Is Homework a Headache at Your House?

At what point is the load too heavy?

Note: This post comes from my October 2013 newsletter. The reaction was so strong, I thought I’d add it to the site.

While I was back east earlier this month, I got to visit with my sister, Janice Patton,* and my niece Morgan, a freshman in a college prep academy charter school. Our conversations often turned to the topic of homework—with me talking about the number of calls I get from parents complaining about the amount their kids get, and Janice and Morgan sharing their own similar experiences.

OK, I know I’m the biased aunt here, but this kid is amazing. When she was describing the amount of homework she carries from her eight classes—five of them Honors courses—I could barely breathe! Following up after I got home, her mom elaborated in an email: “She has at least three hours of homework per night, but often five, and that would be seven days a week, [so] definitely more than 21 hours per week.” In addition, Morgan “has homework over every ‘break’ so that she never ever gets a break, which she and every kid needs. They have assignments over spring break, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and summer break. ALWAYS!”

Now apparently Super Niece has the constitution (and parental encouragement and support) to pull this off, but at some point this kind of stress will have to take its toll on even the strongest kids in the best situations. “She often goes to bed at midnight [or] 1:00 am,” writes Janice, “and is up at 7 am. She will then get into a cycle of sleeping when she gets home for a few hours and then [is] up until 3:00 or 4:00 and sleep for three or four more hours. Terrible! She just missed three days of school having a cold and the makeup work has killed her. She slept the whole three days while she was sick. Ugh! What is the answer? The kid has no life!”

From the parents I meet in my training seminars and the ones I hear from through emails, calls, and social media, I know that this family is not unique. In a recent letter to Dear Abby (Albuquerque Journal, Oct. 4, 2013) one “pressured mom” wrote, “teachers pile on so much homework that many parents send our kids to bed after three hours and finish it ourselves. Our kids are completely overwhelmed with senseless piles of busywork.” She wrote about kids being “stressed, anxious, and depressed,” noting that “parents are miserable. Kids are miserable. We want them to have a decent education, but we also want them to be happy people—now, no one is happy.

So where is the balance? At what point did school become a 24/7 enterprise? I have seen this trend emerge over the past several decades, not just in high schools, but in elementary and middle schools as well. Although sometimes districts spike the homework requirements in response to a drop in test scores (despite the lack of research to support this move), more commonly, teachers are complaining about increasing amounts of content being shoehorned into their course curricula. “The only way I can get through it all is to send it home,” said one harried educator who admitted to hoping that parents would help pick up the slack.

If this is the case, what are we saying about who can truly succeed in school? What about kids whose parents aren’t available (or adequately skilled) to help? Or young people with family, work, or extracurricular obligations? As knowledge and information continues to increase at exponential rates, at what point will we decide that enough is enough? Kids need time to recharge and they need time to simply play and relax. Let’s acknowledge that over-saturation, not to mention stress and exhaustion, leads to a point of diminishing returns.

I certainly believe in pushing kids, and I have no problem extending the school day a bit when the work is meaningful and serves a purpose. But I also think it’s time to step back and examine the value of the expectations and requirements we place on them.

So this month, I’m sharing links to five different articles on the topic of homework—two that I’ve written and three by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller—and a couple bonus articles on other sites as well. There’s also a great conversation with Susan Fitzell on the topic of homework in this month’s featured podcast.

Let’s see if we can find a middle ground with some balance and sanity so that the burden some of these kids are carrying right now doesn’t end up being the scariest part of this Halloween season.

© 2013, Dr. Jane Bluestein

*Janice is actually Jerry’s sister, but it’s been decades since we referred to one another as “in-laws.”

Relevant links:

Is Your Child’s Homework Worth Doing
Making Homework WORK: Building Flexibility into Your Homework Policy
Synthesis of Research Findings on Homework
Taking a Stand Against Homework
What About Homework?

Also: Do Kids Have Too Much Homework? by LynNell Hancock
Also: Homework: What Does the Research Say? by Scott King-Owen

Recently added to this site: A Homework Rating Scale by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller to help educators assess the value of the work they send home. 

Podcast: Ending the Homework Wars with Susan Fitzell

Book: Creating Emotionally Safe Schools: Is Your School an Emotionally Safe Place?
Book: Listas Para Padres: Qué Hacer Y Qué No
Book: The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting

Please Note: Some resource include material originally developed for educators with content that is equally applicable for parents and caregivers.

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One thought on “Is Homework a Headache at Your House?

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the homework discussion. My son and our family have been struggling with this since the FOURTH GRADE, with 3-4 hours of homework every night, plus weekends and breaks as well (he never gets a true “break”). He has been deemed “gifted” and is in an accelerated program (one grade level up), and now in sixth grade, he has tested at the tenth-grade level in math and reading. We are handling it, somehow, although we are worn out, and when little league baseball starts it’s just crazy at our house, but I have to wonder about those students who aren’t as organized or quick to pick things up, and the parents who don’t have the means or wherewithall to help. I’m a single mom so it’s quite difficult, although working at home helps tremendously, but still, it’s absolutely insane.

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