Studies show today's students have more homework than previous generations

By Maira Ansari

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) -- Are kids spending too much time on the three R's and not enough time with family? Many students and their parents are frazzled by the amount of homework being piled on in the schools. WAVE 3's Maira Ansari investigates how much homework is too much.

WAVE 3's Maira Ansari has some tips to help you and your children get through the homework crunch.

Mason Allen is 12 years old, and like countless kids his age, he spends a lot of time doing homework. The day we spoke with him he was working on "social studies, language arts, math -- and I gotta study for two tests."

That's a full load of homework, and if you ask Mason, it's too much. "Math is kind of hard when you do it at home."

Homework is a tradition that is part of a big debate that can often become a sore subject between you and your child.

"When I was in school, I thought I had a heavy workload," said Joanna Smith, Mason's grandmother.

Now, as children's backpacks grow heavier and their leisure time more scarce, parents are concerned.

"It takes a lot for a parent to have time to just sit with the children if they need help" said Smith.

Many national studies say kids are doing more homework than ever before. Research at the University of Michigan shows the amount has more than doubled. In 1981, students ages 6 to 8 did about 52 minutes of homework a week. That increased to 128 minutes in 1997. The increase was smaller among 9 through 12 year olds.

That's no surprise to kids like Whitney Bowman, a sixth grader. "Gosh! How much do you really need?" she asked.

Experts say what young students need versus what they sometimes get are two different things. In fact, recent studies say they are getting more homework.

Janet Leitner is an elementary liaison in Jefferson County. She says not all parents think their kids are overloaded with homework.

"Sometimes we receive calls from parents saying 'my child doesn't get any homework, I want them to have homework,'" Leitner said. "Then, other times, parents may feel that it's too much homework.

Leitner says homework has three purposes:

  1. For practice of information that is already been in the classroom.
  2. Prepare for the next lesson.
  3. Extend knowledge between parents and their children.

"We don't want kids to ignore their homework," Leitner said. "But by the same token, we don't want them to suffer through it either."

So if your child is burning the candle at both ends, there is a problem. There are several things you can do to help your kids manage their homework.

  • Establish a routine -- when and where your child is going to get their homework done.
  • Guide your child -- don't do their homework.
  • And if your child is working, you need to find something constructive to do as well.

"It's really disheartening for students when the parents are watching TV, talking on the phone, surfing the Internet and they have to work," Leitner said.
  
And if you find yourself saying "that's not the way I learned it when I was in school," remember, times are changing.

"Homework is looking differently, said Kenwood Principal Jill Handley. "We are moving away from that 'skill and drill' to balancing more with an approach of higher order thinking and hands-on problem solving at home."

So if your child's homework is leaving you scratching your head, there is help. By logging onto the Internet, technology is making it easier for parents to get a peek into the classroom without leaving their home.

Leitner suggests that parents visit "the JCPS homepage and look at 'Practice Your Skills' and 'Homework Help.' Sometimes parents are not familiar with the vocabulary and terminology that is used and this will help the student and parent."
  
And if that isn't enough, some teachers are also placing their lesson plans online to keep you up to date.

Teachers and staff say in the end, it's about making homework a family affair.

"A certain amount is reasonable and good," Leitner said. "It is practice, extension, it's necessary. But we don't want this turn into a battle at home and something that is a turnoff to learning."

Leitner says if your child continues to struggle, ask your child and their teacher how well they focus in class. And if you find that you're having a hard time figuring out your child's homework, the best thing you can do is send a note to the child's teacher. Tell them you tried to help your child, and let them know how far you got. More than likely, they will be understanding.

Debbie Mabry teaches at Kenwood Elementary. She says there may be more homework these days but says it's assigned for a reason. "It reinforces the concepts we are doing in class."

Mabry says homework also helps parents stay in the loop of what's going on in their child's classroom. But the actual time spent on homework varies by student, as well as how much guidance they need from parents.

However, Mabry says teachers don't expect children to spend three to four hours a night finishing homework assignments.

"If they are spending that long on homework, it's either because we have not done our job at school and we have not thoroughly explained and they go home and they really don't understand how to do it so it takes them longer or they did not listen in class and they don't know how to do it."

Don't forget another major problem -- bad study habits. That happens when students allows themselves -- or worse -- you allow your child to lose concentration. Even a few minutes of distraction by a TV, talking on the phone or listening to music can add up quickly and extend the amount of time it takes to complete assignments.

To help ease up on the work load at Kenwood, teachers have what they call the 10-minute rule -- 10 minutes for each grade level.

"Children K-2 their homework should not be longer than 10-20 minutes. 3-5 it should not last longer for 30-60 minutes," said Kenwood's Handley.

Although every school has a different policy, parents and teachers agree there are a few factors that are common to every family.

Handley says homework problems can be compounded by children being involved in more extracurricular activities and parents working longer hours.

Smith agrees. She says the homework load may seem heavier because times have changed and everyone is busy. "Those extra activities. At one time, everything was in one neighborhood so you went to church in your neighborhood, Girl Scout meetings in your neighborhood. Now we drive an hour just to get to the activities. That puts more stress on the children when they get home."

Teachers says there's another major problem -- parents and teachers are often not on the same page when it comes to what's going on in the classroom and their child's assignments.

"Parents are encouraged to keep that open communication with that teacher," Handley said. "And that's what we are after -- the partnership with school and home."

If your child is spending a lot of time after school doing homework, contact their teacher and let them know there is a problem. But there are also so many resources out there to help parents track what their kids are supposed to be getting done, and how well.

Online Reporter:  Maira Ansari

Online Producer: Charles Gazaway