From kindergarten to the final years of high school, recent research suggests that some students are getting excessive amounts of homework.
In turn, when students are pushed to handle a workload that’s out of sync with their development level, it can lead to significant stress — for children and their parents.
Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA (NPTA) support a standard of “10 minutes of homework per grade level” and setting a general limit on after-school studying.
For kids in first grade, that means 10 minutes a night, while high school seniors could get two hours of work per night.
But the most recent study to examine the issue found that kids in early elementary school received about three times the amount of recommended homework.
Published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, the 2015 study surveyed more than 1,100 parents in Rhode Island with school-age children.
The researchers found that first and second graders received 28 and 29 minutes of homework per night.
Kindergarteners received 25 minutes of homework per night, on average. But according to the standards set by the NEA and NPTA, they shouldn’t receive any at all.
A contributing editor of the study, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, told CNN that she found it “absolutely shocking” to learn that kindergarteners had that much homework.
And all those extra assignments may lead to family stress, especially when parents with limited education aren’t confident in their ability to help kids with the work.
The researchers reported that family fights about homework were 200 percent more likely when parents didn’t have a college degree.
Some parents, in fact, have decided to opt out of the whole thing. The Washington Post reported in 2016 that some parents have just instructed their younger children not to do their homework assignments.
They report the no-homework policy has taken the stress out of their afternoons and evenings. In addition, it's been easier for their children to participate in after-school activities.
This new parental directive may be healthier for children, too.
Experts say there may be real downsides for young kids who are pushed to do more homework than the “10 minutes per grade” standard.
“The data shows that homework over this level is not only not beneficial to children’s grades or GPA, but there’s really a plethora of evidence that it’s detrimental to their attitude about school, their grades, their self-confidence, their social skills, and their quality of life,” Donaldson-Pressman told CNN.
Read more: Less math and science homework beneficial to middle school students »
Consequences for high school students
Other studies have found that high school students may also be overburdened with homework — so much that it’s taking a toll on their health.
In 2013, research conducted at Stanford University found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance in their lives, and alienation from society.
That study, published in The Journal of Experimental Education, suggested that any more than two hours of homework per night is counterproductive.
However, students who participated in the study reported doing slightly more than three hours of homework each night, on average.
To conduct the study, researchers surveyed more than 4,300 students at 10 high-performing high schools in upper middle-class California communities. They also interviewed students about their views on homework.
When it came to stress, more than 70 percent of students said they were “often or always stressed over schoolwork,” with 56 percent listing homework as a primary stressor. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.
The researchers asked students whether they experienced physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss, and stomach problems.
More than 80 percent of students reported having at least one stress-related symptom in the past month, and 44 percent said they had experienced three or more symptoms.
The researchers also found that spending too much time on homework meant that students were not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills. Students were more likely to forgo activities, stop seeing friends or family, and not participate in hobbies.
Many students felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.
"Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good," said Denise Pope, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education, and a co-author of a study.
Read more: Should schools screen children for mental health problems? »
Working as hard as adults
A smaller New York University study published last year noted similar findings.
It focused more broadly on how students at elite private high schools cope with the combined pressures of school work, college applications, extracurricular activities, and parents’ expectations.
That study, which appeared in Frontiers in Psychology, noted serious health effects for high schoolers, such as chronic stress, emotional exhaustion, and alcohol and drug use.
The research involved a series of interviews with students, teachers, and administrators, as well as a survey of a total of 128 juniors from two private high schools.
About half of the students said they received at least three hours of homework per night. They also faced pressure to take college-level classes and excel in activities outside of school.
Many students felt they were being asked to work as hard as adults, and noted that their workload seemed inappropriate for their development level. They reported having little time for relaxing or creative activities.
More than two-thirds of students said they used alcohol and drugs, primarily marijuana, to cope with stress.
The researchers expressed concern that students at high-pressure high schools can get burned out before they even get to college.
“School, homework, extracurricular activities, sleep, repeat — that’s what it can be for some of these students,” said Noelle Leonard, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the New York University College of Nursing, and lead study author, in a press release.
Read more: Lack of mental healthcare for children reaches ‘crisis’ level »
What can be done?
Experts continue to debate the benefits and drawbacks of homework.
But according to an article published this year in Monitor on Psychology, there’s one thing they agree on: the quality of homework assignments matters.
In the Stanford study, many students said that they often did homework they saw as "pointless" or "mindless."
Pope, who co-authored that study, argued that homework assignments should have a purpose and benefit, and should be designed to cultivate learning and development.
It’s also important for schools and teachers to stick to the 10-minutes per grade standard.
