- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003


It’s a troubling story: Public-school students get so loaded with homework that they stress out and lose out on the chance to be playful kids.

But that story is largely wrong, two new studies contend.

Most students actually have less than an hour of homework a night, said Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. Compelling anecdotes of overwhelmed kids and exasperated parents don’t reflect what most families face, according to a Brookings analysis of a broad range of homework research.

“People are unduly alarmed over the amount of homework,” Mr. Loveless said. “They should realize kids are not overworked — and indeed there is room for even more work.”

The Brookings report is based on widely cited data from the Education Department, international surveys and research by the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles, among other sources.

For example, when asked how much homework they were assigned the day before, most students ages 9, 13 and 17 all reported less than an hour, according to a long-term federal survey in 1999. The share of students assigned more than an hour of homework has dropped for all three age groups since 1984.

Only about one in 10 high school students does a substantial amount of homework — more than two hours a night — according to a separate study co-authored by Brian Gill of Rand Corp., another nonprofit research group. The figure has held fairly stable for the last 50 years.

“It’s important to acknowledge that this is not true for everybody,” Mr. Gill said. “All those stories about overloaded kids — we’re not suggesting that kids and parents are lying. It’s just that it’s pretty clear that those stories are the exception rather than the norm.”

Given homework’s positive link to achievement as students get older, parents and educators must have an accurate picture of what most students face, Mr. Loveless said. Cases of excessive homework should be addressed by parents and teachers for individual students, not by district or state policy-makers, he said. The research by Mr. Loveless counters news accounts that he says have overstated homework loads.

High school students have an extraordinarily light homework load when compared with their international peers, according to the Brookings study, which cites a 1995-96 math and science survey. Among students in their final year of public schooling, those in France, Italy, Russia and South Africa reported spending at least twice as much time on homework as American students.

One rule of thumb in education is that students should get 10 minutes of homework per grade per night — such as 30 minutes a night for third-graders, 90 minutes a night for ninth-graders. Still, the long-running question over how much homework is too much or too little is often answered in local terms.

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