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My wife and I transferred our 13-year-old daughter to a new school this fall because her homework load was insane. She would come home from school, go to her room and do homework every night until 11 pm. She also did homework on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It was stressful for the entire family.

Ironically, the thing that triggered our decision to change schools was watching a screening of Race to Nowhere, a documentary about the national epidemic of homework overload, which her old school presented in the auditorium.

Now that she’s in a new “project-based” school that has much less homework, she has time to be a kid again and explore her interests in the same way I did as a kid her age. She spends much more time drawing, reading for pleasure, playing with her younger sister, and enjoying dinner with the family.

Here’s a statement from the filmmaker, Vicki Abeles:

When I first set out to create Race to Nowhere, I wanted to spark a meaningful conversation about how our pressure-cooker culture is resulting in an array of unintended consequences that are negatively affecting our children and our future.

Our children’s current and future health and preparation shouldn’t be sacrificed because of the narrow way we have come to define success. We need to pay more attention to helping our youth grow creatively, physically, socially and emotionally and we need education practices and policies that are innovative and reflect the latest positive research on teaching, learning and child development.

Here’s a video about the documentary and about the grassroots “Stop Homework” movement.

Mark Frauenfelder

Mark Frauenfelder is the editor-in-chief of Make magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.


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Comments

  1. Any fool can make a course harder by just piling on the work.  That is not the same as making it better!  Excessive homework can be a warning sign of incompetent teaching.

  2. Any fool can make a course harder by just piling on the work.  That is not the same as making it better!  Excessive homework can be a warning sign of incompetent teaching.

  3. Rob O'Daniel says:

    I urge everyone to read “Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology” from the Alliance for Childhood. We shouldn’t just accept the conventional wisdom that computers offer an educational advantage – because there’s surprisingly little evidence to prove that.

    http://www.allianceforchildhood.org/sites/allianceforchildhood.org/files/file/pdf/projects/computers/pdf_files/tech_tonic.pdf

  4. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know where you live but in the three states I’ve lived the public schools have been extremely reluctant to assign any homework.  It’s crazy!  Kids don’t need coddling or to have the self-esteem boosted by being rewarded for mediocrity.  They need to be told what real life is like from an early age and they need to be pushed to perform. 

    This country is so obsessed with trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings that we’ve dumbed-down all our schools so that the pace is set for the dummies.  It’s no wonder the rest of the world is eating our lunch.  It’s time to recognize stupid people for what they are and start ignoring them again.

    What we really need are minimum intelligence standards for politicians and voters.  That might eventually help turn things around.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I agree with you. I don’t know where the original poster lives but I have never seen nor heard of a school district that gave too much homework. Just the opposite.

      I think part of the problem might be that many parents don’t teach their children how to budget their time properly.

      Our kids had homework everyday, even over the summer, just so their minds were thinking of problems and how to solve them. It really helps them as they get older. They are doing well in college now and they have the time to do extra curricular work.

  5. dr says:

    the national epidemic of homework overload

    Speaking as someone who has 4 kids of homeworkable age: lolwhut

  6. Drew Harwell says:

    I had the exact opposite experience in school.

    I didn’t have hardly any homework in jr high and high school.  I could almost always get all of my assignments done during lunch, or waiting for school to start.  Only about once a week or less would I have to actually spend over 30 minutes outside school doing homework.

    Are you sure your daughter was actually doing homework, lol?

    1. Howard Yee says:

      I have to agree with Drew. I went to Stuyvesant HS in NY and most people know it to be a hard school with a lot of work. I hardly spent time on hw. I would always watch TV while doing it.

      I know other people had issues finishing their work, but I also know that they tend to slack off. A lot of times they believe they’re trying hard, but their actions says otherwise.

  7. Anonymous says:

    We can’t all be creative free thinkers who drop out of school to follow our own path. Starbucks doesn’t have that many $8/hour barista positions.

    1. David C Dean says:

      There’s no use for creativity and free thinking in more esteemed positions?

  8. Billy Keyes says:

    I’m a senior at a fairly well known university, studying electrical engineering, and I can say that at this level, homework is very important. There are just certain concepts you don’t understand from just a lecture. You need to spend time working through a problem set to really get the material down.

