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The Benefits and Drawbacks of Homework

Second semester senior. Everytime people hear this, they almost immediately ask me, “So are you just breezing through the rest of the year?” I take a deep breath and shake my head. “Unfortunately not,” I respond. My senior year, as a matter of fact, has actually come with the largest workload of my five years at Indian Springs. Is this workload a positive or negative? Helpful or harmful? It seems that psychologists have landed in the same place about homework that my mother, a pediatrician, has about junk food: everything in moderation.

My personal inclination is to say that all homework is evil and we should dismantle the system completely. Upon reflection, however, I have realized that homework allows me to gather my thoughts after 50–75 minutes of class time, cramming as much information into my brain as possible. Homework also frequently dissuades me from watching more Netflix than is healthy. At the same time, the stress of completing my homework has kept me up until the wee hours of the morning, compromising my ability to focus in class the next day. It also has left me with little time to explore personal, creative endeavors.

So where does this leave us?

The American Psychological Association collected many studies from numerous academics at institutions ranging from Duke to Lewis & Clark to Stanford. Apparently, there is a generally accepted measure known as the 10-minute-rule, whereby multiplying your grade level by ten yields the appropriate amount of nightly homework. For example, first graders would begin with 10 minutes of homework; as a 12th grader, I should have no more than two hours of homework. Exceeding this limit excessively and consistently can (and does) lead to burnout, boredom, and a loss of interest in learning.

There are advantages to doing homework thoroughly, however, such as time management and material retention and comprehension. When Duke Ph.D. Harris Cooper reviewed studies from 1987–2003, he found that homework does indeed increase test scores. But another study, conducted by Stanford Ph.D. Denise Pope, found that decreased workloads resulted in the same test scores.

Pope is cofounder of Challenge Success, an organization that advises secondary educators about how to improve students’ engagement in their own learning and success. Pope suggested that an AP Biology teacher she was working with reduce by one-third the amount of homework he was assigning; the following year, she recommended further reducing the homeworkd by one-half. The teacher did so, and his students’ test results were almost exactly the  same as what they been prior to the change in assigned homework. With Challenge Success, Pope conducted a study on 10 “high achieving” high schools and found that students had an average of three hours of homework a night—in other words, 50% more than what the 10-minute-rule would recommend. Yet another study, by the Journal of Educational Psychology, found that students who were assigned math and science homework nightly had higher test scores, but that their test scores decreased if the homework required more than 90–100 minutes to complete. (To date, there is no conclusive evidence about whether nightly homework has nonacademic benefits such as building character or fostering self-discipline.)

Everything in moderation. Springs has given me an incredible education; at times, however, I wonder whether the means were justified by the ends. Springs prides itself on innovation; maybe we should give greater consideration to whether the 10-minute-rule merits inclusion in our forward-thinking mindset.

That is, of course, after the bell debacle has been resolved.

- Ada Cohen '18