How Much Homework Is Too Much? Homework Guidelines
The debate over homework isn’t just one of educational outcomes and time management for highly stressed parents and over-scheduled families. Increasingly, the ethics of homework are under fire as educators and activists ask: How can children of different abilities and levels of privilege tackle the same requirements?
Parents and teachers also wonder at what point homework stop helping and starts harming a child’s well-being and attitudes toward school. The question of “How much homework is too much?” is one that’s especially relevant to parents of children with learning disabilities who may struggle to complete assigned work as quickly as their non-disabled peers.
Homework has its place, and it will be a part of your child’s school journey at some point. Here’s what we know about the effectiveness and limitations of homework based on the research so far, with recommendations and resources to help.
The Origins of ‘Home Work’
In the early 20th century, the practice of assigning homework focused mostly on repetition and recitation. Children were assigned lists of words, prose, math facts and geographical knowledge to practise, over and over. Homework “success” was achieved the next day, when a student was able to confidently recite these memorized tidbits in front of the teacher.
Dull to say the least, early homework was purported to prepare a student for the next day’s lesson. Early critics, however, saw it as meaningless at best, a thinly veiled attempt at behavioural control at worst. The first homework critics objected to the meaningless rote practice, and by the 1950s nightly homework was less common, especially in elementary grades.
A Nation At Risk: Homework Returns In the 1980s
Then, in 1983, a panicked American National Commission on Excellence in
Education released a report decrying the poor performance of US students in comparison to those around the world. More time in school, stricter expectations and more homework were the recommendations of the Commission, which included just one token teacher and no student representation.
It’s understood now that the 1983 report, A Nation At Risk, reflected cherry-picked research and more correlation than strict science. However, a furor over the supposedly insufficient North American education system was kindled and remains today.
Canadian responses followed, supportive and critical, but the 1983 report was widely accepted as evidence that North American school systems were doing a poor job of preparing children for standardized testing and university admission. Homework returned to public schools in North America with a renewed focus on rote practice and memorization. Cue the spelling lists and math practice sheets many of us were doled out nightly as school children, and which still remain commonplace in many schools today.
Does Homework Improve Learning Outcomes?
Debate has continued since the 1980s over homework’s efficacy and fairness across the spectrum of student experiences and abilities.
The next landmark publication in the great homework debate was a 2006 study by Duke University Professor of Psychology, Harris Cooper. Cooper’s meta-analysis found that homework does, in fact, support education and test outcomes, with certain caveats.
“With only rare exception, the relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes was found to be positive and statistically significant,” the study posited. Study authors were careful to note that homework’s helpfulness seems more certain in grades 7 through 12, and there is less correlation between homework and test scores among students in grades 1 through 6.
How homework helps improve test scores is more complex than simple practice and memorization. Cooper’s analysis suggested that homework also improves study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills. On the other hand, some of the evidence he examined offered warnings that homework can cause fatigue, stress, and negative attitudes about learning.
How Much Homework Is Too Much?
Critics of the 2006 study include prolific Education Writer and Critic, Alfie Kohn, whose objections are partly to the correlative nature of the education research so far and partly to the concept of homework at all:
“The practice of homework assumes that only academic growth matters, to the point that having kids work on that most of the school day isn’t enough,” states Kohn.
Homework may support test outcomes, but when does supporting test outcomes supersede ALL other goals we have for our children?
Is homework still valuable when it takes away from physical activity, family meals, sports and leisure, and quality unstructured “down time” where a child might be bored and inspired to use creativity and innovation?
Is homework issued to a class of 30 students still valid when it doesn’t take into account the presence or well-being of adults at home to assist, the student’s mental health, the student’s reading proficiency or the presence of a learning disability?
The 10-Minute Rule for Homework
The 2006 study sparked further debate and a broader conversation about homework’s place in education for students of different ages, abilities and backgrounds. Also to develop from Cooper’s research was a new understanding of homework guidelines by grade, and the accepted idea that homework was more important in higher grades than in elementary grades.
It seems homework can be helpful to a certain point but not past that point, a consensus which has manifested a general rule of thumb followed by many educators today:
A student should not have more than 10 minutes per grade level.
In other words, a grade 2 student should not have more than twenty minutes, an average grade 9 student might have 90 minutes without experiencing negative repercussions, and so on. It’s generally accepted that homework shouldn’t exceed 2 hours at the high school level.
Homework for Struggling Readers
For homework critics like Dr. Cathy Vatterott of the University of Missouri-St.Louis, homework is much more about individual tolerance and benefits than policy. Vatterott recommends teachers communicate clearly about the 10-minute rule and help parents understand that a child should not exceed these guidelines even if they don’t complete the expected work inside the allotted time.
Like Vatterott, we recommend homework be shaped around a child’s real needs and learning skills NOT by grade-based norms or a desire to make work.
For students with dyslexia, ADHD and other learning disabilities which affect attention, reading and processing, homework is an equity concern. Even further, when a child’s lived experience includes the intersection of disability, poverty, racial discrimination and/or mental illness, what might seem “simple homework” to another can be an unreasonable and inequitable load. Not to mention that formal post-secondary education isn’t the path for every learner, and the validity of test scores themselves are under question.
The next frontier of homework research must be how to individualize homework requirements and honour student needs and learning pathways. Homework might be right for your child, but it might not be. Your opinion and you child’s needs deserve to be brought to the forefront of homework discussions with your child’s education team.
Is homework a struggle in your home and could reading and learning disabilities be part of the puzzle? The first step is reaching out to book a friendly chat here.