The Great Homework Debate: How Much Is Too Much?

Even prior to schools going ‘temporarily' virtual in 2020, kids across the board were being assigned more homework than any previous decade. Teenagers in particular are doing about twice as much as when their parents were in school.

With a new school year in full swing, homework is once again a daily fixture in the lives of many students, parents, and teachers.

However, a recent Twitter post by Amy DeAngelo, M.Ed., challenged the usefulness of homework as a curriculum tool.

While DeAngelo’s tweets garnered primarily positive comments, @angryPenelope tweeted, “I have to disagree. We teach, they practice at home, then collaborate for meaningful use of knowledge gained. When we started teaching skills in isolation, we lost the enthusiasm of kids. The skills aren’t the goal; the knowledge is. So they have to practice skills at home.”

Her comment sheds light on the importance of homework and how the role of homework has shifted in the post-pandemic classroom. As long as students are assigned homework, the debate over how much is too much continues.

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Homework Overload

As a former educator and parent of high school and college students, our family has seen its share of homework, class projects, and studying for tests. Naturally, our kids have complained over the years, especially when studying for final exams and working on school projects.

Still, they have gained knowledge and immense personal satisfaction from completing stellar school projects and doing well on semester exams. My husband and I have always felt the homework our kids have had over the years has been purposeful, reasonable, and manageable, except for one year.

When our son started sixth grade, other parents warned us about the increase in homework for junior high students. I didn’t think our son would have difficulty with an increased workload as he had always been a top student. However, my optimism was dashed when we were up until 11:30 one night with additional homework still left undone.

This was not laziness on my son’s part but a lack of communication among his teachers and school policy dictating that junior high students receive grades on 11 subjects.

I emailed his teachers and the principal to voice my concerns over the amount of homework my 11-year-old had. At the time, I described the situation as “mind-numbing and spirit-crushing homework.” Apparently, other parents had sent similar emails, and the excessive homework situation was addressed and remedied.

Interestingly enough, for all the emphasis on homework in junior high, now that our son is in high school, his homework load is less. Understandably, the role of homework in elementary school serves to prepare students for high school just as high school homework prepares students for college.

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Homework as a Growth Tool

“To some extent, education should be uncomfortable,” said Penny Yurkew, assistant principal of academics at Boylan Central Catholic High School in northern Illinois. “Learning new concepts pushes a student’s boundaries, and that’s how they gain knowledge. I’m not advocating for school to be so difficult that a student becomes discouraged, but the learning process should expand a student’s horizons.”

While there is no set homework policy at Yurkew’s school, daily work (homework, class participation, and in-class assignments) makes up about 33 percent of a student’s overall quarter grade. The school’s current freshman class includes students from over 20 different grade schools, all of whom have had varied homework experiences.

“Some of our first-year students are used to having homework every night, and it’s not a huge concern to them. Others in the class may not have had regular homework before high school, so homework concerns them,” Yurkew said. “

At our freshman parent orientation, I talk to parents about the different facets of homework and how it affects their student’s grades. If tests are problematic for a student, keeping a high homework grade can help to offset a lower test grade.”

Yurkew sees homework as a dialogue between teachers and students that also enhances students’ critical thinking skills. “Homework helps kids control their grades. It’s also a communication piece with the teacher. If a student comes into class with unfinished homework, that could indicate an issue with time management, the subject matter, or the student’s ability to grasp the concept.”

The overall approach to homework, Yurkew said, has changed in the past 30 years. “I think teachers today are more likely to assign homework that focuses on critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and higher order learning instead of the past where homework was often just a regurgitation of facts.”

Fostering Time Management

Tricia Rozanski is head of the English department at Boylan and teaches honors English classes for mainly juniors and seniors. She contends that giving homework has always been integrated into her classes but said the mechanics of homework have evolved in the 25 years she has been an educator.

“The methods for completing and submitting homework and the types of homework have changed, but homework has always been a part of my English curriculum. Teaching at a college prep high school with high-achieving students means that part of my job is to teach students how to complete work independently, manage their time outside of my classroom, and realize the value of homework to reinforce classroom lessons. One can only improve by practice, and that’s what homework is.”

Homework in Rozanski’s classes is designed to foster higher-ordered thinking skills. “The homework I assign allows students to creatively and personally connect to the literature we are reading. Learning becomes more meaningful and attainable when a student connects to the subject personally,” she said. “Class discussion is integral in English because many students learn best in a community of shared ideas and opinions.”

Regular purposeful homework in grade school and high school is often the basis for a student’s success in higher education. Elizabeth Russo, a life science professor at Rock Valley College, a community college in northern Illinois, finds that students who are used to doing homework assimilate better into college coursework.

“Any homework students have done in a high school science class prepares them for college science. Additionally, students with established good homework habits know how to study and prepare for college classes.”

Higher Education Success

Russo sees a correlation between the homework work she assigns and how well a student performs in her class. “The main reason students fail my class is because they don’t do the at-home online quizzes assigned before and after lab work. Many students forget to do those assignments. If a student is accustomed to doing homework, then completing the online work is not an issue and their grades are typically better.”

In Russo’s microbiology class, there are more quizzes and homework, which she views as a teaching tool. “The increased workload in microbiology is meant to train my students on how to study,” she said. “Many of these students thank me at the end of the semester for helping them to establish good study habits.”

As the debate on homework’s usefulness and volume continue, it remains a necessary aspect in many school systems helping to reinforce classroom learning and teach responsibility to their pupils. Rozanski sums it up, “A strong work ethic among students happens when a teacher makes learning engaging and holds students accountable for their progress.”

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Lynne Conner is a freelance photojournalist with 30+ years of experience. She has won several regional and national awards for her work and loves writing about lifestyle, business, parenting, finances, health, religion and technology.  Her blog can be found at www.lynnelovesthepast.blog and she is currently working on her first book.