A Homework Study Makes Waves, But Researchers Question Findings

By Maggie DeBlasis — August 27, 2015 2 min read
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A recent study on homework has been receiving a lot of attention this back-to-school season despite possibly unreliable findings.

An August 12 CNN headline proclaimed that students spend too much time on homework, sometimes more than three times the recommended amount for their grade level, when that only applies to three out of 13 grades.

That story was based on a study conducted by the American Journal of Family Therapy finding that K-12 students spend roughly 45 minutes every night on homework, depending on their class schedule, with workloads peaking in 7th and 10th grades.

According to the AJFT study, average 1st grade students are spending close to 30 minutes on homework, and 12th grade students are doing slightly more than 50 minutes’ worth.

Perhaps most provocatively, the study found that kindergartners, whom the National Education Association recommends don’t have homework, spend 25 minutes on homework each night. Even the researchers were surprised, saying that large of a workload could overwhelm both parents and children.

But the study has come under criticism for using an unreliable methodology. Critics say that the results are based solely on a survey that some 1,100 people voluntarily took in one of 27 Rhode Island pediatric offices.

“If this [study] were a presidential campaign poll, CNN would not let it see the light of day,” Tom Loveless, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, told Education Week Teacher. “Any time you have a self-selected sample, question it. We know we get skewed results.”

Another apparent problem: The study provides no numerical or quantitative data on how much time students actually spend on homework each night. This data is based on assumed times from parents, which can very easily be misrepresented.

The researchers even admit to the ambiguity of the results.

How Much Homework Should Students Be Getting?

There’s no mention in the AJFT report of how the results measure up to national data, mostly because there isn’t much of it for the grades of most concern. A national representative does exist thanks to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to Loveless, but NAEP doesn’t start collecting data until 4th grade.

Loveless did mention, however, that previous research has found “younger kids have more homework than they have had in the past 10 years.” That may explain some of the buzz the AFJT study generated.

Both the NEA and the National Parent Teacher Association, endorse a 10-minute rule on homework: starting in 1st grade, students should have no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level. First graders have 10 minutes of homework, 2nd graders 20, and so on until seniors in high school have 120 minutes.

Many scholars, meanwhile, have criticized homework as lacking value, and say schools shouldn’t even be giving any at all. And that idea has found resonance among teachers, too.

Image via Getty

For more on homework:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.