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As the summer months start to wind down and the new school year creeps up on students, there may be one serious cause of dread among kids and teens that has nothing to do with the time they spend in class: homework.
Perhaps shockingly, it's not uncommon for a student's schoolweek to exceed what adults consider a typical 40-hour workweek. Including the hours they spend in the classroom and on homework (in addition to any extracurricular activities like sports or clubs), students may far exceed what parents would call overtime in a traditional professional setting.
And with a severe spike in anxiety, depression, and disengagement among school-aged children, it's no wonder a serious debate over the value and necessity of homework has been raging among teachers and parents alike. Does more homework make children smarter? More likely to succeed? More prepared for further education or careers?
For an inside look at how parents perceive homework and the impact of homework on their children's lives, we challenged over 1,000 parents with a little "homework" of their own. Read below as we analyze their responses on how often their children are assigned homework at various ages, the pros and cons of these added assignments, and which changes they'd most want to see implemented instead.
The simple truth is that there's no clear answer on whether or not children and teenagers should be assigned homework on a regular basis. On one hand, quality assignments may have the ability to engage students and help reinforce school lessons in a healthy, long-term way. On the other hand, some research suggests there are no benefits (particularly among younger students) of assigning take-home tasks to either academic performance or mental health.
According to the National PTA and National Education Association (NEA), 10 minutes per grade level is considered an appropriate guide for how much time students should spend on at-home coursework. According to the more than 1,000 parents we polled, elementary school students averaged 39 minutes of homework every day, while middle school students averaged 50 minutes and high school students averaged nearly 68 minutes. Seventy-seven percent of parents agreed the amount of time their kids spend on homework is appropriate, even while nearly half of elementary school and middle school students and nearly 60% of high schoolers received assignments on a daily basis.
Quantity Over Quality
The general consensus around the benefits of at-home school assignments may be unclear, but studies are fairly consistent on the impact of homework at various grade levels.
For elementary school students, research suggests younger children receive minimal benefits from being assigned homework, and too much can have a negative impact on their learning ability and focus. For middle school students, the advantage of homework is slightly elevated over elementary school years, potentially helping children to retain lessons and boost test scores. For high school students, the benefits of homework are greater – encouraging more independent learning and time management – but the risks are also higher. Too much coursework and high school students may quickly become overwhelmed by their studies, reducing the amount of time they have with family and increasing the likelihood of stress and sleep deprivation. While experts suggest teenagers need between eight and 10 hours of sleep every night, just 15% of students report getting 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights.
Nearly 1 in 4 parents believed their children are assigned too much homework, while close to 62% of parents suggested their children get just the right number of assignments to bring home. Some parents, roughly 14%, suggested their children weren't getting enough homework assignments.
Depending on their age range, parents told us their children spend anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour on homework every day. Despite these time commitments, parents spend just 21 minutes, on average, helping their children through these assignments, and 4 in 5 parents admitted to struggling to understand their children's homework. Even more concerning, 1 in 10 parents were open about always or often struggling to understand even elementary-level assignments, and twice as many parents had similar experiences with their high schoolers' homework.
Advantages of Additional Assignments?
While half of the parents we surveyed told us their children cried in the past as a result of homework assignments, and 1 in 5 suggested their children either always or often feel overwhelmed by these assignments, 79% of parents said they believe homework is beneficial to their child's development.
Beyond their development, 63% of parents said they believe homework is a valuable tool to teach children life lessons. Among the most beneficial aspects of homework, more than 4 in 5 parents suggested that students develop a better work ethic and better time-management skills and also have increased academic performance because of homework. Arguably a lifelong skill set, developing better time-management skills at a younger age may help students decrease their sense of anxiety around due dates, feel a boosted sense of independence, and create better decision-making skills. According to some, students are more likely to manage their time better when encouraged by parents who model similar habits.
Parents we surveyed were more divided on how well homework positively impacted their children's ability to manage stress, though, including 40% who saw homework as a benefit for stress management and 34% who saw homework as being detrimental instead. Like stress management, family time (46%), sleep (37%), and mental health (29%) were thought to be the aspects of children's lives negatively most often impacted by take-home school assignments.
In the world of academics, not all subjects are created equal to all students; according to some experts, homework assignments have a similar level of inequity. While all assignments are likely to be an important part of a student's grades, assignments in subjects like math and physics may be more likely to help students fully grasp the more complicated theories studied in class.
Despite feeling largely content with the amount of homework assigned to their children, nearly half of parents would still opt to reduce the total number of assigned tasks in at least one subject area. A particularly high sentiment in regard to the arts (34%), electives (31%), technology (25%), and social sciences (23%), parents admitted some time spent on homework could be better applied elsewhere.
