Homework, Waste of Time or Learning Aid?
Ask the average high school student how much homework he/she receives on a daily basis, and you will most likely hear anywhere between one and four hours. The amount of nightly homework has increased significantly since that student’s parents went to school. In fact, homework loads have more than tripled in some cases since 1987 (1). It has also increased in difficulty in most cases. These increases beg the question: is this homework benefitting the students?
By 2004, children aged six to nine received roughly 72 minutes of homework a week, while middle school students received anywhere between 60-90 minutes per day. High school students received an excess of three hours a day, including weekends (1). Many people would assume that the increased homework should lead to better test scores and ultimately a more successful life. This can be true, but a study conducted by Duke University’s Harris Cooper found that students with less than 60 minutes of homework a day show slight improvement in test scores and grades as a whole (2, 3). However, if the student receives over one hour of homework per day, it actually hurts their tests and grades (3). “But how does additional homework hurt students? If anything it should be helping, or at least keep the success rate the same,” teachers might say. Wrong. When the high school student spends three hours a day on homework, they end up staying up late to finish or rush through it and miss key concepts in their race to get enough sleep. Both of those problems lead to worse test grades, because if the student is fatigued for the test or has missed something important they will do worse (2). However, many teachers and school officials have not seen the correlation between certain amounts of homework and related test grades and are still teaching the antiquated way. The important question is what kind of homework does help the student? Many high school students recognize the classes that give them useful homework. The subjects that give the most useful homework are also the ones that are considered most important in modern America. These subjects are math and English. The subjects that give the least useful homework, better known as “busywork,” are social studies classes, foreign languages, and science classes. Busywork is any homework that doesn’t challenge the student academically and strives for repetition. For example, some busywork you may find in Spanish is conjugating 50 verbs of a similar type. Or you may have to answer questions from the history chapter you just read, but the questions are easily found in the chapter. Many times repetition can help, but there is a fine line between repeating for memory and repeating for lack of a better thing to do. The usefulness of homework is being debated between scientists, teachers, and students. However, experts do agree that excess homework is an unnecessary use of time. This time could be better used for things more beneficial to the education of a young person. For instance, studying for that test on Tuesday is more helpful than solving one hour of problems all done the same way. So maybe the teachers of America will take a hint from our European and Asian peers and rely less on homework to learn and more on studying and activities. After all, it is more engaging and less painful.
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