Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Homework only takes hour or so

By Fredreka Schouten
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON - If you think your kids are buried under increasing piles of homework, think again, researchers say.

Two new reports show that students typically do no more than an hour of homework a day and spend less time on take-home assignments than do their international peers.

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Even high school seniors headed into the world of work and college have a fairly light load: Only about a third spend an hour or more of each school day on homework, far less time than they typically spend playing sports or hanging out with friends.

"The homework load is not heavy, and it's never been very heavy," said Tom Loveless with the Brookings Institution, which released one of the reports. The other came from the Rand Corporation.

The only significant spike in homework came during the post-Sputnik years as Americans pushed to improve science and math education to compete with the Soviets in the race to space, said Brian Gill, a Rand Corporation researcher.

But even at the homework peak, in the early 1960s, only about one in four high school students did more than two hours of homework each night, said Gill. The paper he co-authored, "A Nation at Rest: The American Way of Homework," looks at 50 years of data.

These reports comes as parents, kids and educators debate how much homework is too much. A powerful backlash is building as some researchers question the academic value of homework and working parents juggle the demands of their jobs with the need to help their kids with schoolwork.

Research cited most often by homework critics - a 2000 study by the University of Michigan - shows that homework has indeed increased over the years, but by only 23 minutes a week between 1981 and 1997, Loveless said.

The biggest increases affected children between 6 and 8. In 1981, only a third of those kids spent any time on homework, he said. By 1997, about half of them had homework.

"The rising average had nothing to do with a crushing homework burden," Loveless said in the Brookings report.

The report, which re-examined recent research on homework, also points out that American students generally do less homework than their peers in other countries. Loveless cited a 1995 study of 20 countries that showed U.S. seniors near the bottom in the amount of time spent doing homework.

Students in France, Russia and Italy spent at least twice as much time on homework as their U.S. counterparts.

Parents whose children seem overwhelmed by homework should talk with teachers rather than assuming the problem is schoolwide, Loveless said.

Research on homework's academic benefits is murky.

Studies show that middle and high school kids who do more homework perform better academically. But that doesn't mean homework improves grades, said Harris Cooper, author of "The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers and Parents."

Instead, it might mean that high-achieving kids take harder classes with hefty homework requirements.

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