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Complaints about homework go from too little to too much

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PITTSBURGH — Two common complaints parents have about homework are as far apart as can be: One is that there’s too much homework, and more of it than ever before. The other is that there’s too little.

Education expert Tom Loveless decided to find out which view is correct. On Tuesday, he issued a report of his findings.

Loveless says those who think there is too little homework are more numerous. But, he adds, those complaining about too much homework get most of the attention.

News stories about increasingly overburdened children are real, he says. However, such cases are not common.

“The homework load has been pretty stable" over the last 20 or 30 years, he said.

Differs From School To School

The amount of homework can differ widely from school to school, though.

Take these three Pittsburgh public school students:

Imani Downing, of the North Side, is a sophomore at Pittsburgh Perry High School. She said she rarely gets homework and usually in just one class.

“I feel like we should have homework in every class,” she said. That would allow for “more learning" and "a better chance to understand things.”

Amma Ababio, of Highland Park, is an 11th-grader at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School. She is taking advanced classes this year. Ababio figures she does homework from about 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on school nights. She said her phone is off, her computer is off except for research and she even does homework while she eats dinner.

“I have homework in every single class,” she said.

Jermalle Johns, of the North Side, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12, is somewhere between the other two. He figures that on schooldays he spends “maybe an hour on homework tops.”

He doesn’t think the homework helps much because he mostly learns from paying attention in class. “I get it done because it’s another grade that helps me get an A.”

Friends, Sports And Work

Loveless based his conclusions on information from three surveys: a National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) student survey, a MetLife annual survey of parents and students, and a UCLA survey of college freshmen.

The 2012 college freshmen survey questioned students about their last year of high school. Students were asked to list how much time they had spent per week on various activities. Nearly two-thirds said they had spent six or more hours a week socializing with friends.

But only 38.4 percent spent that same amount of time on studying or homework during their last year in high school. And homework not only came in behind socializing. It also trailed exercise or sports and working for pay.

Back in 1986, the percentage of students who spent at least six hours a week on schoolwork was larger: 49.5 percent.

When he shows his study results to college professors, Loveless said, "they gasp and they all nod their heads." Most already "thought there was a problem.”

The problem that concerns them is not too much homework, but too little: High school seniors, at least, seem to be doing less work than they used to. That makes them less prepared for college.

Last Night's Homework

The 2012 NAEP survey asked students how much time they had spent on homework yesterday.

In all three age groups questioned, more than a fifth had no homework at all: That was true of 22 percent of 9-year-olds, 21 percent of 13-year-olds, and 27 percent of 17-year-olds.

For most age groups, the 2012 numbers were close to results in 1984. The exception was 9-year-olds, whose 1984 results show 35 percent didn’t have homework.

Of 9-year-olds, 57 percent said they had received homework, but less than an hour's worth. Forty-four percent of thirteen-year-olds also had been given that amount of work, and 26 percent of 17-year-olds.

The percent of students with more than two hours of homework was almost the same in 2012 as it was in 1984.

In 2012, 5 percent of 9-year-olds reported they had more than two hours of homework the previous night. The same was true of 7 percent of 13-year-olds, and 13 percent of 17-year-olds.

“The bottom line," Loveless says, is that the "homework burden" does not seem to be growing.


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