Do students in Howard County Public Schools have too much homework?

It’s an intriguing question. Moreover, it’s an important one, as any answer to it will also reveal what best helps student achieve success.

To answer it, we have to go back and ask ourselves why we assign students homework in the first place.

What is the purpose of homework? Is it serving that purpose effectively? Or, is it time to reevaluate its place in our students’ educations?

The 2017 Homework Guidelines for the Howard County Public Schools state that homework should “support students in maintaining and extending their learning.” As such, homework must be:

  • Motivational,
  • Purposeful,
  • Appropriate,
  • Informational, and
  • Flexible

The Homework Guidelines also designate the amount of time that students should be expected to spend on homework, from 20 minutes per night in Pre K through Grade 2, up to high school, where students have an “upper limit” of seven to fourteen hours per week.

These numbers may all seem reasonable, until we look more closely at how homework actually influences student learning, achievement, and overall well-being.

First of all, the research has found any positive correlation between achievement and homework in elementary school to be minimal at best. Any weak correlation was outweighed by evidence of the negative effects that excessive homework has on students, including physical and emotional fatigue.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Education found a plethora of problems resulting from excessive homework assigned to high school students. Most students surveyed stated that they found homework assignments “pointless” or “mindless,” indicating a lack of engagement and purpose. They reported that homework impacted their sleep, leading to health problems such as headaches and stomach issues. An overarching theme was that the amount of homework limits the time they can dedicate to essential life tasks outside of school, like extracurricular activities and social time. 56% of high school students reported homework as the primary stressor in their lives.

To make matters worse, any correlation between homework and academic achievement in high school is weak, according to the body of research. While some have found a connection between higher test scores and increased levels of homework, it is unclear how these two factors actually relate. It is possible that other factors beyond homework are equally at play in these findings. For instance, students who score higher on standardized tests come from areas in which more homework is assigned, and which have greater resources to support student learning, which suggests they might achieve higher scores regardless of how much homework they have done.

So the question remains: do students in Howard County have too much homework?

High school students are limited to between seven and 14 hours of homework per week. This is an extremely wide range, and there is a significant difference between the lower and upper limits. If high school students are assigned 14 hours of homework per week, then they are spending 2-3 hours each day of a typical school week on homework. That may not sound like much, but when it is added to the six hours a day they already spend attending classes, in addition to sports, clubs, volunteering, and spending time with family and friends, it’s clear that we may be putting our children in jeopardy. Something has to give … and, for many of our students, it may be sleep and essential self-care.

In addition, homework may actually increase problems of inequity in our school system. Low-income parents and caregivers often lack the time, the expertise, and the resources to support children in completing homework. Thus, an overemphasis on homework as a means of ensuring student success runs the risk of deepening achievement gaps.

It may be time to rethink our homework policies in Howard County and come up with a common sense solution to helping all our children succeed.

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