Elementary Students and Homework: How Much Is Too Much?By Caitrin Blake • October 4, 2016
The debate over homework flared anew in the fall 2016 school year as a handful of elementary school teachers implemented drastically reduced homework policies that went viral as parents rose to applaud or condemned them.
The policies that captured so much attention state that teachers would give students either no homework in the evenings, or that homework will consist only of work not completed that day in school. For many parents, these policies are a relief. Their kids spend all day at school, and even a small homework load interrupts the scant time kids have to play, attend other activities or enjoy family time.
But others support a more traditional approach to the role of homework in a student’s academic growth, arguing that some homework helps to solidify the day’s lesson plan.
How much homework should elementary school students do?
The furor over the quantity of homework assigned to elementary students reached a fever pitch this year amid headlines touting research finding that assigning homework to these students does not improve their academic performance. While the headlines grabbed plenty of attention, they barely scratch the surface of this complicated issue.
Historically, proponents of homework cited research urging teachers to follow the “10-minute” rule, which means assigning students 10 minutes of homework per grade level. For instance, a first-grader might have 10 minutes of homework a night while a third-grader could have up to 30 minutes of work. In theory, the quantity and intensity of homework should rise with age.
Note there is research supporting homework as a learning tool, especially as it relates to practice and retention. Studies do show that children as young as second grade improve their skills when they study at home to supplement in-class instruction — provided it doesn’t exceed the 10-minute rule per grade level. This research is correlational rather than causational, so it’s difficult to determine cause and effect.
Still, many researchers argue that even this small amount of homework doesn’t help students learn or retain concepts. Rather, they suggest homework at an early age helps children establish good study habits and time management skills while keeping parents current on what their kids are learning in school.
The type of homework matters — especially for young students
Research has found that homework tied to a student’s interests (such as reading for pleasure) boosts academic performance. Therefore, activities like maintaining a reading log can help to promote academic success even if it isn’t directly tied to in-class work. Other assignments might tie to students’ interests outside the classroom. For instance, teachers might ask students to complete writing assignments where they describe a hobby.
Homework that is too difficult, however, can be severely detrimental to students. If students feel easily discouraged or unable to complete assignments, they can develop negative views on school and learning.
Harris Cooper, a Duke University professor who wrote the book “The Battle over Homework,” suggests that homework assignments should be minimal, easy to complete and designed to get parents involved (though the involvement should gradually fade as students get older).
Ultimately, the debate over homework policies appears unlikely to die down. In one note to parents that went viral this fall, Brandy Young, an elementary teacher, suggested that instead of completing homework in the evenings, students should enjoy time with their families — including eating dinner, playing outside, reading and getting to bed early.
Young argued that these factors had proved to promote students’ academic success. And research supports such findings: Quality family time that includes time to play, relax and get adequate sleep are huge determinants of student achievement. While homework might help, it should not interfere with other aspects of the child’s home life.
Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.Learn More: Click to view related resources. Tags: Early Childhood and Elementary (Grades: PreK-5), Professional Development
Family stress worsens as children’s homework loads increase, and the long hours kids spend on homework could be used for exercise, sleep, or extracurricular activities. Then again, these assignments do help children practice their skills and dive deeper into subjects they haven’t mastered during the school day. Are children getting too much homework? The answer may be “yes.”
Homework by the Numbers
Since every school has its own policies, and the amount of homework a child is assigned does fluctuate, no hard and fast statistics about homework distribution exist.
However, researchers provide some insight into general trends. One major study, done in 2007, polled more than 2,000 3rd- through 12th-grade students. The researchers asked how much time students spent doing homework on a typical weeknight. Thirty-seven percent of elementary students and fifty percent of secondary students reported spending an hour or more on homework. Eight percent of secondary students spent three or more hours doing homework on a typical weeknight.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress also tracks the homework practices of American students. In 2012, 9-year-old, 13-year-old, and 17-year-old students were asked how long they had spent on homework the previous day. About one in five students said they had not been assigned any homework. Most students had less than two hours of homework, but 5 percent of 9-year-olds, 7 percent of 13-year-olds, and 13 percent of 17-year-olds had more than two hours of homework.
The Case Against Homework
Between long school days, afternoon club meetings, sports practices, sports games, and time spent commuting, many children do not get home for the day until late afternoon or early evening. Fitting in two hours of homework after dinner cuts into time children could be using for sleep, exercise, family time, and fun. If students do not finish their homework, however, they risk falling behind their classmates and getting reprimanded by teachers.
Parents suffer too, according to a 2015 report published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, which found that “family stress … increased as homework load increased and as parents’ perception of their capacity to assist decreased.” While most parents can help with elementary school homework, they may discover that advanced calculus homework is beyond their abilities.
The Case for Homework
Does homework actually help students succeed? Researchers say it can, although it seems to be more effective for kids in grades 7–12 rather than those in K–6. Homework helps kids retain information, develop responsibility, and hone their time-management skills.
Children who do homework also tend to have higher test scores than those who do not, but only up to a certain point. A Duke professor and author of The Battle over Homework found that junior high students reached a point of diminishing returns after 90 minutes of homework per night. Students who did more than 90 minutes of homework did not have higher test scores than those who did 90 minutes only.
More and more, teachers are turning away from traditional homework. One Texas elementary school teacher announced she would not be assigning homework in the 2016–2017 school year, and she was met with overwhelming support from parents around the country. And some schools have created no-homework policies, while administrators at other schools are considering the idea.
The homework tide may be turning, but it is a slow process. If you believe your child’s homework requirements are not effective for him or her, consider online learning, which offers students a personalized education experience and a number of benefits for young learners.
How much homework do your students have during the week? Is it too much or too little? Let us know in the comments section!