Do students get too much homework, or too little feedback?

by Grace

… Tales of the homework-burdened American student have become common, but are these stories the exception or the rule?

How much homework do high school students really do?  Here are some numbers.

… The National Center for Educational Statistics found that high school students who do homework outside of school average 6.8 hours of homework per week.

The 2007 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that 50% of students in grades 7-12 reported doing one hour or more of homework on weekdays.

20131117.COCHomeworkTimeStudents2

There appears to have been little change in homework time for 17 year-olds over the last 35 years, as shown by this U.S. Employment and Training Administration (ETA) chart based on NAEP data.

20131118.COCNAEPHomeworkOverTime2


The reality is that a heavy homework load is unusual.

Based on National Education Association guidelines that homework should increase by ten minutes each school year, a high school senior should average two hours per night.  A teacher told me she believes local high school students average about three hours per night, and based on other information this sounds about right.  This puts local teens among the fewer than ten percent of American high school students who are doing three hours or more of homework each night.  Keep this in mind when you read stories like the one Karl Taro Greenfield wrote about his middle school daughter’s burdensome homework load averaging about three hours per night.

A ten-hour work day is probably fine for some teens.

Three or more hours of homework is fine for some students, those who are highly motivated and can maintain their focus on school work over a long time.  But it’s overly burdensome for most.  It seems wrongheaded and harsh to expect teens to put in ten-hour work days when many adults would find that same schedule to be onerous.  Under that scenario (7 hours of school + 3 hours of homework + 9 hours of recommended sleep = 19 hours) only five hours are left all other activities.  Meals, grooming, extracurricular activities, commuting, chores, jobs, and relaxing must all be fitted into those few hours left.  Given that sports, theater, and other activities often take up two to three hours after school, it begins to look even tighter for many kids.  And when a doctor’s appointment or other non-routine event comes up, such a schedule can be thrown all out of whack.  Yeah, three hours is too much for most kids.

My strongest objection to the hours of homework is the failure of some teachers to grade or otherwise provide meaningful feedback.

… Effective learning depends on the receipt of timely and useful feedback from teachers so that students can come to a better understanding of what they have learnt and, where appropriate, correct misunderstandings. Sometimes teachers do not provide this feedback to students; in the absence of effective teacher feedback homework is likely to be of little value to students. 

Two important ways that homework can enhance learning are by offering deliberate practice and formative assessment.  But when a student’s work is not evaluated by the teacher, neither is likely to occur.  Students quoted in Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman shed more light on this.

Without an explicit teacher response, Kristian said, her homework did not seem like deliberate practice.
I really want the teacher to evaluate it, so I can know what I’m doing wrong. From there, she can go over what we need, and maybe create another homework assignment to explore something that we didn’t get. – kristian

And unless a teacher intervened, said Christina, practicing something wrong in a homework assignment could be worse than not practicing it at all.
Until you understand what you’re doing wrong and how you can change it, you’re just going to continually do it wrong and think that you’re doing it right. – christina

One reason for hiring a tutor is to grade homework when teachers “don’t have time” to do it.  That just seems wrong to me.

Related:  The Homework Wars:  How much is too much?  (The Atlantic)

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4 Comments to “Do students get too much homework, or too little feedback?”

  1. My sense from my college students is that most of them did not get very much homework in HS. They are not used to working outside of class. My own kids do get a lot of homework, and a lot of feedback too. I appreciate it as long as the homework is NOT an arts and crafts project that requires a lot of parental help.

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  2. Another one of my big objections to some types of homework is when it requires a lot of parental help. Besides arts and crafts projects, I used to see homework assigned on lessons that had not yet been taught. In theory this might work for some types of students, but too many students get frustrated and cannot do the homework unless a parent intervenes to help.

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  3. I haven’t seen that so much, except once in first grade where the problem was that the teacher had not spent enough time on the concepts leading up to the work, so that my kid didn’t have a deep enough understanding. But those arts and crafts projects, grrrr! We just shipped one out the door yesterday. Everyone was up until midnight doing it.

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  4. ” Everyone was up until midnight doing it.”

    A team effort.

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