You've probably heard the bad news about homework: kids are working longer hours than ever before, and it's driving them nearly insane. At least one major book has made this argument, as have numerous news articles like this one and this one.
But now a research team at the University of NebraskaLincoln has come forward with a new study reporting that most parents actually don't find their children's homework loads to be monstrous. In fact, according to the Nebraska team, led by educational-psychology professor Kenneth Kiewra, parents report that their kids spend about as much time watching TV as doing homework. The study concludes that homework "does not seem to interfere with students' recreational and social activities."
The Kiewra paper which has just been published by Indiana and Purdue universities in a small, print-only journal called ScholarlyPartnershipsEdu concedes that very little objective data exists on the homework question, but what does exist doesn't always justify much alarm. A few years ago, the University of Michigan issued an oft cited study showing that the average amount of homework time jumped from 34 minutes a day in 1981 to 42 minutes a day in 1997. Yes, that difference represents a 24% bump but it's still just eight minutes.
Kiewra did find one large, national survey on the homework question. Conducted by the Associated Press in 2006, it found that 57% of parents believed the amount of homework assigned was appropriate, only 19% believed homework practices were excessive, and 23% actually felt teachers were giving too few after-class assignments.
Was it possible, Kierwa wondered, that most of the mass-media stories on the homework scourge focus on outlier anecdotes, terrible tales of Type A kids who feel pressured to forgo physical activity and social relationships so they can study? To answer the question, he and his colleagues conducted their own survey. They got 372 parents of seventh-graders from four Lincoln, Neb., schools to fill out questionnaires on homework. The results? The parents weren't overly concerned about homework. More than half of them 53% said homework has "no effect" on family activities, and 61% called the current amount of homework "about right." Many of the parents 43% reported that their kids were spending 90 minutes or more on homework each night, which is beyond the 70 minutes a day that experts recommend for the age group in the study. But 51% of the same parents said their kids were watching 90 minutes or more of television per night too. "And we didn't even ask about computer time and texting," says Kiewra.
To be sure, Kiewra's study is small, and even though the four schools he chose are demographically different, Nebraska isn't exactly a melting pot of diversity. Still, this research suggests that social scientists have a lot more homework of their own to complete before we can say definitively that today's kids are overburdened by theirs.