    That said, most of the homework I had to do in high school required only time, not thought. I work slowly, so I spent a lot of time finishing assignments.

    Less homework on its own isn’t the answer. The homework that’s left (and there should be some left) needs to be higher quality. If the homework doesn’t enforce anything from class, and I mean this in terms of understanding, not in terms of preparing for an exam, than it probably shouldn’t be assigned.

  9. Howard Yee says:

    I don’t think it’s an issue of having too much work. It’s just the wrong kind of work. In the clip, a few people said things along the lines of “all the work prevents the kids from using their creativity” or that we should focus on problem solving. How can they solve any problems when they cannot understand the core concepts?

    Kids should be driven to want to do more than the work given to them. They should be driven to learn things by themselves. US education fails because it does not get kids interested. Parents usually force kids to learn things they do not want to learn or they let kids do whatever they want. Either way, they tend to grow up misinformed about what is important.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I agree that kids need to have time to be kids, which is part of why I love summer vacations. That said, I feel that one of things that kids must learn in school is how to tackle big, unfun projects, tasks, and responsibilities.

    But I agree with the other posters, working a lot is not the same as working hard or smart. Good call, Frauenfelder fam!

  11. Anonymous says:

    My two sons had just the opposite problem. Their middle school was a complete joke. The teachers gave them boring assignments and my children did not feel challenged. I pulled them out and sent them to a private school.

    It was the best thing I could have done for them. The private school challeneged them and better prepared them for high school and beyond.

    I have to admit I never thought there was a problem in the US over TOO much homework. Just the opposite… many schools really don’t challenge the students enough.

    1. morgauxo says:

      Schools go both ways.  It’s that middle ground that is hard to find.

      1. Anonymous says:

        That could be but I recall being in back to school nights and some parents complained that their children had too much homework. Other parents on the other hand agreed with us that the kids had hardly any.

        Funny thing is my children participated in sports, were active in clubs (debate team, science olympiad, etc) and yet they had no problem finding time to finish their homework.

        I really think it goes back to how well prepared a child is for certain classes. We can blame the schools but I think the fault lies with the parents. Parents are in the end the ones responsible for their child’s education.

        Just my 2 cents.

      2. Anonymous says:

        That could be but I recall being in back to school nights and some parents complained that their children had too much homework. Other parents on the other hand agreed with us that the kids had hardly any.

        Funny thing is my children participated in sports, were active in clubs (debate team, science olympiad, etc) and yet they had no problem finding time to finish their homework.

        I really think it goes back to how well prepared a child is for certain classes. We can blame the schools but I think the fault lies with the parents. Parents are in the end the ones responsible for their child’s education.

        Just my 2 cents.

  12. Anonymous says:

    My two sons had just the opposite problem. Their middle school was a complete joke. The teachers gave them boring assignments and my children did not feel challenged. I pulled them out and sent them to a private school.

    It was the best thing I could have done for them. The private school challeneged them and better prepared them for high school and beyond.

    I have to admit I never thought there was a problem in the US over TOO much homework. Just the opposite… many schools really don’t challenge the students enough.

  13. Anonymous says:

    How do the teachers explain or justify the workload at curriculum nights or in conferences? You have the right, even the obligation, to ask. 

    Ideally, homework is practicing/mastering the material presented in class. The test results or other assessments would indicate how well the material was being taken in. 

    And without following the link, I’ll second Rob O’Daniel’s mention of computers as an advantage. I have my own opinions on it [http://whatilearnedinschool.tumblr.com/post/5379686724/why-is-this-so-hard-to-see]. 

  14. Anonymous says:

    How do the teachers explain or justify the workload at curriculum nights or in conferences? You have the right, even the obligation, to ask. 

    Ideally, homework is practicing/mastering the material presented in class. The test results or other assessments would indicate how well the material was being taken in. 

    And without following the link, I’ll second Rob O’Daniel’s mention of computers as an advantage. I have my own opinions on it [http://whatilearnedinschool.tumblr.com/post/5379686724/why-is-this-so-hard-to-see]. 