In an interview with Monitor on Psychology, Pope pointed out that students can learn challenging skills even when less homework is assigned.
Pope described one teacher she worked with who taught advanced placement biology, and experimented by dramatically cutting down homework assignments. First the teacher cut homework by a third, and then cut the assignments in half.
The students’ test scores didn’t change.
“You can have a rigorous course and not have a crazy homework load,” Pope said.
Editor’s Note: The story was originally published on March 11, 2014. It was updated by Jenna Flannigan on August 11, 2016 and then updated again on April 11, 2017 by David Mills.
Have you ever thought why the biggest part of students starts hating school with some time? More than a half of all their answers to this question will mention the necessity to do homework.
Whether the reasons for that are procrastination or lack of time but in any case, the topic of homework has been discussed by educators for many times. There are causes for both banning homework and leaving it in different amounts, but still, the home assignment benefits outweigh its drawbacks.
Homework in different countries
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to estimate how much time a child should spend on his or her homework. All the figures are strictly individual as nobody supposes that today a girl will suffer from a headache and a boy will have a volleyball competition. That means that they have to shorten their night sleep to cope with all the tasks assigned to them.
Another astonishing fact about the volumes of a home assignment given to school kids in different countries. If to consider that a child should have time for clubs, relaxation, friends apart from homework, it should not take more than one hour to complete all the tasks every day. But in some countries, people begin to doubt the fact that homework should not be banned: statistics are terrifying. The research by OECD that was analyzing the homework of 15-year-old school kids has shown that Italian children are overwhelmed with homework as they have to spend over 9 hours on it weekly. The other countries where children have to work over 6 hours on their tasks are Ireland, Poland, the USA and Australia. No wonder children would rather find hundreds of other activities than do their home assignments.
At the same time, each person realizes that homework is extremely important in studying. According to the Cooper’s review of homework studies, 70% of students show better academic success thanks to homework they were completing. Consequently, we should not underestimate its benefits and now it is time to focus on the reasons why it should not be banned.
- Home environment can be more productive for some pupils than a classroom one
Not all children are capable of coping with the tension that appears in the classroom because of different reasons: time limits, scolding other students, noise etc. That is why a home can have a more productive atmosphere as there is no competition, restrictions and you can learn material at your own pace in the place where you feel comfortable and relaxed.
- Parents have a representation of the things that happen in the classroom
A necessity to do and check homework makes parents more involved in studying. Sometimes children may have troubles with some topics or even subjects and difficulties with homework can be a ringing bell to provide assistance to your child. Moreover, it encourages parents to communicate with their children more.
- Homework boosts interaction between students and teachers
Homework is done for different purposes but one of them is improved interaction between learners and educators. Students not only ask questions but also visit after class activities to be able to deal with it themselves.
- Additional practice
Not all the information is grasped by students at the lessons. Sometimes the percentage of this knowledge is relatively low, but the requirements of the curriculum make teachers give many self-study tasks home for them to achieve better test results.
Moreover, the obligation to repeat the material learnt at the lesson contributes to its better memorizing and understanding.
- It teaches students responsibility
When students only visit classes they have no idea how difficult it is for teachers to prepare for the lessons and may behave abusively. When they are given assignments on a regular basis, they raise responsibility, punctuality, and executivity. These features can be very useful for the future career too.
- Homework improves presentation skills
Diligent students do their best to impress their teachers in the classroom. Such painstaking and thorough preparation is very important for building better presentation skills.
- Children learn much new information additionally
Apart from the direct assignment execution, many students need to research many sources to complete it profoundly. That helps to get additional knowledge and become more intelligent.
- It teaches important life skills
When we say that students do their homework we implement many meanings in this phrase. Pupils learn to manage time effectively, set priorities, and improve self-discipline. That is a good preparation for future career and meeting deadlines set by bosses.
- Homework is a remedy against weaknesses
Something that was not understood by a student at the lesson can be analyzed by him at home again. Homework gives students a chance to improve, acquire new skills and stand out among other learners.
- It keeps students busy
If teenagers would have too much time for leisure activities, the probability that they will interfere with some illegal or criminal issues rises greatly. Being busy with tasks they do not waste their time and spend it with the unmatched benefit.
It is useless to deny the fact that home assignment is very beneficial for school children. Of course, there might be some restrictions concerning the age of students and the number of tasks assigned, but in any case, it is impossible to imagine a modern school without homework. Think only about homeschooling and much higher academic achievements learners have. No wonder that homework remains one of the most effective ways to acquire and improve the existing knowledge and skills.
Also published on Medium.