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Is your kid getting too much homework?

Posted on 3rd Jan 2012 | In General Science


I don’t know about anyone else out there, but it is not uncommon for my 3 kids ages 11, 9, and 8 to have between 2 and 3 hours homework per night.

I find this very alarming, especially because they already have a very long school day. It’s like we almost have time for nothing else other than school and then schoolwork done at home! Are my kids distracted and slow? Is it just my imagination, or are our kids getting too much homework?

Research shows that over the last decade, there has been a growing trend of elementary and middle school children indeed receiving more homework than ever before. Ah ha, I was sure of it!  What I didn’t know is that this is partly due to factors such as parental involvement and expectations.  Yes, indeed, we parents, who want to give our children the “best,” have somehow helped to perpetuate this phenomenon. How many of us are under the age-old impression that homework is an important daily staple of every student’s life?  How many times are parents puzzled to hear that their child does not have any homework?  It’s almost as if something is not right in the world if a child utters the words “I have no homework.” Many of us have come to expect the daily reassurance of homework and even rely upon it as some sort of evening occupation.  It is admittedly a better solution than the TV!

Surprisingly enough though, research has also continually shown that there is no correlation between the amount of homework a child does and how well he or she understands the assignment or even performs on a quiz or test. Volumes of homework do not necessarily guarantee a child’s success in school. So, why do we put our kids (and ourselves) through this nightly torture?  Is it because we have deep-rooted beliefs that homework serves in helping students develop good study habits, time management skills, and self-discipline? If that were really true though, why are so many adults irresponsible and unable to manage their time efficiently?

So what is the real reason for all this homework? Is there too much to learn? Are we teaching our kids inefficiently compared to when we were at school? I certainly didn’t do 2 to 3 hours homework a night when I was that young. Is the bar being raised too high for our kids? Even with the longer school days, is there not enough time in the school day to cover the material? I personally believe that while parents definitely feel some level of comfort when their child has some homework, we cannot be solely blamed for this recent trend of copious quantities of homework being assigned very night. In fact every parent I know is complaining bitterly about the homework load. The real reason for all this homework, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the parents or with helping our children learn, but rather, it’s all about helping the school get a better “grade.”

As an involved parent I have no problem assisting the school in teaching my children at home if the material is interesting and sparks a love of learning and a love of the subject in my child. And many parents I know welcome the opportunity to be involved in their child’s education. However, the rising levels of frustration that result for both parent and kids are counterproductive. The problem as I see it, is that most of the time the homework is dull, monotonous, rubbish and is assigned sheerly so my child does well in some moronic standardized test (did I mention I like to be direct?). Instead of instilling a the love of learning in my child it becomes a source of family frustration.  But for the school it’s really important that the kids do well on these tests because the school gets rated and funded depending on how well the students do.

My oldest son told me the other day, that some teacher at his school said that they spend so much time testing now, and not actually teaching the kids, that teaching is longer fun. How sad is this? Unfortunately it appears that we have become so obsessed with measuring learning, that we are actually killing learning.

So what can we as involved parents do about this? How can we possibly buck against this long-standing tradition?  I think it’s time we all pushed back and came to our kid’s defense. We need to embark on a mission to break this ridiculous homework cycle. The “very brave” home school in my opinion. However, for the rest of us, that have chosen to send our kids to regular school, we need to draw a line in the sand and let our teachers, principals, and school boards know that the homework is simply too much! I think it’s also really important that we realize that standardized tests are actually for the school’s benefit and not for the well-being or benefit of our kids.  It is vital that in these precious years for our children we stay focused on them and help them develop a love of learning whenever possible. If the material is not doing that, we need to wonder why they are doing it. Learning should be fun! Of course there will be topics that need to be learned that may not seem like fun, but that too is part of the game! Kids don’t try to avoid or have any trouble with rigor and memorizing numerous facts, if they can see and feel a reason for it. Just ask my kids to tell you the names of the all the Pokémon characters and they will rattle them off in seconds. I believe if the periodic table of elements or any subject matter in fact, was presented in an interesting way kids would have no problem learning and retaining the facts.

