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How Much Homework Crosses the Line?

How Much Homework Crosses the Line?

In a recent piece in The Atlantic, writer Karl Taro Greenfield does his eighth grade daughter’s homework for a week and shares his insights into her workload and our overall culture of homework.

He doesn’t do her homework for her – she does it too, often helping him rather than the other way around. He describes her workload – around three to four hours per night – and his description is incredibly eye-opening. It also reminded me so much of my experiences with homework in middle and high school.

I went to middle and high school in the 90s, another time that Greenfield says had peak homework because of “fears of falling behind East Asian students.” Greenfield explains that homework seems to come in cycles. Some generations have a light load of homework, and some kids are burdened with more, like kids in school right now. I still vividly remember tearfully begging my parents to let me drop out of the gifted program. My peers and I routinely had a workload similar to Greenfield’s daughter’s, and it just felt like too much. They said no, and honestly I can’t blame them. It was the academic culture at the time, and that seems to be the way schools are leaning now.

I get wanting our kids to excel, but not at the cost of their childhood. And eighth graders are still kids, no matter how grown up we all felt at 15.

There were a couple of passages that stood out for me that I’d like to share with you, and I’d love to hear your own experiences with homework or what your kids are going through! Do they have hours of homework every night? Are there evenings when they don’t have homework? Let’s talk about this issue in the comments, because it’s such an important one!

This quote really hit me hard, because I remember having this same thought in high school, when I was taking seven academic classes and each one would assign a mountain of work over every weekend and most weeknights:

“I’ve often suspected that teachers don’t have any idea about the cumulative amount of homework the kids are assigned when they are taking five academic classes. There is little to no coordination among teachers in most schools when it comes to assignments and test dates.”

Greenfield also gets into some of the data about homework and achievement, and I think this may be the most eye-opening part of the piece:

“It turns out that there is no correlation between homework and achievement. According to a 2005 study by the Penn State professors Gerald K. LeTendre and David P. Baker, some of the countries that score higher than the U.S. on testing in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study—Japan and Denmark, for example—give less homework, while some of those scoring lower, including Thailand and Greece, assign more. Why pile on the homework if it doesn’t make even a testable difference, and in fact may be harmful?”

If countries that don’t overburden their kids with homework are outperforming the U.S., and countries that give more homework are ranked even lower than we are, maybe we need to try a different approach.

I’m not saying that all homework is bad. I understand wanting kids to keep learning, even after the day is over, but I think we are forgetting the value of play. Kids in middle and high school – and they really are still kids – need time to “play outdoors,” as my friend Bethe Almeras – a gifted educator – reminds us over and over.

So, parents! Teens! Anyone who remembers their days in middle and high school! Let’s talk homework. Do you think that Greenfield’s little girl has too much at three to four hours a night? How much homework is okay, and how much crosses the line?

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Image Credit: Remixed Creative Commons photo by Jack-Benny

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Becky Striepe

Becky Striepe is a freelance writer and vegan crafter living in Atlanta, Georgia. Her life’s mission is to make green crafting and vegan food accessible to everyone! Like this article? You can follow Becky on Twitter or find her on Facebook!


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8:13PM PST on Nov 29, 2013


7:05PM PDT on Oct 5, 2013

Thank you.

2:56AM PDT on Oct 4, 2013

Thanks for sharing interesting info

2:19AM PDT on Oct 4, 2013


1:17AM PDT on Oct 4, 2013

Some days I wonder, what are they actually doing in school? When they get so much homework they have to do it from the moment they get home, until they go to sleep. Not anything against the teachers, I assume they are following whatever plan they are supposed to follow. Just saying, some days, yes, it's horribly excessive.

1:01PM PDT on Oct 2, 2013

Thank you Becky, for Sharing this!

6:52AM PDT on Oct 2, 2013

This depends on the child's laziness. LOL!

6:08PM PDT on Oct 1, 2013


5:30AM PDT on Oct 1, 2013

I went to school in the 60s and 70s and remember being assigned roughly a half an hour each for math and foreign language daily, and there was work on grammar and punctuation, though that ended after junior high school. Mostly I remember a lot of reading, with brief summaries of the 10 pages for Social Studies that needed to be handed in daily. I was in honors classes, and we had book reports every week in English, as well as creative writing assignments - short stories, poems, character studies, and major papers every quarter, at least. Social Studies required a lot of research papers, as well as newspaper reading and article summaries. It's hard for me to estimate how many hours I had on a given day, because so much of it was major, long term assignments, which I tended to accomplish by spending a lot of time in the college library doing research, making notes, etc, and then would spend the entire weekend before it was due actually writing. It's time consuming but a good method - I've never gotten less than an A minus on a paper all the way through college, and always learned a great deal from writing them.

4:33AM PDT on Oct 1, 2013

Thanks for sharing this information.

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