Like one teacher, whose homework policy went viral after she decided to eliminate take-home work assignments in favor of more sleep or time outside, 29% of parents agreed spending time with family would be a better use of students' time if homework from certain subjects was omitted. Twenty-one percent of parents wanted their children to have more time for sports and physical activities, and 18% wanted students to be able to make their own decisions with free time.
For reasons beyond the amount of homework children receive, the amount of time the average student spends outside has plummeted in recent years, accompanied instead by a dramatic increase in screen time. Like the teacher phasing out homework altogether to encourage family bonding or time outdoors, getting outside can actually boost school performance by helping to increase both physical fitness and cognitive functions.
For many teens, the transition from middle school to high school is already stressful enough, but concerns over grades can worsen the experience. Research shows that when students get a bad grade, the level of cortisol (the "stress hormone") in the body spikes. More than 2 in 3 high school students experience a drop in their grades during the first semester of high school, creating stress that's so severe it's more likely to further hurt their grades than drinking alcohol or not getting enough sleep.
While roughly 1 in 4 parents (27%) told us they never argued with their children about homework, we found these take-home assignments were more likely to cause discord than not. Fifteen percent of parents argued with their children over homework two to three times a week, and another 17% argued with them once a week. More frequent negative conversations about homework – those occurring daily or multiple times a week – were more likely to occur among elementary and middle school students, but research suggests that homework is generally less valuable to this group than high school students.
Homework grades were also the most frequent topic of discussion between parents and their children's teachers (39%), followed by the materials needed to complete homework (27%), the amount of homework assigned (27%), and the assignments' difficulty (27%). Regardless of age or grade, we found parents were typically more concerned about homework grades than the number of take-home assignments or the technology or resources children needed to finish homework.
While many parents we polled suggested the frequency and amount of homework assigned to their children was fitting, only 15% of parents wouldn't change anything about the topics or style of assignments their students brought home. Instead, 35% of parents would rather see life skills (including money management, mental health, or job skills) infused into homework.
Among the most beneficial life skills that could be interwoven into a student's homework assignments, 86% of parents wanted to see their children learn how to manage their finances better. Generally lacking from most high school curriculums, many agree students should be learning how to balance a budget and pay for college or at least the basics of investing and savings. By the time they enter college, 1 in 3 students will accumulate some form of credit card debt, not to mention the likelihood of amassing student loan debt. More than 64% of parents would like to see effective study habits added to homework assignments, followed by job-hunting skills (62%) and coping with failure (59%).
Another 34% of parents would prefer performance-based homework that only mandated assignments in courses where children might be struggling, followed by 17% of parents who wanted to see exclusively age-appropriate topics.
By some estimations, overly challenging coursework and stressful levels of homework assignments may be counterproductive to the general aims of education.
It's possible that going to school shouldn't have to be so difficult, but many parents believe things are getting harder for their children. Nearly 40% of parents said their children are assigned more homework than they were at a similar age, and 42% said the difficulty of these assignments has gotten harder over time. Many parents don't expect the rising level of difficulty to stop, either. Roughly 49% of parents said they expect homework assignments to be even harder five years into the future, while almost 36% expected children to be loaded down with even more assignments from school.
Finding a Balance
Overwhelmingly, parents we surveyed had a positive opinion on the presence and quantity of homework in their children's lives. Despite admitting that they'd also argued over grades with their children and that they had seen their children cry over the stress of at-home coursework, the majority of parents believed their children were assigned the appropriate breadth of assignments to do at home. And while research shows too much homework can create stress and anxiety in students, studies also suggest older children (particularly those in high school) get the most benefits from homework assignments, which can help them establish independence and self-sufficiency.
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Methodology and Limitations
The data used in this project were collected via survey using Amazon's Mechanical Turk platform and Prolific. There were a total of 1,049 participants who were all parents of children currently enrolled in school. To qualify to take the survey, their child needed to be either in elementary school, junior high or middle school, or high school. As a control, parents of multiple children were asked to refer only to their youngest child when prompted to answer on specific scenarios.
The distribution of participants was as follows:
- Men made up 39% with a margin of error of 5% using 95% confidence interval testing
- Women made up 61% with a margin of error of 4% using 95% confidence interval testing
- 50.8% of participants had children in elementary school
- 24.9% had children in junior high or middle school
- 24.3% had children in high school
Participants ranged in age from 20 to 71 with a mean of 37.9 and a standard deviation of 9.0.
Margin of error was calculated using the 2018 U.S. census population for sex.
- For the graphic titled "The Routine of Homework," parents were asked how many minutes per school day their youngest or only child spent doing homework. Those numbers were used to calculate the average.
Research into this topic was purely exploratory. Future research could aim to dive deeper, including actualities reported by children or exploring more of the perceptions parents have for the future.
Fair Use Statement
Want a little homework assignment of your own? We encourage you to share the results of our study with your readers for any noncommercial use. You're welcome to copy our assignment, but we do request that you include a link back to this page so our contributors get credit for their work too.