It is important too that our children are given time to develop in areas other than school so that they may become well-rounded individuals, rather than be continually bogged down by so much homework.  They should participate in extracurricular activities, spend quality time with their family, and acquire diverse life skills.  All of this should be highly encouraged by the school administration and be a genuine part of their daily “homework”!  We as parents can participate in a homework revolution by enlightening other parents as well as teachers and administrators to remind them that our children need time to be just that…children!

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Elva O'Sullivan Ph.D is an educator and founder of She has created over 50 educational science products for the marketplace. To learn more about her and ScienceWithMe!® follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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32 Responses to Is your kid getting too much homework?

  • I believe the main reason for the increase in homework is that there is more and more pressure being put on the districts to receive funds by increasing their test scores. The scores are based on tests designed by the government who is holding the funds. The government keeps increasing the curriculum requirements. There is not enough time to cover all the curriculum in the classroom so more responsibility is being placed on the students and parents to study the curriculum at home.

  • Sarah 3 years ago in reply to Sarah

    I am a high school student that is over stressed. I am always doing homework and I am still falling behind. I am always doing assignments. This is ridiculous. I am always tired.

  • John 3 years ago in reply to John

    It is all about keeping pur kids constantly busy. That’s what most teachers believe their role is. Another important factor is that very little teaching is transpiring in the classrooms due to many behavioural issues. Managing the classroom is becoming a huge burden on teachers and doesn’t allow them to teach as much. So what do they do… they put the responsibility on parents to complete lessons at home with their kids.

  • GPC 3 years ago in reply to GPC

    Homework loads seem to vary a lot by school. Part of the problem is that a lot less is taught during the school day in many schools, so more of what kids need to learn is being sent home. The only way to solve this problem is to teach more during the school day, so kids get no more than 30 minutes of homework at the elementary level and none on the weekends.

    That means throwing out all the fancy ideas about how kids should learn and go back to teaching them the way cognitive science shows they actually do learn. For example, get rid of a lot of the new-fangled math programs and replace them with practice. Of course, many educators would call that drill and kill. But practice drills work for math whether we like it or not. Memorizing math facts works. Knowing grammar makes kids better writers whether we like it or not. Building a strong base of factual knowledge works whether we like it or not. I could go on and on.

  • A very interesting article. It makes me appreciate the opportunity to be able to homeschool 2 of my children. I also have 2 in public school; one Never has homework, the other (due to the IB program) has TONS, ALL THE TIME. They say she will be able to rapidly progress through college, but it has completely eliminated outside activities, church (most Sundays) and time with her family.

  • Thank you for this important and helpful study, we suffer the same problems but we as parents can do nothing to change. We have to follow the regular school.
    Thank you again.

  • Mini 3 years ago in reply to Mini

    I don’t know, why schools today are filled with theories. They think giving home work will make the students develop. They forget that the children prefer something they can feel with their five senses.

  • As an elementary teacher i agree that 2 or 3 hours a night is too much. However, i do believe that homework instills self discipline and routine that will benefit kids as they get older. Parents can do many things to make homework ‘more fun’ such as playing the role of teacher or of student…it can be done tag team or done online with grandma on skype!

  • Jodi 3 years ago in reply to Jodi

    I have 4 boys (ages 15, 14, 13, & 8) and have been complaining for years about the amount of homework they receive. Something is not being done in the classroom and that is why they are having so much to do at home. Maybe it takes kids longer to learn something today because they are tired. They go to school for 7 hours and then have 3 hours of homework. Something has to change.

  • Actually, I disagree. Students are not getting to much homework. I teach sixth grade and on average our middle level students have around 40 minutes maybe. The true issue is that kids are way over committed to karate lessons, gymnastics, and so on. When we were kids, we might have had one afterschool activity not every night. Saturday’s were for playing outside, not driving two hours for extra language lessons. In conclusion, depending on your child’s ability 10 minutes per grade level is normal. Limiting your child’s activities so that your kid can be exactly that a kid.