  15. Anonymous says:

    Most parents who complain about too much homework likely never went to college and/or pursued some useless liberal arts degree.  Do you want your son/daughter to succeed in today’s economy?  If so, push them, they’ll thank you for it later.  

    On the other hand, if your kid is not the honors type, don’t push them to take AP classes just because you think they’re better.  Get involved and find out about your child’s abilities, don’t just sit there like 90% of all parents.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Right now, the university I am in has a general policy that for every hour in class, you have two hours of homework. The high school I was in before was pretty much the same. When you’re in class for 4 hours a day, that works out to be 12 hours of nothing but school related stuff each day. For the multitude of us students who have to work in order to be able to afford to go to school, that just isn’t feasible. For a while, I was getting up at 5:30-6, take care of some school work, go to school, go to work, and then come and do homework until I passed out. I’d have like 4-5 hours of sleep a night. When I was in high school, a job just wasn’t an option, due to how much homework I had.

  17. I don’t think the issue is homework so much as the pressure to perform on the treadmill. “You have to get into a good college.” “You have to make a lot of money.” “You have to get a good job.” It’s the same environment where kids have to get into the “right” preschool. Just listen to the people in the trailer.

    It’s also the push to standardization. I recently spoke to a guy whose son is in a middle school my children will soon attend. He said that for each kid, each class has it’s own special homework/study folder. And each folder had to be set up in a specific way. He said his kid spent a large amount of time just keeping the folders in order. While organization does contribute to effective learning, this is ridiculous. It also coddles kids as they have to learn how to organize on their own.

    This stems from standardization. You have to take standardized tests, you have to cover certain material at a certain pace, you have to know items A, B, C, you have to study the same material the same way as everyone else. All this puts kids on a treadmill where the goal is not to learn but to check boxes: Yep, got into the right elementary school. Yep, got the acceptable standardized 5th grade test scores. Yep, took the necessary classes in high school. Yep, got the required standardized test grades. Yep, got into the right college for the major selected for me based on standardized tests.

    In short, we’ve fallen into this trap that somehow makes us think that a certain pre-defined path automatically equals success and any deviation equals failure. The number of recent college graduates without jobs should tell you how well this holds true.

  18. Tom G says:

    Its a nice problem to have. The cost to educate 25 kids for a year in Connecticut, $337,500. The cost to incarcerate one inmate for a year, $350,000. Connecticut spends more on imprisonment than it does on education. How about if we apply some creative thinking to getting kids onto the up ladder instead of the down ladder? 
    What are the programs to improve prison results? Can we close under-performing prisons, fire incompetent wardens, retire high-priced officers? Do corporate-owned (charter) prisons reduce recidivism?  Are prison corporations driving the growth in incarceration? 
    Could maker programs at low risk prisons engage prisoners in constructive learning? No miscreant left behind? Race to the sunshine?  Magnet programs for good behavior? 

  19. Tom G says:

    Its a nice problem to have. The cost to educate 25 kids for a year in Connecticut, $337,500. The cost to incarcerate one inmate for a year, $350,000. Connecticut spends more on imprisonment than it does on education. How about if we apply some creative thinking to getting kids onto the up ladder instead of the down ladder? 
    What are the programs to improve prison results? Can we close under-performing prisons, fire incompetent wardens, retire high-priced officers? Do corporate-owned (charter) prisons reduce recidivism?  Are prison corporations driving the growth in incarceration? 
    Could maker programs at low risk prisons engage prisoners in constructive learning? No miscreant left behind? Race to the sunshine?  Magnet programs for good behavior? 

    1. Tom G says:

      The next time a politician claims to be tough on crime, ask him if he knows the price of a prison bed.

  20. Tom G says:

    Its a nice problem to have. The cost to educate 25 kids for a year in Connecticut, $337,500. The cost to incarcerate one inmate for a year, $350,000. Connecticut spends more on imprisonment than it does on education. How about if we apply some creative thinking to getting kids onto the up ladder instead of the down ladder? 
    What are the programs to improve prison results? Can we close under-performing prisons, fire incompetent wardens, retire high-priced officers? Do corporate-owned (charter) prisons reduce recidivism?  Are prison corporations driving the growth in incarceration? 
    Could maker programs at low risk prisons engage prisoners in constructive learning? No miscreant left behind? Race to the sunshine?  Magnet programs for good behavior? 

