How Much is Too Much Homework?


Many elite schools in the New York area are easing up on the Race to Nowhere by decreasing the homework requirementsDalton School in particular has sent out a letter to parents to make sure that exams and assignments would be staggered so that students would not be overwhelmed.  And January midterms would be pushed back two weeks so students would not have to study over vacation.

This change of heart comes from documentaries examining the crush on students, the neuroscience of learning, some simple common sense, and analysis of the meltdowns of students.

Homework debates have been around for decades with a whole contingent arguing “enough already” and the other cadre called the “Tiger Mom Camp” who suggest that hard work is a rite of passage that makes their kids competitive.

Trinity School across town in New York City has formed a task force to look at the same issues.  Other schools have opened tutoring centers, and offered Homework Holidays on days like Halloween, the Chinese New Year (Jan. 23) and a day nearer spring, March 14.

“We have incredibly talented high-achieving kids who need to be appropriately taken care of,” said Jessica Bagby, the head of Trinity’s upper school. “We realize the pressures on them, and to the degree that we’re complicit, we need to own that.”

At Horace Mann, an article in the student newspaper last year showed that the average upper-school student slept 6.5 hours a night.  Trinity began the 2010-11 school year with a sleep expert who made clear that losing sleep meant losing productivity. “I think the students thought it was a little ironic,” Ms. Bagby noted wryly.

“There’s very little evidence that doing homework makes kids smarter,” said Adam Gopnik, an author and parent of two Dalton students. “Even if it did, there are values other than achievement. For example, let’s be curious.”

Indeed many technology companies agree with him, arguing that they want both achievers and the curious.  The creative engineer is in high demand, primarily because creativity has been pounded out of most engineering programs in academia.  Indeed, in many high achieving high schools, creativity is frowned upon, and rote learning in homework is valued. Further, research shows what logic determines: it is counterproductive for children to be up at 2 a.m. studying.

So how much is too much?  Many studies suggest between three to four hours a night.  Not all administrators agree and point to the histories and traditions of their schools as drawing in parental approval and more students.  Some parents see tough schoolwork as a serious way to provide academic value for their child.

Mr. Gopnik, the Dalton parent, said: “The wind is blowing in the direction of sanity. There’s no value in stressing kids out. You are robbing them of their childhood.”


Related Stories:

What American Schools Just Don’t Understand (Or, Why My Family Might Be Moving to Finland)

IQ Changes in Teens

5 Reasons Children Need Time To Play At School


Photo credit: Marco Nedermeijer


Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dabout a year ago

I never believed in homework. As a middle school, high school and university teacher I NEVER gave homework. I wanted to NOT reinforce wrong work - I wanted to be with my students to guide and encourage. Also, young people should have time for other activities and pastimes. - NOT just school work. If teachers are TEACHERS outside work is rarely needed.

Mary W.
Mary Habout a year ago

When I was teaching high school science I was told by my principal to figure out a way give fewer D's and F's. Apparently, public educators don't really care about learning, just funding. But that's another discussion. So I went back and thought about what assignments I might adjust or remove from my course. So I ran re-calculated grades with and without homework assignments, and to my surprise they changes very little. For a few it had a dramatic effect, but on the whole, it had little impact on the overall GPA of my 110 students. So I kept giving "homework" or "learning opportunities", but only graded a fraction of them. Those students (or parents ) who want to learn will take advantage of them, the others won't. It will almost always show up on valid and reliable assessments (tests/quizzes).

I am now a professor at a college with a reputation of academic rigor. I do not assign homework, but I do strongly encourage daily reading and reviewing of the material we cover in class. One needs to regularly thing about the subject matter in order to become facile with the material.

Also explore a post at NYTimes

Sarah clevenger
Sarah clevenger3 years ago

the problem is they not really teaching you the subject they are teaching you how to pass a test. If we spent time actully learning these things we wouldn't have near as much homework.

Citizen G-Karl
Karl Heinemann5 years ago

I wonder how teachers and other school and department-of-education officials can measure just "how many hours" any specific homework assignment will take. Every student probably will possess mixed levels of skills / strengths / intelligences in different subjects, and for specific topics within those subjects. So, I'd expect that individual students would require varying amounts of time to complete any specific homework assignment. And any effort to tailor a student's total homework effort to fit a specific length of time will become more complicated if a group of different subject-teachers are handing out homework assignments without coordinating the content of those assignments among themselves.

So, I strongly question whether it is possible for teachers and curriculum designers to tailor a set of homework assignments that all students will be able to complete within any targeted period of time.

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

I realize that some homework is necessary to give, since you don't always have time during school to accomplish all that needs to be taught.

But, with obesity becoming a growing problem, and then there's at least 3 hours of homework on top of a 7 hour school day, I don't think it's realistic to have kids spend 10 hours a day being sedentary. The phrase "Work hard, play hard" is especially true for kids, and they need time to get the physical activity out, to stay fit.

So, if you're going to be realistic, if the homework can't incorporate some form of activity, such as going to the local free museum for an hour, then maybe you're asking too much from the kids. My history teachers NEVER assigned homework AND term papers at the same time. If the kids behave during class, you can teach the whole assignment with time to spare. If you finish during class, you have no homework. If you don't, then bring it home.

Chelsea M.
Chelsea M6 years ago

I think that homework like math that is about understanding it through repetition should be optional because if you understand it then why waste your life doing so much homework. It also teaches students to be responsible for their own education by doing the homework if they feel that they need the extra practice. It really bothers me that I spend 8 precious hours of my life everyday at school then am expected to use the few hours I have for relaxing and growing my little jewelry business to do more pointless work! People need to understand that doing work in general doesn't always teach you essential things. I have learned so much more from teachers who talk about the important stuff!

I really loved it in grade 7 math and english class when we were given the opportunity to raise a huge fundraiser through making smoothies among other activities that implemented the knowledge that we had gained while being productive. We had to write letters, come up with plans, make flyers, calculate amounts of ingredients to buy, our profit among many other things. It was amazing being able to use these skills and improve them while productively making a huge difference in many children's lives when we were able to bring poor children on trips and feed them good lunches they otherwise would not have had! Thanks!

Marlene C.
Marlene C6 years ago

Kids have too much homework when they don't get enough sleep as a result. The law of diminishing returns ? The human brain can absorb only so much without time to incorporate the information. Extracurricular activities, down time and a good night's sleep count for a lot. The rule of 10 minutes per grade is a valid one. The problems occur when a high school student gets hour long assignments from 5 classes. It's good to hear that schools are rethinking the process. I taught for 30 years -- what doesn't kill you doesn't necessarily make you strong, it simply doesn't kill you.

Julija S.
Julija S6 years ago


Pam W.
Pami W6 years ago

30 minutes for elementary is plenty.
60 minutes for middle schoolers.
2 hours for high schoolers tops.

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago