A Closer Look At Those Students Who Do Have Excessive Homework
Yesterday on the Brilliant Blog, I wrote about a report from the Brookings Institution that found that, despite hyperventilating media coverage of the subject, the number of students spending hour upon hour on their homework is actually quite small. American students have an average of one hour of homework a night, the study found, and surveyed parents were more likely to say that their kids had too little homework than too much.
However—and it’s a big however for those who are living through it—the Brookings report was careful to say that there are genuine exceptions to the moderate picture they present: students who shoulder a very heavy workload, night after night. Today I want to take a closer look at those students and those families, via another new study.
This research, led by Denise Pope of Stanford University, signals its focus on a special population in its title: “Nonacademic Effects of Homework in Privileged, High-Performing High Schools.” It paints a very different picture than the one that appears in the Brookings report:
“This study used survey data to examine relations among homework, student well-being, and behavioral engagement in a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper middle class communities. Results indicated that students in these schools average more than three hours of homework per night.”
Pope and her colleagues did find that students who did more hours of homework experienced greater behavioral engagement in school. But there were many negative effects of heavy homework loads, too, as enumerated in a Stanford University press release about the study:
• Greater stress: 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress, according to the survey data. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.
• Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. The researchers asked students whether they experienced health issues such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems.
• Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits: Both the survey data and student responses indicate that spending too much time on homework meant that students were “not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills,” according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.
Some other takeaways from the study:
• Too much homework can reduce students’ time to foster skills in the area of personal responsibility and social connection—skills that are crucially important, as research is now beginning to demonstrate. “Young people are spending more time alone,” the authors write, “which means less time for family and fewer opportunities to engage in their communities.”
• Prior research indicates that homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night, and that 90 minutes to two and a half hours is optimal for high school.
• Students interviewed for the Stanford study said they often do homework they see as “pointless” or “mindless” in order to keep their grades up.
The prescription seems clear: assign a reasonable amount (around two hours a night) of meaningful homework that supports learning, but doesn’t interfere with other important activities.
I’m interested in what teachers, parents, and students connected to high-achieving schools have to say in response: Is this prescription a realistic one? And if so, why isn’t it happening at your school?