I used to wish my children went to one of those homework free schools so that we could have nice family evenings without the stress of homework. Many years ago, I showed the book The Homework Myth (by Alphie Kohn) to the principal at my children's school. This book demonstrates research showing that most homework given in elementary school does not improve students' success. To my surprise and delight, the principal asked the teachers to read the book, and I later noticed a distinct reduction in homework that was assigned.
However, when my children began middle school, the homework load was much worse. If I complained that Fairfax County guidelines stated a goal of no more than two hours of homework per night, I was told that this rule doesn't apply to honors classes.
When my children went to high school and took more honors classes and some AP classes, homework was way too much. This was true for many of our students throughout the DC metro area. I discovered that there are quite a few things parents and students can do to alleviate the homework load.
- If your child qualifies for a 504 plan, reduced and modified homework can easily be added to the plan. Some children take more time to do homework and can learn as much from doing 10 math problems as 30. Extended time for homework assignments is another common accommodation.
- If your child does not qualify for a 504 plan, you can still explain to the teacher that it takes him too long to do homework, at the expense of sleep and added stress, and negotiate a homework reduction.
- Tests and quizzes count more than homework in many middle school and high school classes. One biology teacher told me that all the homework does not need to be completed since it only counts for 10% of the grade. If the student is short on time, it is better to spend time actively studying for tests and quizzes, which count much more.
- Spending many hours reading test books is not always productive. Students should learn how to skim and scan by reading headings, introductions, conclusions, and highlighted areas first. Paying close attention in class and taking good notes is usually more beneficial than a thorough reading of the text. To be sure, ask the teacher what will be on the tests and how to best study for them.
- Nagging your children to do their homework doesn't work. It is more productive for parents to support their children by setting a homework time together and being available for questions during that time, working with their children to make sure they know what their homework is and how to do it, and giving them help if needed. Many children accept help more readily from a tutor or academic coach than their parents. Research has shown that children perform better when respected, trusted, and given space to do their homework independently than nagging.
As my own children got older, I stopped asking them what their homework was and whether they had done it. Amazingly, most of it got done, and if not, they accepted the consequences.