PITTSBURGH — Two complaints parents have about homework are: There’s too much and there’s too little.
In a report released March 18 from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., senior fellow Tom Loveless says those who think there is too little homework have the more common complaint.
But he adds that those complaining about too much homework get most of the attention.
“The homework horror stories need to be read in a proper perspective,” he wrote. “They seem to originate from the very personal discontents of a small group of parents. They do not reflect the experience of the average family with school-age children.”
“The homework load has been pretty stable over the last two to three decades,” he said in an interview.
Both the National PTA and the National Education Association favor the rule-of-thumb limiting homework in all subjects to 10 minutes times the grade level. Thus, a first grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework a night, a sixth grader up to 60 minutes, and a high school senior up to two hours.
Issue of quality
The Brookings report doesn’t address homework quality, a topic of many studies.
Alan Lesgold, dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, summarized the studies this way:
“Bottom line is that it depends heavily on the quality of the assignment, the extent of quick feedback, whether the student is motivated to do it, and possibly whether there is support outside of school, especially for the kind of big projects that can be demanding of a lot of parent time that may be less available when the parents are working multiple minimum-wage jobs.”
Loveless based his conclusions on data from three surveys: a student survey that was part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as NAEP or the Nation’s Report Card; a MetLife annual survey of parents and students; and a survey of college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.
In the 2012 college freshmen survey, students were asked how much time they spent per week on various activities in their last year of high school. Nearly two-thirds said they spent six or more hours a week socializing with friends.
But only 38.4 percent spent that same amount of time on studying or homework their last year in high school. Homework came in behind not only socializing but also exercise or sports as well as working for pay.
That percentage is less than in 1986, when 49.5 percent of college freshmen said they spent six or more hours a week studying and doing homework in their last year of high school.
“When I give this talk and show the college freshman data to college professors, they gasp and they all nod their heads, like, ‘We thought there was a problem,’ ” Loveless said.