I wrote an article recently about the ever growing amount of homework kids are getting and wondering how kids who choose to play sports are dealing with it. This was in response to a couple of great posts over at White Trash Mom.

It may just be me, but I seem to have noticed that the mainstream media has picked up and run with this crusade against too much homework. I’ve noticed a number of stories and segments on it recently. I happened to catch a local news segment about a local YMCA, the increasing homework load and the increasing difficulty. Watch the video on the right (needs IE 🙁 ) The local YMCA finds that their staff have to spend more and more time on homework on subjects of ever increasing complexity. Some parents have simply said the kids should be allowed some downtime to play and that they’ll do the homework at home.

It also mentions a news release that came out recently from Harris Cooper, a Duke University researcher who specializes in homework research. He talks about the many contradicting studies on homework and what types of conclusions can be drawn from them:

The homework question is best answered by comparing students who are assigned homework with students assigned no homework but who are similar in other ways. The results of such studies suggest that homework can improve students’ scores on the class tests that come at the end of a topic. Students assigned homework in 2nd grade did better on math, 3rd and 4th graders did better on English skills and vocabulary, 5th graders on social studies, 9th through 12th graders on American history, and 12th graders on Shakespeare.

Less authoritative are 12 studies that link the amount of homework to achievement, but control for lots of other factors that might influence this connection. These types of studies, often based on national samples of students, also find a positive link between time on homework and achievement.

Yet other studies simply correlate homework and achievement with no attempt to control for student differences. In 35 such studies, about 77 percent find the link between homework and achievement is positive. Most interesting, though, is these results suggest little or no relationship between homework and achievement for elementary school students.

Why might that be? Younger children have less developed study habits and are less able to tune out distractions at home. Studies also suggest that young students who are struggling in school take more time to complete homework assignments simply because these assignments are more difficult for them.

Like most research areas – you have lots of contradicting studies. The studies do seem to point out that SOME homework is beneficial. Professor Cooper also noted recommendations from the National PTA and NEA:

The National PTA and the NEA have a parent guide called "Helping Your Child Get the Most Out of Homework." It states, "Most educators agree that for children in grades K-2, homework is more effective when it does not exceed 10-20 minutes each day; older children, in grades 3-6, can handle 30-60 minutes a day; in junior and senior high, the amount of homework will vary by subject…." Many school district policies state that high school students should expect about 30 minutes of homework for each academic course they take, a bit more for honors or advanced placement courses.

These recommendations are consistent with the conclusions reached by our analysis. Practice assignments do improve scores on class tests at all grade levels. A little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits. Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes a night. For high school students, the positive line continues to climb until between 90 minutes and 2½ hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.

Nobody is saying kids should do no homework. But elementary school kids doing 90-120 minutes of homework is insane. The subject matter is also getting more complex – which is good for our kids, so long as the homework assigned is practice for what they learned in school. However it often seems like the kids fly over stuff during the day with the parents having to ‘learn’ what is being taught to teach the kids. My wife and I both graduated with bachelors degrees, journalism and computer engineering respectively. We find ourselves having to lookup and learn concepts these kids are working on often. Just the other day my 4th grader was doing statistical analysis using data charts that had us all stumped until we researched what they were trying to accomplish. Only then could we really do the problems assigned. I think it is great our kids are learning more advanced topics at a younger age. However, the topics need to be covered in enough detail during school so parents don’t feel like they’re deputized teachers at home to fill in the blanks left when topics are breezed over. At least not all the time.

More disconcerting is every worksheet my kids do has a cross reference to the section of the end of grade test that will cover this topic. Teach that test!

If you want to do more reading on this subject, Professor Cooper released a study earlier this year that shows older students benefit from homework much more than younger elementary age students. He also has a book out called The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents.