SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / February 2007 / Superintendent's Message
Eight Hours of Homework a Week?
Would U.S. students fare better on international comparisons if they did eight hours of homework a week? Perhaps a simplistic question, but I’m confident the answer is yes.
As a classroom teacher for 17 years, my biggest educational problem was that students wouldn’t do what I asked them to do. In the classroom, I could with a kind word, a reminder or the classic “stink-eye look,” get students to work on the task at hand, but asking students to complete a classroom assignment or read parts of a textbook at home was another matter. Expecting students to read an article and be prepared for a discussion the next day was something not enough students would complete to make the assignment worthwhile. Having students fail to complete or attempt homework was the most frustrating thing about teaching high school.
Requiring routine homework in regular classes was a recipe for failure. The typical student intended to do it, but they seemed to find other activities that took precedence which resulted in the homework seldom getting done. Distractions such as television, computer games, athletics, talking on the phone, and hanging out with friends all got in the way. Grades suffered, parents got upset, students lost motivation and the principal became very concerned about the failure rate. Subtly (and not so subtly) the pressure on teachers was to increase student success and the short-term answer to that was don’t expect homework.
One of the critical differences between honors or advanced and regular sections is the homework expectation. Students routinely self-select high school classes based on the amount of homework they are willing to do. “I’m not taking that class because it’s too much work,” is an all too common response. Regular classes require very little homework. Honors and advanced classes routinely require students to do work independently at home.
I don’t mean to imply that the entire responsibility of education falls solely on students or that lack of homework completion is the only problem. Teaching needs to be focused and explicit, compassionate, relevant, and driven by clear standards. Homework needs to add to the curriculum and not just be busy work. Homework can be the equalizer to make up for difficulty understanding the material, absences, school activities, and obstacles in the process. Teachers need to inspire, encourage, promote, perhaps nag, and demand student success. Ultimately, it is the students who need to learn the information and do the work.
I spent a year on Capitol Hill in 1991-92 working for the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary and Vocational Education. There was a good deal of education bashing and “the system is broken” kind of argument during the year. I asked the somewhat rhetorical question, “Would we have an education crisis if students did eight hours of homework a week?” Only a few people seriously considered the question. It was easier to bash the system than consider individual student responsibility for their education.
As a state, we need to continue improving instruction, curriculum, and providing a larger variety of programs for students. If more students would:
- work harder
- stay more focused on educational accomplishments
- complete their homework
the success of schools would increase proportionally. Our students will not catch up to the academic performance of students in other countries if they refuse to work more. Eight hours a week is just slightly over one hour per night of homework, but it is an additional day of instruction per week.
Would the United States have higher educational achievement if all students did eight hours of homework a week? I think so.