A nightly struggle for millions of American families lie in the depths of boundless homework assignments. Considering the average amount of homework for students across the country has been steadily rising for the past decade, it is no wonder why children and parents alike are ready to waive the white flag.
How We Measure Up
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tracks student performance around the globe. In its recent 2012 study, American students performed below average in mathematics, ranking 27th out of 34 countries. Additionally, we come in only 27th in reading and 20th in science. Despite the increase in homework for our children, our global rating has not changed.
Our system is also spending more per student than most other countries without reaping any rewards. What is more, disadvantaged American students show less drive, engagement and motivation in school. This was reflected in the OECD’s findings that socioeconomic background is a significant variant in student performance, though that is also found to be a factor in many countries’ performance on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test.
The Science is Clear
There are many arguments swirling around in political, social and educational spheres as to what the reason is for falling, and staying, behind. Though there is merit to each of them, most commonly cited being parent involvement, school curriculum, teacher performance, funding and socioeconomic stature, the data is relatively clear-cut on this topic. Yet, we continue to ignore it.
In 2011, OECD’s finding in their study Relationship Between Student’s Learning Time and Performance stated, “Relative learning time in regular school lessons, which is equivalent to the proportion in regular school lessons out of absolute total learning time, is strongly related to performance.” Finalizing their summary, they say, “Students in high-performing countries spend less time, on average, in out-of-time school lessons and individual study, and more time in regular school lessons than students in low performing countries.” Put simply, students from countries where they spend more time in class but less time on homework have overall better performance on the PISA test.
A New Approach
Over the last decade, school districts, law makers, and parents have made a multitude of changes to the public school system in an effort to better American students’ global standings, most often taking the farm of increased standardized testing and increased workload for students, to no avail. Instead of producing higher education levels, there has been a surge of stress, anxiety and depression among teens.
In a 2014 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 30 percent of teens reported being sad or depressed and 31 percent felt overwhelmed, siting stress as their main trigger. In the same study, students reported the pressure to perform at high levels on a daily basis as the main source of their stress, most managing over three hours of homework per night in addition to any extracurricular activities or familial responsibilities. In fact, depression and suicide have increased so much, the Center for Disease Control has embarked on an investigation into the school district of Palo Alto, California which has a suicide rate five times higher than the rest of the country.
In an effort to curb this escalating rate of tragedy, in 2012 Palo Alto began an innovative approach to homework wherein students are assigned ten minutes of homework correlative to the grade level they are in, meaning a first grade student will have ten minutes of homework and a fifth grade student will have fifty minutes of homework. Since its implementation, many school districts across the country have followed suit, some even going as far as to eliminate homework altogether in the lower grades. This increase in time to spend together as a family and experience life outside of school work has not only help to decrease the stress level of students but has also increased students’ self-confidence and familial bond.