TO HEAR some complaints, one would think American schoolchildren are so overwhelmed with homework that they have utterly no chance to just be playful kids. But hold on. The whining is not well-founded.
While indeed the exception to the rule may be burning the midnight oil to fulfill an exhaustive homework assignment, a new comprehensive report says most kids get away with a light load of work - maybe too light.
According to a broad analysis by the Brookings Institution, supported by data from a variety of sources, including the University of Michigan, most students surveyed about how much homework they were assigned said it was less than an hour's worth a night.
The image of stressed-out kids studying themselves bleary-eyed under a mound of books and papers at home is simply not supported by fact. A federal survey even found that the share of students age 9, 13, and 17 being assigned more than an hour of homework had dropped for all three age groups since 1984.
A separate study by the RAND Corp. noted that only one in 10 high school students endures a substantial amount of homework - more than two hours a night - and that the figure has held fairly stable for 50 years.
Moreover, compared with their international peers, American kids actually have it pretty good in the homework department. Using research from a 1995-96 math and science survey, the Brookings study said students in their final year of public schooling in France, Italy, Russia, and South Africa reported that they spent at least twice as much time on homework as American students.
Brookings researcher Tom Loveless said people are unduly alarmed over homework amounts. “They should realize kids are not overworked - and indeed, there is room for even more work.”
Not exactly music to the ears of American school kids, but a suggestion largely supported by the National Education Association. The nation's largest teacher's organization embraces homework as a means to reinforce classroom lessons, develop good study habits, and encourage parental involvement in student learning.
How much homework is too much or too little, however, is best determined by local schools. Through teacher consultations and student progress reports, individual schools can gauge what kind of homework assignments most effectively produce desired academic results.
Some high-achieving schools find success with limited, relevant homework assignments while others prefer heavier loads to challenge their students. But those who decline to assign any homework to students because working parents or guardians may not be readily available to assist may be doing a disservice to their kids.
Because where there's a will to help students handle their homework through programs like after-school tutoring and even community hot lines, there's a way to teach students lifelong study skills. Besides, despite woeful images to the contrary, quantitative research indicates students are not generally oppressed with homework.
Maybe a little more oppression would be a good thing.