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More on the homework wars: Too much stress for young students and parents?


A new study reaffirms younger children have far more homework than recommended.  The accepted rule of thumb calls for 10 minutes of homework for every year in school --  a third grader would have 30 minutes, while a sixth grader would have an hour.

The study by researchers from Brown University School of Medicine, Children's National Health System, Brandeis University, Rhode Island College and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology focused on family stress caused by homework, stress that increases when parents feel unable or unequipped to help their young children.

In a statement, lead researcher Robert Pressman said, "The levels of family stress and tension found in this study fall into ranges that could lead to detrimental physical and mental health. The kindergarten homework load was identical to that of first and second graders. In that period when children are focused on early stages of socialization and finessing motor skills, an overload of homework will likely interfere with a kindergartner's ability to play and participate in extra-curricular activities."

The study advises schools treat parents as mentors and supporters in homework rather than tutors or instructors, recommending “homework that is interactive and real world applicable, (e.g., math used to help build a birdhouse, compute money needed to buy a toy at the store, or balance a checkbook) so the family experiences it together in a meaningful way.”

As with other research, the study found parents of younger students say their children are spending substantially more time on homework than expected, while parents of high school students report their teens are spending less. First graders had three times the homework load recommended, while 12th graders had half the recommended amount.

I find the ongoing homework debate fascinating as I hear two laments from parents: My child has too much homework or my child has no homework. Either way, the parents aren't happy and regard homework or the lack of homework as a measure of classroom rigor.

Among other points in the study:

•The average homework load for kindergarten was 25 minutes per day.

•The usefulness of homework toward children in grades 1 through 3 has not been supported in the literature. Although homework studies that compare achievement vs homework load have been equivocal, the general consensus is that excessive homework not only shows no benefit, but may be detrimental.

•Putting aside the debate as to whether or not homework is academically beneficial comes, perhaps, a more relevant debate: ought a parent to be involved in a child's homework at the instructional level? The conundrum relates to educational inequities among public school students who come from families with one parent, whose parent may be unavailable at homework time, and/or may not have the education, temperament, or language proficiency to assist the child vs. students who come from families with two parents, one or both of whom are available, and may have educational training and/or temperament to provide their children with instruction. It may be argued the expectation that parents provide instructive guidance to a child with his homework would be through no fault of the child, a benefit to some children and a detriment to others.

The study, published today in American Journal of Family Therapy, was conducted among 1173 English and Spanish-speaking parents of children in grades K-12.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.