    • Polly . Fair point! I also agree that kid’s activities are waaaay over scheduled too! But my 3rd grader doesn’t get 30 mins homework a night. She is getting at least 3- 4 x that. If the 10 minute per grade level was adhered to I’d have no problem with it (assuming the homework was meaningful).

      • Wow! Sounds like you need to talk to the teacher. At our school we try to work with parent so homework isnt such an issue. I generally give my students 20 minutes of study hall at the end of the days if possible. I agree homework needs to serve a purpose.

  • Kathy 3 years ago in reply to Kathy

    HOMESCHOOL HOMESCHOOL You will have a decision in every aspect of their schooling. What they learn, when they learn it and how much school work and homework they will do. Step up and take control of the situation;

  • Mike 3 years ago in reply to Mike

    1.) Please REVIEW the research in depth. There IS a difference between homework and useful homework…useful homework requires a child to practice what was learned in class. The REAL research (not the few “research reviews” that is completed by pseudo-researchers and reported by the uneducated medai) clearly shows that useful homework improves children test scores between 9-12% (In other words, students who do their homework right and are assigned useful homework improve by one letter grade.)

    2.) I have seen homework clubs at the school and even my own nieces “do their homework” that takes hours on end because the kids are talking, joking, listening to Ipods, ‘taking a 5 minute break” etc. Also, the projects that were due two weeks ago are “saved” for the last day.

    3.) Standardized tests are for the school’s benefit? It is this misconception that causes the problem. Can ONE test truly determine if a school is good? Well according to every state it is and uninformed parents also believe it is a good thing. This one test punishes schools and punishes teachers…but notice it does NOT blame the student (especially those who don’t do the homework) or the parents. If this test is for the benefit of the school, then the test punishments should be changed. How would YOU like it if your child, no matter how well they did the whole school year…how would you feel if your child was retained based SOLELY on this ONE test…NO MATTER how well they did on other assessments? Oh and parents shouldn’t be left off the hook either..if a child fails this ONE test that is SOOO beneficial then when a student fails and is retained that parent is obviously a bad parent and that parent should be required to pay the cost to retain that child for the school year or even better…since the parent is obviously a bad parent (hey the ONE test said so) and NOT making sure their child completes home work and reads every day…that parent should lose custiody of their children until they prove they are fit parents and will take a child’s education seriously? In numerous states, test scores are the only (or at least 50%, which means if the child fails a teacher fails automatically no matter how well the teacher performs on the other 50% of the evaluation) factor that is being proposed for teacher “value added” evaluations/tenure. In other words, if a child fails..the teacher should get fired. Lets fine parents or take away custody and we’ll see what parents think of that “one” test.

    4.) If you want to become better at basketball, you practice your basketball skills. If you want to become better at playing a musical instrument, you practice your musical skills. If you want to become a better runner, you practice running….so in other words…when you practice a skill…you become bETTER at that skill…UNLESS it’s homework! Practicing math skills has NO value…practicing reading skills has NO value? Stop quoting unreliable research and use common sense. There is countless data out there that shows students who read more or spend more time working on academic skills do better than the lazy ones. (TAlking about sports…parents will gladly take their kids for two hours of football or cheerleading practice every single night, but try getting parents to stay for an hour or so with homework…that’s unacceptable! :)

    5. This magically test requires students to know more and more at a younger age…just LOOK at your state’s core curriculum standards…many states are replacing them with the National Common Core…it was supposed to require LESS items be taught in each grades, so students could master each skill, but instead they ADDED MORE…especially at 5th grade and up!!!! On top of that teachers do NOT know what will be on the test…so they cannot focus their instruction they must teach/cover EVERYTHING. (There was a great post in the NY TIMES about a college educated reporter taking and barely passing the NY NCLB test…we are teaching kids everything in the world, not what is important (Like Singapore (Math))

