Heavy sighs, a case of the sweats and sleepless nights may seem like a bad case of the flu, but in actuality are symptoms to an incurable ailment … homework. And that is just reaction of the parents, not even beginning to describe the reaction of the student himself. Homework has become a hot topic of debate. This is especially true, when the amount of homework given by schools seems to have increased over the years. Students in the current educational programs are increasingly bringing more homework than even a decade before, much to the frustration of parents who have to monitor and often assist in making sure the homework is done with integrity.
It is not uncommon for students to spend hours on homework. Weekend getaways are put on hold, dinners out are replaced by take-out and a family time is replaced with all night report writing sessions. Winter and spring breaks, and are no longer a time to rest, but to catch-up on extra learning. More recently, the city of San Marino, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, found homework to be such an imposition on family time, that many of the parents contemplated taking their kids out of public school and put them in private school. Who would ever guess that public school would be perceived as more demanding than private. It seems that students today, even at the elementary school, are packed with so much homework, the concept of “free-time” is becoming passé.
Do students really need homework? Are all the hours spent “hitting the books” really make a difference in a child’s academic future? The answer is Yes. Having spent 23 years in the field of education, both as a teacher and an administrator, formal testing scores of students have shown that those students who regularly do homework, perform better. Academic standards today are more rigorous than they were 10 years ago. Almost all states have adopted academic standards at each grade level and our President himself monitors that progress through “No Child Left Behind”. When your child complains that” It is harder than your day, Mom”, he is probably right. The six hour day does not always give teachers enough time to “fit in” all the standards that are required to teach, let alone give them practice time to become proficient with the new knowledge that they are accountable for. Homework can assist in giving the much needed practice in acquiring new skills and knowledge. It is not the homework itself that is the demon but the AMOUNT of homework that creates the havoc on family life.
The key is time. More is not necessarily better. A child does not need to do 100 problems in math in order to get enough practice to master the skill. 10 are probably sufficient. A well-developed completed essay should not be required to complete in one sitting. Children should be given ample time to start an essay with a few days to edit and revise before they get the final product. It is not homework alone that is the culprit, but the amount of assignments given. The rule of thumb is 5 minutes for every year of age. That would mean a first grader would get 30 minutes of homework, while a fifth grader might get 50 minutes. This guideline takes into consideration the level of maturity of a child and the length of time that child can work independently. A 16 year old sophomore has the level of mental endurance to handle an hour and a half to two hours of homework. Any longer than that is simply overkill. After a full day at school, there is only so much the brain can absorb with any efficiency. Anytime above two hours is not only agonizing, but probably counterproductive.
The purpose of homework is review and practice the content covered during the day. It gives children an opportunity to practice the new information so that they can use the new knowledge with facility. If homework becomes so burdensome that a child becomes fatigued and frustrated, it defeats the purpose of the task. Children also learn from their environment. Trips to the museum, park, camping and the theatre are not only recreational, but are a source of new information and knowledge that makes a well balanced individual. If we do not give children ample “free time” to actually explore the world they are reading about, not only will we create a system that is ineffective, but will create a generation that will be turned off to knowledge. And that will leave a whole generation of children “left behind”.