How Much is Too Much?

In 1995 in the small town of Half Moon Bay, California, a member of the school board proposed abolishing homework from the district’s schools.

Two years later, the California state superintendent of public instruction and the state school board president summarized a more typical opinion on homework: “Our children are competing in a global economy. The extra hours spent after school in Europe and Asia are giving those children an extra boost into the 21st century. We should not do less in California.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, at the time, the Half Moon Bay proposal  was overlooked both locally and nationally. However, now that anxiety and depression rates among adolescents have increased over the past few decades, concern that homework is negatively affecting students is increasing, making us wonder whether that Half Moon Bay school board member was not so far off after all.

“We’re given so much homework for outside of school that you’re staying up late and you’re not focusing during the day, which makes the homework harder,” sophomore Josh Alexander said. “Kind of like a chain reaction of taking longer and staying up later.”

Homework. It is the universal problem that every high school student faces daily.  It is the annoyance that keeps us up all night, and it is the issue that has everyone asking, is it really necessary?

German teacher Johanna Dus-Bacic believes that as necessary as it may be, there’s more to high school than homework.

“There’s a lot of education in time management, and socializing and involving yourself in your sports. And we don’t want you to go home and just do the academic end of things,” said Dus-Bacic. “There’s other things that are important in your larger scope of education.”

As much as we hate the heavy homework burden, we can’t blame our teachers entirely.

“I would hope that we [teachers] all are aware. But I do know that some teachers don’t have the luxury of doing that and they just have to assign things to the students that they simply don’t have time to cover in the class period,” said Dus-Bacic. “A large part of education is not just doing school work.”

Now that we’re more than a decade into the 21st century, it’s apparent that the amount of homework assigned to students, at any age, is reaching an all-time high. The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan reported that by the 2002-2003 school year, students ages 6 to 17 were doing twice as much homework as in 1981-1982.

Why the sudden increase in homework? Here’s a hint: it’s for the same reason we are forced to take gross amounts of standardized tests. The U.S. is competitive. We’re obsessed with being the best, in every aspect of the word, and we want to be number one. So imagine our country’s horror when the students of the past few generations did not excel on international standardized tests the way students from other countries did.  Our nation’s constant need to be the best has finally caught up to us.

According to a study conducted by the NYU Medical Center, severe, disabling depression affected approximately 17 percent of adolescents and young adults nationally in 2005, while anxiety affected approximately 13 percent of children and adolescents in 1996. As time goes on, we can see these rates increasing. According to The National Center for Children In Poverty, in 2009, 20-30 percent of adolescents had one major depressive episode before they reached adulthood, and between 50% and 75% of adolescents diagnosed with anxiety disorders and impulse control disorders developed them as teenagers, when homework loads increase significantly.

Sophomore Margi Weiss said overburdening students with homework is counterproductive.

“I think that the American schooling system is focusing too much on competitiveness, because we think the more work they give students the faster they’ll improve,” she said, “when in reality, it just swamps students and it makes them more stressed.

“It’s getting to the point where American students focus more on getting the good grade than getting the knowledge from it.”

In fact, maybe because of the heavy homework loads, students have grown accustomed to copying and cutting corners to reduce the amount of time they spend on it. Or, they have resorted to ignoring homework altogether.

A Brookings Institute Brown Center on Education Policy studied the amount of time students today spend on their homework and concluded ironically.

“It’s true that exceptionally conscientious and high-achieving children spend several hours a night on homework. It’s also true that some teachers assign large amounts of homework and that some children are regularly overburdened. But these are exceptions, not the rule,” the study concluded. “The typical student, even in high school, spends one hour or less per day on homework.”

If so, why do Shaker students struggle to balance their homework loads with their lives? In the next year, we aim to find out.

This story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 4 (April 2014) of The Shakerite on page 12.

Comment using your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL or Hotmail account