By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki
Is the homework burden in American schools becoming heavier? Articles in the past 3 years in Atlantic magazine and The New York Times and a CNN story as well have raised this specter. But these stories, while accurate in their own particulars, look to be anecdotal and not statistically representative of the broad population of K-12 students. And this is not the first time such concerns have been raised – the debate has continued for at least the past 100 years.
The CNN story drew from a study which was biased by design. It used a small sample of upper middle class and highly competitive high schools in California, over half of which were private schools. In fact the name of the study was “Nonacademic Effects of Homework in Privileged, High-Performing High Schools”!
A further source of bias is that not all students in the chosen schools responded. The ones who did may have been in more of a mood to complain, or even brag about, their heavy homework loads. These are some of the most academically gifted students, who are striving to enter some of the most elite universities in the country and the world.
In Cupertino, California, where Curriki’s offices and Apple’s headquarters are located, many of the students have parents who are top engineers in Silicon Valley. These engineers were chosen from the best and brightest from China, India, the U.S. and the rest of the world. And such parents tend to push their children toward academic achievement. The Cupertino school district has a high school which was recently ranked #109 in the U.S., out of over 21,000 public high schools.
There have been a number of studies of homework, and they indicate on average that most students have less than an hour of homework, even in their senior year of high school. Trends in homework over the past three decades have been reported in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The assessment is part of the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education from the Brookings Institution. See the table below, taken from the report, and which summarizes findings from a period of almost 3 decades beginning in 1984. Consistent with other studies, the latest NAEP report indicates that, on average, most students have less than an hour of homework, even in their senior year of high school. According to these results, only one such student in 8 has more than 2 hours of homework. At age 9, only one student in 20 has more than 2 hours of homework.
Here is a description of the 10 minute per grade-level guideline, from the Wikipedia article on homework:
“A review by researchers at Duke University of more than 60 research studies on homework between 1987 and 2003 showed that, within limits, there is a positive interaction between the amount of homework which is done and student achievement. The research synthesis also indicated that too much homework could be counterproductive. The research supports the ’10-minute rule’, the widely accepted practice of assigning 10 minutes of homework per day per grade-level. For example, under this system, 1st graders would receive 10 minutes of homework per night, while 5th graders would get 50 minutes’ worth, 9th graders 90 minutes of homework, etc.”
So, in fact, the level of homework by grade level has been relatively stable for the past 3 decades. It will be interesting to see if major trends such as digital learning, flipping the classroom, and Common Core have any effect on the average amount of homework that students are assigned, or actually do.
Curriki is here to help with homework! Here you can find a long list of helpful resources for students that have to do homework, whether it’s a little or a lot!
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00220973.2012.745469 – “Nonacademic Effects of Homework in Privileged, High-Performing High Schools”