    So what can parents do? 1.) Make sure homework time is ONLY homework time…no TV in the background, no music, no talking. 2.) Have all homework supplies on hand in a homework spot and complete homework at the same time everyday…right after school…not before bed. 3.) Check for projects and when were they assigned…you will be amazed at how many projects were assigned two weeks ago! 4.) Call politicans and let them know that the ONE test should not be the “be all, end all” (The test is designed to fail students, then the school is required to pay for private tutors and buy test prep programs…Do you really think 100% of students will be reading at grade level by 2014…like autistic kids? Kids that came from 3rd world countries? get real…it’s about sending public dollars to private companies.) 5.) Make sure your child is reading everyday…kids who don’t read every day are the ones who are straining the system. 6.) Let your child know that homework and school IS important…(you are complaining here, I’m sure you complain in front of your children…which shows them that homework is NOT important.) 7.) Stay in constant contact with teachers…not just when there is a problem.

    Ok…enough! LOL So many teachers put their heart and soul into teaching and they are harshly judged by people who are not informed of the pressure or not affected by the true consequences of a failing child. (Parents tell politicians…we want good schools, politicians tell teachers to work the kids harder so we can have good schools, then parents tell the teachers to stop working their kids so hard…it’s a no win situation.)

    My best to all and Happy New Year.

    • Elva 3 years ago in reply to Mike

      Mike – thanks for taking the time to write your reply and I feel your frustration! If you note the title of my article it was “Is your kid getting too much homework?” — I didn’t say all homework was bad or useless so I agree with your first point. I also agree that if you want to get good at something you need to practice it. My 3 kids are keen sailors and they sail a lot. However I also strongly encourage them to take breaks from time to time as taking breaks is also important. Their coaches also encourage it, as they have seen too many kids get burned out (and that’s doing something they really love). Often after a break when my kids return to the sport they do better. It’s just not true that practice make perfect. The best coaches often tell my kids that it’s “PERFECT practice that makes perfect”. So yes — I understand that the quality and quality of homework is important. Hence the title of my article :) If my kid is exhausted at the end of a school day what is really the point in giving another 2-3 hours homework? Also all your points are correct about not having distractions present during homework time. Just so you know, my kids are not watching TV (we don’t own one) or listening to music etc. as you point out. I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say that we sit down and focus and it often still takes us that long to do it. My kids understand the importance of a good education but I also want to encourage them to question when something doesn’t feel right so that’s what i feel about 3 hours homework.
      At no point in the article did I mean to give the impression that I blame teachers for the testing etc. I have spoken to teachers about this and many of them agree and are frustrated too. In fact at our school we have truly excellent teachers and they have even sometimes called or emailed me and said my kid (one in particular) gets very burned out. Some have even given me permission to reduce his homework load when possible. But this is not always possible. The teachers themselves see it and are trying to defend the kids. I note your reference to Singapore Math. I used to do this with my kids in Ireland when we had more time and we didn’t have 3 hours of homework. Sadly now we don’t have time to do it any more. We are too busy preparing for the FCAT :)

  • Karen 3 years ago in reply to Karen

    This article is straight to the point and completely true. There is indeed much too much emphasis put on achieving and recording this factor. Science is the easiest subject to make fun so as teachers we should be allowed to make it such! Ok I agree that the older student needs to know how to carry out an experiment, right from the planning to the conclusion, but let’s go for the fun side in a big way too! I spent far too many science lessons writing up experiments. We then didn’t get time to do and it was the same when my daughter was at school. For a while we had this crazy teacher who really enthused the students cos all he ever did was experiments! They all loved it! Ok, now to the homework issue. Yes, a small amount of homework is a good idea cos it reinforces what was learned in the lesson but it only need to be a very short worksheet, no more than 10 minutes in duration and only when some new concept has been taught! Of course it all goes wrong when the teacher’s classroom management skills leave a lot to be desired and the students don’t reach the necessary level of learning in the lesson, but then it’s up to the department head to get that lack of teaching skill sorted out and the relevant training and help for the teacher. So I say – less assessing – more fun!

