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Homework for elementary students is a hotly debated topic right now. While some parents loudly call for an end to it, citing research that found "homework has no proven benefits", when a school in New York did decide to no longer assign any homework, parents reacted angrily. Some threatened to remove their kids from the school, while others made it clear that they'd be assigning homework of their own if their children's teachers didn't.
What's going on? Are piles of homework stressing our children out, robbing them of the chance to just be kids, and keeping them from spending time with their friends and relatives? Is homework actually a crucial part of the learning process? Or does the truth lie somewhere in the middle?
Does Homework Have Any Proven Benefits? How Much Is Too Much?
Imagine you're an elementary-aged kid, or just think back to your own childhood for that matter. You are stuck in a classroom with 30-odd same-age peers a good portion of the day, perhaps enjoying learning exciting new things and perhaps simply looking forward to recess — if you have one, that is: you could also be the "victim" of silent lunches, depending on your school's policy.
You just got out of school, so of course you want a break first. Procrastinate enough, arguments with parents perhaps included, and you'll soon find yourself doing homework right before bedtime. Boring homework, probably, about things you aren't actually that stoked about. As you're trying to drift off to sleep, that material may still be floating in front of your eyes.
You're not an elementary-aged kid though; you're an adult. You know, unlike your former younger self, that homework is a necessary evil, crucial for kids to retain the materials they have learned in school. Or do you?
Salon, in an article titled "Homework Is Wrecking Our Kids", quoted "homework research guru" Harris Cooper from Duke University as saying that "there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students".
They didn't mention that he also said that around 10 to 20 minutes of homework would be appropriate in first grade, followed by an additional 10 minutes a day for every grade thereafter. These are guidelines that the National Education Association (NEA) endorses.
Homework does have proven benefits: it was found to enhance the academic performance of high school students. It doesn't have any proven benefits among elementary school children, but around 10 minutes for each grade (so 30 in third grade, 40 in fourth grade, and so on) is still believed to be "appropriate" for kids. Confusing, much?
How Much Homework Do Our Kids Have?
Much less than alarmist articles might have you believe, and if you are a parent yourself, you will probably be aware of this yourself. Research data conclude that most US kids spend no more than an hour a day on completing homework. Depending on their grade, that may still mean they are doing more than they "should be" if you agree with the "10 minute per grade rule", but not nearly by as much as you may have believed. This is not true for everyone though. Students attending schools in wealthier areas are actually getting more homework than their poorer counterparts.
Senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education Denise Pope, who co-authored research into the negative effects of homework, focused her recent research on 10 top-performing schools in upper-middle class neighborhoods in California. The 4,317 students she and her colleagues surveyed engaged in much more homework than most American kids — coming from families whose annual incomes exceeded $90,000, they spent about 3.1 hours on homework each night. That's well above the recommended time for K-12 students of any age. What impact did that amount of homework have on these students? We'll take a look on the next page.