Homework is Making Our Kids Miserable

Homework is Making Our Kids Miserable

Why the classroom staple is a colossal waste of time. Research suggests it offers little to no benefit to elementary school students. Now parents are a taking a stand.

We tend to think of homework as a necessary part of learning, a practice that teaches children discipline and keeps them from idleness. Yet a growing body of research reveals an astonishing truth: homework has little to no benefit in enhancing learning or performance in elementary and middle school, and only minor benefits, usually in math, in high school. This conclusion comes courtesy of a review of all major homework studies recently highlighted in the Washington Post, including an update to a 2001 review conducted by the leading U.S. researcher on homework, Harris Cooper of Duke University.

While this data may seem counter-intuitive to some, many families have already discovered the negative impacts of too much homework, as early as kindergarten, ranging from a loss of quality family time or play time, to middle schoolers with stress induced headaches, anxiety and even ulcers. As a result, more parents are deciding enough is enough, and choosing instead to opt their kids out of homework.

Liz Onstad of Portland, Oregon is mother to a 10-year-old daughter who had no problems with homework until fourth grade. Even though Onstad created a dedicated homework space where she’d be available to help her daughter get her homework done, the tediousness of the assignments led to resistance and fights.

“It turns out much of this year’s homework really is stupid,” Onstad said. “As the year has progressed I’ve seen only increased frustration in my child and I haven’t seen any of the value of the schoolwork. The mental health of my child and the sanity of my household is more important to me than doing the work for homework’s sake.” She partly blames her daughter’s ready-for-retirement teacher, who she says is “pretty much checked out.”

Onstad is herself a formerly high-performing student who attended a respected four-year college, which was once a priority she held for her daughter. Now that value has changed. “A couple years ago I would have said a good college and an education would be a high priority. But now as I see my girl become who she is, the idea of ‘good college, good job’ is less important. My definition of success has more to do with her learning to be a responsible adult.”

This sentiment is echoed by other parents across a variety of experiences. Rene Denfeld, a death-row investigator in Portland, has been a foster and adoptive mother for 20 years. She routinely opted her three adopted children out of homework beginning in elementary school. “Homework takes all the joy out of learning. I want my kids to see learning as the world’s greatest adventure, to feel joy and magic and passion in life. Nothing kills passion faster than a stack of worksheets.”

Denfeld also points out that for kids with non-English speaking parents, working single parents, or other hardships, homework can be especially challenging, since so much of it requires assistance at home (which might, in fact, defeat its purpose).

Too Much of a Not-So-Good Thing

According to Duke homework expert Harris Cooper, students should be assigned no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night, Monday through Thursday. This should equal 10 minutes per night in first grade up to a maximum of two hours per night in high school. Yet many parents report a doubling and tripling of those standards, beginning as early as fourth grade.

This shift in homework — away from project-based homework assignments and toward the kind of busywork that now takes hours — likely began in 2002, when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed under President George W. Bush., according to Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, co-authors of the book The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It“Driven by fear that we’re falling behind in the global marketplace, policy makers have turned to the schools to save us once again,” they write. “They seem to believe that everything will be fine if we can just get American students to pass their standardized tests.”

This focus on standardized testing has become the bane of teachers, parents and students alike. And homework designed to help kids take tests doesn’t provide them with the complex critical thinking and analytic skills required to excel in either college or the workplace.

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.