A common question posed by educators, parents and students centers around daily homework: how much is too much? While there isn’t one answer that fits every subject, school or individual student, we wanted to look at both sides of the issue. On the one hand, homework can achieve the necessary goal of reinforcing material learned in class. However, we should also consider that students spend seven hours a day in school, and are then required to take hours more work home with them.
The question then becomes: when does the workload cross the threshold from helpful to hurtful?
Of course, some homework is necessary in order to reinforce concepts and engage the student at home, and while there is research supporting the idea that homework is linked to student achievement, there is also the concept of diminishing returns—that is, after a student spends a certain amount of time spent working, retention of information and learning is actually hampered. Studies have shown that for middle school students, doing homework for more than 90 minutes results in diminishing returns, and for high school students, the right amount of homework is between 90 minutes to 2.5 hours; anything more can have negative effects.
In the data we found, the load seems to be increasing all the time. For example, one study showed that some elementary students were receiving three times the amount of homework than they should be. In addition, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, author of the book The Learning Habit: A Groundbreaking Approach to Homework and Parenting that Helps Our Children Succeed in School and Life, says, “The cost is enormous. 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.”
In a recent survey, 56% of students reported that homework was their highest stressor, and many are up late finishing work, which also leads to sleep deprivation. What many students don’t realize is that stress and not getting enough sleep can have physical impacts, from migraines and ulcers to depression.
The good news is that many schools have recognized that this is an ongoing issue, and are now lightening homework loads, offering up more in-class time for students to get their assignments done, and looking at ways to help students manage stress. In the end, we owe it to our kids and students to encourage healthy academic exploration and reinforce learning without making school an overwhelming or burdensome process.