Extreme Homework Overload

Studies of typical homework loads vary: In one, a Stanford researcher found that more than two hours of homework a night may be counterproductive. The research, conducted among students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California communities, found that too much homework resulted in stress, physical health problems and a general lack of balance.

This conclusion aligns with the National PTA and National Education Association recommendations  of 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night, maxing out at 120 minutes for high school seniors. And the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education, found that with the exception of nine-year-olds, the amount of homework schools assign has remained relatively unchanged since 1984.

But student experiences don’t always match these results. On our own Student Life in America survey, over 50% of students reported feeling stressed, 25% reported that homework was their biggest source of stress, and on average teens are spending one-third of their study time feeling stressed, anxious, or stuck.

The disparity can be explained in one of the conclusions regarding the Brown Report:

Of the three age groups, 17-year-olds have the most bifurcated distribution of the homework burden.  They have the largest percentage of kids with no homework (especially when the homework shirkers are added in) and the largest percentage with more than two hours.

So what does that mean for parents who still endure the homework wars at home?

It means that sometimes kids who are on a rigorous college-prep track, probably are receiving more homework, but the statistics are melding it with the kids who are receiving no homework.  And on our survey, 64% of students reported that their parents couldn’t help them with their work. This is where the real homework wars lie—not just the amount, but the ability to successfully complete assignments and feel success.

Parents want to figure out how to help their children manage their homework stress and learn the material.

Our Top 4 Tips for Ending Homework Wars

  • 1. Have a routine.

    Every parenting advice article you will ever read emphasizes the importance of a routine. There’s a reason for that: it works. A routine helps put order into an often disorderly world. It removes the thinking and arguing and “when should I start?” because that decision has already been made. While routines must be flexible to accommodate soccer practice on Tuesday and volunteer work on Thursday, knowing in general when and where you, or your child, will do homework literally removes half the battle.

  • 2. Have a battle plan.

    Overwhelmed students look at a mountain of homework and think “insurmountable.” But parents can look at it with an outsider’s perspective and help them plan. Put in an extra hour Monday when you don’t have soccer. Prepare for the AP Chem test on Friday a little at a time each evening so Thursday doesn’t loom as a scary study night (consistency and repetition will also help lock the information in your brain). Start reading the book for your English report so that it’s underway. Go ahead and write a few sentences, so you don’t have a blank page staring at you. Knowing what the week will look like helps you keep calm and carry on.

  • 3. Don’t be afraid to call in reserves.

    You can’t outsource the “battle” but you can outsource the help! We find that kids just do better having someone other than their parents help them—and sometimes even parents with the best of intentions aren’t equipped to wrestle with complicated physics problem. At The Princeton Review, we specialize in making homework time less stressful. Our tutors are available 24/7 to work one-to-one in an online classroom with a chat feature, interactive whiteboard, and the file sharing tool, where students can share their most challenging assignments.

  • 4. Celebrate victories—and know when to surrender.

    Students and parents can review completed assignments together at the end of the night -- acknowledging even small wins helps build a sense of accomplishment. If you’ve been through a particularly tough battle, you’ll also want to reach reach a cease-fire before hitting your bunk. A war ends when one person disengages. At some point, after parents have provided a listening ear, planning, and support, they have to let natural consequences take their course. And taking a step back--and removing any pressure a parent may be inadvertently creating--can be just what’s needed.

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The Staff of The Princeton Review

For more than 35 years, students and families have trusted The Princeton Review to help them get into their dream schools. We help students succeed in high school and beyond by giving them resources for better grades, better test scores, and stronger college applications. Follow us on Twitter: @ThePrincetonRev.

There are seven hours and twenty minutes in the average school day. However, when you add up all the hours spent doing homework, studying and writing outside of school, the school day extends another one to five hours depending on the night.

The workload students are getting is increasing, along with their stress. Homework, essays, exams and high stake testing all pile up on a student’s plate. The workload is becoming extreme, and something needs to change for the benefit of students health.

A lot of students face stressful amounts of homework every night. In a study conducted by Stanford University, 70 percent of students said they were stressed out by homework, with 56 percent listing homework as the primary source of stress.

The stress can cause severe problems. The stress from schoolwork causes 30 percent of teens to have at least one episode of severe depression, as well as 50 to 75 percent of adolescents with anxiety, impulse control, and hyperactivity disorders, develop them during the teenage years. These problems can follow teens out of adolescence and into adulthood if these problems go untreated.

It’s not just the homework that is troubling teens, but it is also the increasing amount of high stakes testing that students are facing in high school. In some cases, it can be worse for the mental health of adolescents than regular schoolwork.

   In a study done at Cornell University, students who were facing the pressure of a high-stakes exam were tested against those who weren’t. They found that the students facing the exam performed worse on the cognitive tasks compared to the control group. MRI scans revealed that the students studying for the exam experienced reduced cooperation between the parts of the brain responsible for thinking and reasoning. The stress from the exam caused their brains to become overwhelmed.

   While homework certainly causes stress in teens, this is not to say that homework and tests do not benefit students at all. Homework helps students develop responsibility, time management, perseverance, and self-esteem, which are all qualities that will help teenagers later on in life.

   Not only does homework help build important life skills, but students who regularly complete homework assignments typically achieve higher test scores than students who don’t. There are a lot of benefits to giving homework, and homework should not be removed fully, but rather we adjust the workload given to students.

   Where the line gets blurred is the quality of homework that is given to students. In the same Stanford study, students mentioned that some of the homework they were given was seen as pointless or mindless. The purpose of homework should be to advance students learning, not to give the busy work. We should make a conscious effort to improve the quality of our homework.

   Another problem is the among the teachers. Many students face the problem of getting many hours of homework from different classes, as well as many big tests in the same week or day. With more communication between teachers on coordinating tests and coursework, the work could be more evenly distributed so there is less stress on the students. This might not be easy to do, but the convenience of the teachers should not come at the expense of the student’s well-being.

The work facing students is increasing, with most students trying to figure out how to handle their coursework along with extracurricular activities and activities outside of school. It’s time we see a change before the work starts to affect the health of students.

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