  21. Scott Davey says:

    I teach in an Elementary school (K-6). Our policy is, 10 min homework per grade. So, 6th Grade= 1hr. I’m beginning to wonder if even this is too much at this age. Research I’ve seen is split on the value of homework at this age…

  22. Scott Davey says:

    I teach in an Elementary school (K-6). Our policy is, 10 min homework per grade. So, 6th Grade= 1hr. I’m beginning to wonder if even this is too much at this age. Research I’ve seen is split on the value of homework at this age…

  23. Morgauxo says:

    People keep mentioning college. The article isn’t really about college, it’s about high school and earlier.

    Now you might make the argument that school before college is preparation for college but if that’s your point then make it before talking about all the work you do at the university. BTW, that point is debatable. Society doesn’t need everyone to go to college.  There is a lot of work that needs done out there that doesn’t require that level of specialization, there will always be far more of that actually. If it’s hard to make a decent living without a college education then maybe that is the root of the problem right there. Perhaps society isn’t valuing a whole range of work which IS still needed as highly as it should.

    Now, if it is just a prep for college… here’s my anecdotal reply…

    I went to a school that called itself a ‘college prep’ school.  It was definitely one of those places where the homework took twice the time as the class.  I went on to get a BS in CS. College was nothing like highschool for me.  Sure, there were crunch times, big projects, big tests.  Sometimes I was busier than in high school. Most of the time I was not.  In college I could actually have a life. I would never want to live like I did in high school again. Not even if it made me more money.

    I chose CS because I have a genuine interest in technology and computers were the hot tech of the time. I usually have a couple of tech projects going outside of work and would continue to build things and code if I won the lottery. So many others I meet in the field are just there for a paycheck.  They don’t really seem to do anything after work besides watch some TV and go to bed.  Maybe they were too busy in their more formative years to find out about themselves, their true interests and don’t know what else to do?

  24. Morgauxo says:

    People keep mentioning college. The article isn’t really about college, it’s about high school and earlier.

    Now you might make the argument that school before college is preparation for college but if that’s your point then make it before talking about all the work you do at the university. BTW, that point is debatable. Society doesn’t need everyone to go to college.  There is a lot of work that needs done out there that doesn’t require that level of specialization, there will always be far more of that actually. If it’s hard to make a decent living without a college education then maybe that is the root of the problem right there. Perhaps society isn’t valuing a whole range of work which IS still needed as highly as it should.

    Now, if it is just a prep for college… here’s my anecdotal reply…

    I went to a school that called itself a ‘college prep’ school.  It was definitely one of those places where the homework took twice the time as the class.  I went on to get a BS in CS. College was nothing like highschool for me.  Sure, there were crunch times, big projects, big tests.  Sometimes I was busier than in high school. Most of the time I was not.  In college I could actually have a life. I would never want to live like I did in high school again. Not even if it made me more money.

    I chose CS because I have a genuine interest in technology and computers were the hot tech of the time. I usually have a couple of tech projects going outside of work and would continue to build things and code if I won the lottery. So many others I meet in the field are just there for a paycheck.  They don’t really seem to do anything after work besides watch some TV and go to bed.  Maybe they were too busy in their more formative years to find out about themselves, their true interests and don’t know what else to do?

  25. Anonymous says:

    We put our daughter into an International Baccalaureate program specifically because there was more challenge, including more homework.  Every child is different, but we had struggled for several years with her because she would complete the daffy meaningless homework, then, probably because it was so meaningless, just not turn it in.  When we got her into a program that challenged her, a program that was much harder than the regular high school curriculum, her grades, participation, and enjoyment of school went way up.

    And, for the bonus round, she got just shy of a year of credit at college for the IB grades she got.  That’s money in my pocket, and a year that she doesn’t have to spend doing baseline class work that would add nothing to her actual education.

  26. It is true, my fourth grader comes home at 2:00 PM and does work for about 5:00 PM, and when it’s that time, she has to study! It’s taking away her childhood, and I’m worried for her. She is very stressed and even begged my to change schools. Currently deciding to change.

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