Research Backs Schools' Decision to Ditch Outdated Homework

Pressman's methodology has received growing support from school administrators.

Posted Mar 24, 2015

Flickr / Common Use
Source: Flickr / Common Use

Harris Cooper, professor of psychology at Duke, reviewed more than 60 studies in 2006 to figure out the "right" amount of time a child should spend on homework to achieve the best results. His recommendation: 10 minutes per grade in school. 

So, in theory, a second grader would be expected to sit, distraction free, for 20 minutes, while a sixth grader would have approximately 60 minutes allocated for homework.

It sounds relatively simple, until you consider the way homework is assigned.  Dr. Robert M. Pressman—lead researcher on two homework studies conducted with researchers from Brown University's Alpert School of Medicine, the Children's National Medical Center and Brandeis University—explains the problem. 

"Just because the PTA and NEA support the 10 minute rule, it doesn't mean that teachers assign only 10 minutes' worth of homework a night per grade. In fact, we are now seeing kindergartners who are struggling with multiple worksheets for 30 minutes or more."

As one third grade teacher I interviewed commented, "All children work at a different pace. I typically assign a worksheet. As long as a student is trying, that's what matters. Completion should not be the goal."

Pressman admits that homework stress is less about the way homework is assigned, and more about the way parents administer it.

"Parents are not given any instruction on how to administer homework.  It's assumed that they understand how—presumably based on their own experiences in school.  That's ridiculous.  Homework has changed dramatically over the past two decades!"  says Pressman, whose research is included in The Learning Habit: A Groundbreaking Approach to Homework and Parenting That Helps Our Children Succeed in School and Life.

He makes a valid point. My own children will never stand in the library searching through a card catalog. They've never heard of the Dewey Decimal System. They may never learn cursive handwriting or enter their test answers in a blue examination booklet thanks to computerized testing.  It seems many systems I learned in school are now outdated—yet the way we administer homework has remained largely stable since 1984.  Stable for nearly 30-years said 2014 Brown Center Report, with one notable exception: Young students have more homework than in the past.

"Even the definition of homework is outdated.  Experts agree 'homework' should include all the activities that contribute to academic success." said Pressman, who offered high praise of P.S. 116, a Manhattan primary school, for their updated homework curriculum.  "The research supports their curriculum and shows it's correlated with high levels of academic achievement."  

Simone Levin
Source: Simone Levin

Still, he strongly cautions educators against throwing in the towel on homework.  His primary concern: Children won't learn healthy homework habits.  What will happen to these children when they enter middle school or high school and suddenly have a deluge of homework? 

"The current research clearly indicates a need for both parents and educators to adopt balanced homework habits."  said Dr. Melissa Nemon, a senior research associate at Brandeis University, who believes  the research findings will impact not just individuals and families, but also educators and public policy makers.

A balanced homework habit is based not only on research but also on interviews with elementary and middle school teachers across the United States who have been actively involved in the development and implementation of their school's Common Core Curriculum.  All activities are time-bound and are not based on completion. 

Pressman's methodology has received growing support, but also concern from parents.

"Some parents view academic work as the only way to cement educational skills. In fact there are many activities children can practice which improve academics." 

 © 2015 Rebecca Jackson

Penguin Books
Source: Penguin Books

Learn More: Curious about balanced homework habits and the research behind the methodology? Check out The Learning Habit: A Groundbreaking Approach to Homework and Parenting That Helps Our Children Succeed in School And Life

About the Authors

Robert M. Pressman, PhD.

Robert M. Pressman, Ph.D., is the Director of Research for the New England Center of Pediatric Psychology and a co-author of The Learning Habit.

Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, LICSW, is the Clinical Director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, and the co-author of The Learning Habit.

Rebecca Jackson is a neuropsychological educator and the co-author of The Learning Habit

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