How much time should your child spend on homework each night?

     (AP Photo/Christopher Berkey)

    (AP Photo/Christopher Berkey)

    How much time should your child spend on homework each night? How much is the right amount?

    Common sense suggests the answer to that second question correlates with age. You may have heard the commonly cited “ten minutes per night per grade” guideline. It’s so commonly cited by educators, people have stopped questioning it, but maybe they should start.

    The math on homework and academic achievement in junior high and high school

    As seemingly sensible as the ten minutes per grade recommendation is, it’s not based on research. Well, actually it IS based on research, but it’s too loosely construed.

    In his comprehensive reviews of over 180 research studies on homework, Harris Cooper (1989, 2006) found that an optimal amount of homework for high school seniors was 120 minutes per night. Seniors who did two hours of homework had higher levels of academic achievement, but additional homework beyond that amount was not correlated with higher achievement. The math looks almost the same in middle school, but tops out at an hour per night, resulting in a much lighter relationship to academic achievement.

    Fuzzy math: Homework and elementary schoolchildren

    So what happens when a child is in 1st grade? Or 5th grade? You’ve got the hang of it now… ten minutes and fifty minutes, right?

    Wrong.

    Again, combing through every solid homework study he could get his hands on, Cooper found something he was not expecting. Cooper’s research, examining studies spanning across almost 40 years, showed a very strong grade level effect.

    Those positive results the older kids showed when doing their one to two hours per night? Younger students did not fare nearly as well. Unless they were studying for a specific subject test, for students below fifth grade, the relationship between homework and achievement was pretty much zero. As in, there is no relationship.

    So the next time your kindergartner is whining about practicing her handwriting, or your 4th grader tells you that the reading response pages are pointless, remember that they’ve got 40 years of research on their side.

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