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Students Probably Do Less Homework Than You Think

The portrait of the American student buried under a crippling load of homework has been way overblown in news articles, argues a new report from the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

Homework loads have actually been stable over the last 30 years, despite front-page reports of overworked kids and a century-old “war on homework,” according to the report, one of three released Tuesday by Brookings’ Brown Center on Education Policy. The study relies on federal surveys of students before they took the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a parental survey by MetLife, and University of California, Los Angeles’s Higher Education Research Institute survey of college freshmen.

The image of kids drowning in homework has been swirling for years. In 1900, Ladies Home Journal editor Edward Bok called homework “A National Crime at the Feet of Parents,” resulting in what the new study’s author, Tom Loveless, called “an anti-homework campaign … that grew into a national crusade.”

In 1901, California banned homework for any student younger than 15. More recently, major publications have joined the war on homework, arguing it hurts students — in part, said Loveless, due to the No Child Left Behind Act’s focus on student performance. Last fall, The Atlantic magazine featured a titled “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me.”
The war on homework also has gained steam recently from parents concerned about a new wave of standardized tests attached to the Common Core State Standards.

But the Brookings study gives ammunition to those who worry students actually may have too little homework.

For 13-year-olds, according to National Assessment of Educational Progress, the load has lightened slightly. Students who reported one or two hours of work per night declined from 29 percent in 1984 to 23 percent in 2012. Students reporting less than one hour of homework a night increased from 36 percent to 44 percent during the same period.
Meanwhile, the number of 17-year-olds reporting no homework grew from 22 percent in 1984 to 27 percent in 2012. Eleven percent of 17-year-olds told questioners in 2012 they simply didn’t do their work.

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