The Amount of Homework to be given to a student

The most striking trend regarding homework in the past two decades is the tendency to pile more & more of it on younger & younger children. Even school districts that had an unofficial custom not so many years ago of waiting until the third grade before assigning it have abandoned that restraint. Today it is the rare educator who is brave enough to question whether first graders really need to fill out worksheets at home. A long-term national survey of several thousand families discovered that the proportion of six-to-eight year old children who reported having homework on a given day had climbed form 34 percent in 1981 to 58 percent in 1997, and the weekly time spent studying at home more than doubled for youngsters of these ages.

In 2002, that survey was updated. Now the proportion of young children who had homework on a specific day had jumped to 64%, and the amount of time they spent on it had climbed by another third. Not only do these new numbers confirm the trend of more homework (as well as a greater likelihood of getting it) for children in the primary grades, but the rate of increase is remarkable given that only five years elapsed between the last two surveys. The proportion of 6-8 year olds who are assigned homework is now almost the same as that for 9-12 year olds. In fact, homework is even ‘becoming a routine part of the kindergarten experience’, according to a 2004 report in Teacher magazine: ‘Some parents say nightly assignments are too much of a strain on children who, not long ago, were still taking afternoon naps to make it through dinner.”

By age nine, according to the 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 21% of children said they’d been assigned no homework on the previous day, a significant decline from the 36% who gave that response two decades earlier. (As with the previous survey, this doesn’t mean that such children get no homework at all. Even those who said they had none to do yesterday may well have had assignments over the course of the week.)

When schooling becomes departmentalized, sometimes years before high school, there is often no co-ordination among a student’s teachers, which means that each may assign homework without regard to how much other teachers have already given. Anecdotally, many parents of teenagers report being astounded by how much more homework their kids get as compared with what they themselves were required to do a generation ago, and many are also struck by how much more difficult these assignments seem. This is particularly true for high school students who are taking the kinds of courses requried for admission to selective colleges.

The hard numbers for older students are mixed; everything depends, as is so often the case, on how the question is framed. As with younger children, the proportion of 13 year olds who reported having no homework yesterday dropped dramatically – from 30% in 1980 to 20% in 2004. For 17 year olds, there was also a decline, from 32%  to 26%. US Department of Education analysts continue:

The amount of time students spend doing homework each day, however, hasn’t changed significantly. A greater percentage of 17 year olds said they do homework for mathematics classes often in 1999 than in 1978. A greater percentage of 9 and 13 year olds read more than 20 pages each day for school or for homework in 1999 than in 1984. There was no significant change, however, in the pages read per day by 17 year olds.

As for international comparisons, a 1995 study found that US 12th graders reported spending less time on homework that did their counterparts in most of the other nineteen countries that participated in the survey – 1.7 hours a night as compared to an average of 2.7 for students elsewhere. This may have been related to another finding in the same survey: American seniors worked at a paid job for an average of three hours a day, about triple the time for those in other nations.

On the other hand, US 12th graders who took advanced math and science classes ‘reported being assigned homework.. more frequently than the international average’. Even more striking is a cross national comparison published in 2005. The US, it turns out, is now ‘among the most homework intensive countries in the world for 7th and 8th grade math classes.’

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