My 15-year-old son, a sophomore in high school, rarely has homework. Actually, I should be more clear. He does have homework, but it’s an amount such that he can complete it between class and the bus home. It’s a manageable amount. He’s in all honors classes and one AP class, but his teachers try to minimize the homework they assign, squeezing in as much learning as possible in class and limiting homework only to what’s relevant for mastery of the material.
The same cannot be said for some of my son’s friends. Many of them were accepted via lottery to the local public school of choice that is widely known for its academic rigor. The school runs from 7th through 12th grade, and its students regularly have up to six hours of homework per night, including on the weekends. The teachers often assign homework over breaks. The school is ranked third in the state of Florida and around 60 nationally. Its demands are known throughout the county as manageable by only a “certain type of student.” Many have accused the teachers and administration of encouraging “B” students to drop out and attend a different school in order that the school can maintain its high ranking.
I teach violin lessons to a student from this school, and this student’s parent tells me they are often up till 1 a.m. or later doing homework. They have had to give up other beloved extracurricular activities because of the homework load. Why doesn’t the student leave? Because the student’s friends are there — if they leave, they have to start over somewhere else. That’s a tough choice for a teenager.
This school is an extreme case, but it’s not the only example of schools assigning unnecessary levels of homework. This TikTok video came across my feed, and I wanted to cry for this poor girl who appears to be skating at the edge of delirium after many hours of homework.
This child is on hour five of homework with apparently at least one more hour to go. Her mom posted the video to try to show teachers what this amount of homework looks like for kids, for families.
Teenagers Deserve Work-Life Balance Too
Adults talk about work-life balance. We talk about the importance of our workday ending at a specific cutoff time so that we have a few hours in the evening to relax and unwind. And yet for some reason, some schools don’t think our teens deserve the same mental health break.
In the example of my violin student, I cringe to think of the sleep they’re losing. It’s important for teenagers to get enough sleep. They are still growing. Their brains are still forming. Literally, the rest of their life can be impacted by the amount of sleep they get right now. In the short term, sleep deprivation can cause moodiness, impulsiveness, and poor decision making. In the long-term, inadequate sleep can lead to mental health disorders and even more acute physical problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It is absolutely not OK to consistently give a teenager so much homework that it cuts into their nightly sleep.
Some parents and school administrators seem to feel the tradeoff is worth it. Like, I suspect, many other schools around the country, there is an impressive amount of clamoring by parents desperate to get their kids into these rigorous schools. The reward for the challenging curriculum would be a virtual guarantee of college acceptance, perhaps even a scholarship. Yes, all that homework is hard and it’s stressful, but it will be completely worth it in the long run.
And that’s the general idea behind homework — that it’s necessary, not only to prepare kids for The Real World, but also to push them ahead, to make them academically competitive. The teacher gives a lesson during the day, and the student practices that lesson in the afternoon and into the evening, via homework. That extra few hours is supposed to cement the material in their minds and build academic stamina.
Prior to my son entering seventh grade, I’ll admit, I had this mentality too. The only reason my son didn’t attend this school is because his name wasn’t selected via the lottery. Now I’m glad he didn’t get in. He has no interest in submitting his name for the lottery again, and I’m not sure I would allow it if he did.
Is Homework Bad Or Good?
The data coming from research regarding whether or not homework helps or hurts is mixed. It’s a nuanced topic with a multitude of variables at play, from a kid’s age to the quality of their school to their socioeconomic status to how much and what type of homework is actually assigned. So far, no connection has been shown between assigning homework at the elementary level and academic success. In high school though, an appropriate amount of quality homework can enhance learning and mastery.
It should be noted that the push to decrease or eliminate homework often comes from affluent white people who are witnessing in real-time as their kids are crushed under the burden of five or six hours of homework per night. Meanwhile, in economically disadvantaged areas, parents are asking that more, or any, homework be assigned to their children. They want the connection to school. They want their kids to be challenged too.
The Middle Ground Of Homework
Still, it’s becoming more and more common to see videos like the one above where parents are at a loss as to how to support their kids who are being buried under a mountain of homework. As much as the evidence supports some homework being beneficial — the expert recommendation is no more than 10 minutes per grade per night — it’s also clear that too much homework is harmful.
A teenager doing homework till 1 a.m. when they should be sleeping is not OK. My violin student should not have to give up playing for the local youth symphony, which meets for a mere two hours per week and requires an additional two hours of weekly practice to learn the music, because every minute out of school is dedicated to homework. No kid should have to surrender evening after evening of family time because they’re locked in their room doing homework long past the rest of their family has gone to bed. And certainly no parent should have to peel their crying 14-year-old off the floor and try to comfort them after a six-hour homework marathon.