  • Hello if you open this link and translate it in english(it is in romanian) you will find an article that will just compliment yours! Thank for your effort or shall I say the job well done in pointing out the truth .
    Best , Vasile

    • Thanks Vasile. I have posted the translation below for our readers.
      Reform in education must be made so as to bear fruit. On this premise went with education leaders in Finland. Here is the most advanced educational system in Europe and the conditions under which students are studying at least strange.

      In Finland, children go to school only if they reached 7 years, do not give tests or written work or should not be afraid to age 16. Moreover, in the first six years of school students are not evaluated in any way.

      Although it seems that the educational system does not work, the results contradict students: middle school after graduation, 66% of young people is a faculty, the highest percentage in Europe.

      Moreover, the difference between the best and the worst students in school is seamlessly, the lowest in the world. Finland’s education system places great emphasis on practice.

      Thus, most classes take place in laboratories and research groups are not larger than 16 people. All these measures taken in the education system have the effect Exam passing rate of 93% for high school graduation and 43% of students who finish high school goes to vocational school.

      In the first years of school, students sit in a typical day 75 minutes in breaks, while U.S. students spend only 25 minutes in recreation.

      Finnish teachers opt for classes held outdoors, so they do not spend more than 4 hours in class with students.

      Teachers are very large in Finland, but can not practice unless they have been master. The salary of a rookie teacher three years ago was almost $ 30,000 per year. Finnish teacher status is similar to that of doctors or lawyers, are highly respected by society.

  • The emphasis on testing is driven by national educational reform, not individual schools. Schools that don’t participate in testing programs are penalized financially. I believe everyone is in agreement about accountability, but well seasoned educators would agree that this emphasis on testing does not make our students any brighter. The homework load is more likely based on the fact that schools are required by national standards to cover a certain amount of material. From my experience, students do not work as efficiently as when I began teaching 35 years ago. A class assignment that would have been completed in 20 minutes previously, often takes current students twice as long to complete. Math skills in particular are weaker because students do not have automaticity when applying basic facts (multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction). This weakness slows down the average 6th grade student in all areas of math. Homework is often an opportunity to complete what would normally have been completed in class.

    • Very interesting point. Why though do kids not appear to have the same skills as a few years ago as you point out. Could it be that we spend so much time testing now at an early age and not enough teaching?

      • In my school, the emphasis on memorization has been scaled down. Rote memorization is rather boring, but when it comes to math facts, it sure helps make more difficult concepts easier!

  • Susan 3 years ago in reply to Susan

    I disagree. Students need to practice the concepts they learn in order to perfect their understanding, not just for the school’s sake of a good test score, but the academic well being of the child. Think about the time when you learned your multiplication tables. It didn’t happen within one class period did it? Of course not. More and more instructional material/elements are being required by the lawmakers, not the schools. In Texas, for example, the state school board determines the amount of information and the depth to which it is covered. Schools have limited time to cover the material, so extra practice has to come from home. Colleges are demanding more from their applicants and the schools are working to ready students to meet those demands.

    If your children are bringing home so much homework that you deem the time requirement unreasonable or the work unimportant, have you visited the school to find out what the school’s goals are with regard to homework? Do they recommend a time limit for homework? Have you investigated whether or not your children are choosing to doddle during class and save the work for when they get home? I have a child who was infamous for this! I would really like to know the references for your citing of the research. Please share!

  • Helen 3 years ago in reply to Helen

    I’m an experienced middle/high school teacher and I DON’T like giving mindless, time-consuming busy-work homework. I have given projects to do as homework since the school believed in project-based learning. Usually these projects are paired or teamed learning. I allow students to come to my class to use the computers, ask questions, assistance, etc. before/after school and during lunch. I tell my parents at the beginning of the school year not to expect much homework from my science class and to check the syllabus (computer) for updates for tests, etc. If my students can not complete their assignments in class then they need to find some other time to complete it–again, home or one of my free times I am in my classroom. I focus “homework” on the vocabulary words, describing and/or explaining the main concepts type questions, and perform basic scientific math skills. I feel children need to explore and question their universe.

