but they do not deserve all the blame. “Many teachers are under greater pressure than ever before,” says Kylene Beers, president of the National Council for Teachers of English and the author of When Kids Can't Read What Teachers Can Do. “Some of it comes from parents, some from the administration and the desire for high scores on standardized tests.” Teachers who are under pressure feel the need to assign more homework. But why aren't teachers aware of the NEA homework recommendations? Many have never heard of them, have never taken a course about good versus bad homework, how much to give, and the research behind it. And many colleges of education do not offer specific training in homework. Teachers are just winging it. 

Although some teachers and parents believe that assigning a lot of homework is beneficial, a Duke University review of a number of studies found almost no correlation between homework and long-term achievements in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school. “More is not better,” concluded Cooper, who conducted the review.

Is homework really necessary? Most teachers assign homework as a drill to improve memorization of material. While drills and repetitive exercises have their place in schools, homework may not be that place. If a student does a math worksheet with 50 problems but completes them incorrectly, he will likely fail the test. According to the U.S. Department of Education, most math teachers can tell after checking five algebraic equations whether a student understood the necessary concepts. Practicing dozens of homework problems incorrectly only cements the wrong method. 

Some teachers believe that assigning more homework will help improve standardized test scores. However, in countries like the Czech Republic, Japan, and Denmark, which have higher-scoring students, teachers give little homework. The United States is among the most homework-intensive countries in the world for seventh and eighth grade, so more homework clearly does not mean a higher test score. 

Some people argue that homework toughens kids up for high school, college, and the workforce. Too much homework is sapping students' strength, curiosity, and most importantly, their love of learning. Is that really what teachers and parents want? 

If schools assign less homework, it would benefit teachers, parents, and students alike. Teachers who assign large amounts of homework are often unable to do more than spot-check answers. This means that many errors are missed. Teachers who assign less homework will be able to check it thoroughly. In addition, it allows a teacher time to focus on more important things. “I had more time for planning when I wasn't grading thousands of problems a night,” says math teacher Joel Wazac at a middle school in Missouri. “And when a student didn't understand something, instead of a parent trying to puzzle it out, I was there to help them.” The result of assigning fewer math problems: grades went up and the school's standardized math scores are the highest they've ever been. A student who is assigned less homework will live a healthy and happy life. The family can look forward to stress-free, carefree nights and, finally, the teachers can too. 

Some schools are already taking steps to improve the issue. For example, Mason-Rice Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts, has limited homework, keeping to the “10 minute rule.” Raymond Park Middle School in Indianapolis has written a policy instructing teachers to “assign homework only when you feel the assignment is valuable.” The policy also states, “A night off is better than homework which serves no worthwhile purpose.” Others, such as Oak Knoll Elementary School in Menlo Park, California, have considered eliminating homework altogether. If these schools can do it, why can't everyone? 

So, my fellow Americans, it's time to stop the insanity. It's time to start a homework revolution.

Mitzi Weinman March 08, 2012 at 01:35 PM
You are wise beyond your years and your article is thoughtful and terrific. Your article gives a great overview and perspective on the stresses homework can cause and some great solutions. Homework given for the sake of giving homework is obviously not useful; it needs to have meaning and purpose. Michael Gove, British politician, who currently serves as the Secretary of State for Education has given schools the OK to reduce the amount of homework given to students after complaints from parents about homework reducing the amount of family time. By getting rid of their national guidelines, teachers have been given the authority to determine how much homework they require of their students. That being said, one of the benefits of homework is to help students develop good organizational skills to approach school work. These are life skills which will positively influence a student for the rest of their life. I find, in working with students, that anticipating possible “timetraps” because of schedules or maxed-out schedules, breaking school projects down into bite size doable pieces and really taking a look at the calendar have tremendous positive impact. This also reduces stress and anxiety. What is helps even more is when parents proactively participate in the discussion of the calendar and schedules. Mitzi@TimeFinder.net
Rock March 08, 2012 at 01:57 PM
I think opinions vary on whether there is too much homework or not. Certainly, its an individual case for each student. I think the issue is also -- how do you challenge kids at varying levels?
Professor Richardson March 08, 2012 at 02:49 PM
I am a university professor with 21 years of teaching experience. I completely agree with Ms. Miller. My undergraduate students arrive at university with homework burnout...or what could more appropriately be called educational burnout from all of the "busy work" assigned in high schools. It takes me considerable time to overcome this problem and convince the students to reengage themselved in their education. I teach medical physics, obviously math intensive. I agree with the observation that 50 problems done wrong is not in the student's best interest. It is harder and takes longer to get a student to unlearn a mistake than to get them to learn it correctly in the first place. As for my courses, I do not assign any homework. Instead, I encourage students curiosity in the subject and they take it upon themselves to read and research. My students excel as a result of this policy. As a veteran educator....I agree with Ms. Miller....it is time to severely limit or eliminate all of this "busy work" and excessive homework. It only sends me a disengaged student.
James Kleimann March 08, 2012 at 03:02 PM
It's been a few years since high school, but I remember getting a solid three hours of homework a night. It varied by teacher of course. It's funny though, I remember quite distinctly there was even more homework throughout the middle school years. Parents, teachers – can you share how much your child/students receive per night, as well as what grade they're in? And thank you to Ms. Miller, Mitzi, Rock and Professor Richardson for weighing in – good discussion here.
Luis F Serrano March 08, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Good read and an excellent perspective being argued by Ms. Miller. Couple of things I'd like to add. Not all schools (districts) are created equal. Growing up in Brooklyn public schools we had a very small amount of homework and accountability. For folks like me, it just wasn't enough/challenging and so I would enroll in after school and summer school programs just for the added challenge. Unfortunately, for kids with less motivation they were fine without the added structure and got in quite some trouble because of all the 'free time'. I recognize that Glen Rock however, may be just be the complete opposite, hence why I do think there is a good argument to be had. If there is a reduction of homework being assigned, I would want to see some of that time replaced with some type of volunteer, mentorship, something 'worldly' that would prove of great value to the education of that student.
Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. March 08, 2012 at 06:06 PM
I congratulate this young woman on her excellent essay. Let me make a specific recommendation for your school district. Establish time limits that are measured by a real clock. Let kids STOP doing homework without penalty once that period of time is over. Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. www.thehomeworktrap.com
Tracy Mitchell March 08, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Very well written! I remember getting a ridiculous amount of homework every night. That led to me not doing part of it.
Doretta Durante Miller March 09, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Many thanks to everyone who commented. Lauren is extremely passionate about this cause and continues to work towards a solution at Glen Rock High School and for others. My wish is to see the fruits of her labor come to fruition before she graduates.
LookingAround March 14, 2012 at 02:34 AM
I was just reading and not going to comment, but when I read that students should have a time limit and be able to stop once they've reached it seems naive. Simple fact, but some may argue it's my opinion, they would not be honest.

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