What We’re Watching: Do American Kids Have Too Much Homework?

By Education Next 03/21/2014

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In a new report put out by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, Tom Loveless finds that “data do not support the view that the homework burden is growing, nor do they support the belief that the proportion of students with a lot of homework has increased in recent years.”

This video explains the findings.

The report, “Homework in America,” is available here.

Also by Tom Loveless: “What Do We Know about Professional Development?

-Education Next

Comment on this article
  • Mitch Bacharach says:


    A personal essay pointing to fundamental but rarely discussed flaws in the system.

    The course always begins well. It’s eight weeks, fourteen or fifteen classes, which is enough, really, to learn something. We cover sentence completion, critical reading and math — never look at the writing because the colleges these kids apply to aren’t interested in writing. They want to see a minimum score of, like 450 plus, in reading and in math, that’s it. Almost anyone can get that, right, even if it took a little work? It’s true; almost all of them do get their 450s, but that’s not much of an improvement over what they start the course with. Then, through superhuman effort by another volunteer who leads them through the entire application process, they get into “college.” Colleges where other kids go who can only score 450.

    Oh yeah, and they’re almost all boys, and everyone is on a sports team. They’re the athletes, and to tell you the truth, these high-schools where they go, they’re lucky to be involved in sports. From what I can see, there’s almost nothing else going on in these schools. For sure the kids aren’t learning, at least not the majority of students, athlete or other. So, by virtue of being athletes, they get this SAT course that I teach. I guess that says something about our “education system.”

    I’m in my fifth or sixth year of tutoring SAT. I also tutor other subjects and also kids with money. The rich kids get private tutoring, but so do some of the poor kids. “Personality and intelligence?” There’s no difference I can see between the rich and poor kids. “Getting educated?” They’re in different worlds. Around one-third of the high-school Juniors I see are functionally illiterate in math and reading. Another third are barely at a seventh grade level. If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, that’s what national test scores are saying.

    This dismal situation had nothing to do with spending. Take Westchester County, NY where I tutor in two of the worst performing districts. In one of the high schools where I tutor you (you do pay taxes don’t you?) spend $23,500 per pupil and get average SAT scores of (R) 400, (M) 390. In the other high-school where I tutor you spend $36,000 per pupil and the scores jump to (M) 450, (M) 450. “WTF???” you might say. You’d be right. By the way, you know what you spend per pupil in Scarsdale? $27,800. But in Scarsdale you get your money’s worth, at least by comparison — (R) 620, (M) 650. Yup, it’s got nothing to do with money. (http://www.westchestermagazine.com/Westchester-Magazine/March-2013/Westchester-Public-High-School-Per-Pupil-Statistics/).

    So back in class it’s a funny thing. I’m 45 minutes into a two hour SAT session. We’re way beyond capacity in this course with around 15 students in each session. But more than half of them are paying attention. And this is my point – it’s not that hard to get these kids to pay attention in class. Math, reading – it can be interesting to young people. They’re curious. They want to learn. They want to go to college, they’ve got dreams. But basically they want to learn. But they don’t. Why you ask? Because THEY DON’T DO HOMEWORK, never, period, end of story. Ever hear any of the experts mention this when they bemoan the state of education in the US? I haven’t.

    I think that my students find my classes and small group tutoring sessions interesting – and I’m far from the only person who can do this. When I’m “teaching,” they feel like they’re “learning,” and that feels good. But what’s really going on is that they’re being “educationally entertained.” Look, if someone took something you’ve never understood, or have forgotten, and took you through understanding it in a way that kept your attention, you’d find that interesting, right? You’d be diverted by it, it would be new and you’d have the satisfaction of thinking that you learned something. But if it’s math and science, or how to read critically, parse a sentence, write an essay, whatever — unless you immediately start drilling what you think you’ve learned and continue drilling until you can do the exercises correctly on your own, you haven’t learned a thing.

    You have however been “educationally entertained.”

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