  • Amy 3 years ago in reply to Amy

    This is going to sound horribly pessimistic, but it’s my understanding of the current state of the American education system. My response doesn’t include all schools and teachers, but I would say it describes the majority of them.

    What I see here is that most public schools are funded based on the student’s test scores, so that’s why teachers focus on it so much. It can also dictate whether they get a raise or not.

    I feel the reason that teacher’s aren’t able to make the material interesting is that most teachers today are not people who wanted to teach in the first place. It’s not a well paid profession, but it still pays more than the jobs that most liberal arts/science university students sought before they went to teaching as a backup plan. I don’t feel the psychological understanding of children is measured in any way before teachers are offered a position at a public school.

    That being said, maybe give praise to the teachers that are doing well and encourage your child to respect them for what they do. It’s also wise to teach your children how to deal with subjects that they don’t enjoy in a creative way, by making it a game and/or studying with friends. . .they will deal with many things in life they don’t like, and if they start to look at mundane things in a positive light at this age, they will be a lot more adaptable as both teenagers and adults. You can also teach them to question the way adults are doing things by teaching your children to ask questions on the teacher’s methodology. If they are raised in the US, they should be taught how to question authority, or they are going to be disturbed when they see how politics dictates the country and their education as they grow older.

    • Amy 3 years ago in reply to Amy

      politics dictate****

    • Elva 3 years ago in reply to Amy

      Interesting and I agree with most of what you say! except I don’t agree with your comment that “Most teachers today are not people who wanted to teach in the first place.” Based on our experience here in the US, we have found the teachers to be truly positive and absolutely love teaching. However they are exhausted and frustrated with the system at times and feel that their creative capacities are restricted when it comes to being allowed to teach their subject matter in the particular way they would like to. More often than not they have to follow particular criteria. Look at the way I try and teach science. It would be a lot more difficult to teach in this way if I had to work withing the confines of a school curriculum.

      • Amy 3 years ago in reply to Elva

        thanks for the reply, Elva. Like I said, I wasn’t referring to *all* teachers when I described them that way, but I do see a lot of teachers who became certified after they couldn’t find other jobs in this economy. I guess with hiring freeze they have implemented in many states (I don’t know if that’s still going on, I’m living abroad right now), teachers have to be passionate and driven about their jobs in order to want to stay in their professions. It’s sad, because teachers aren’t treated that way in many other countries.

  • Touche!!! This is one of the very reasons I chose to homeschool my kids. I know it’s not possible for a lot of families however we are one of the lucky ones that are able to. In my opinion my children are getting a better more well rounded education than if they attended one of the schools in our area, which aren’t many considering we live in a small town. Keep up the great website. Science With Me has been a welcome and enjoyable addition too our homeschool curriculum.

  • Very interesting, Elva. I, too, feel the same as you do in regards to homework! The sad thing is that I am an educator for students with special needs and I have come to feel like I am a babysitter, not a teacher. I don’t assign homework as I feel that the students I currently work with I push throughout the day. I know my own children come home with more homework than I ever had at their ages. My oldest daughter had 4 papers to write for school over Christmas break! I couldn’t believe that because during a break, they usually are not given any homework. I am saddened by the fact that teachers seem to teach to the test and not “teach” children anymore. Keep up the good work, I do enjoy your site!

  • Karen 3 years ago in reply to Karen

    As a teacher, I can tell you that it’s because of No Child Left Behind and the push that ALL children must test proficient by 2014. As an educator, I know that this is just not possible. Children have their own time tables. However, I must do as my principal and district dictate. Teachers will also start being evaluated and their pay will be based on test grades. As long as this is a trend and the politicians who have NO idea of how children learn and some of the problems they face at home (especially in “challanged” areas) continue to make these insane policies – children will be pushed harder and harder, more and more work heaped on them (including homework) and creativity to make learning fun will be taken out of teachers’ hands.