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The homework problem

Posted on July 7, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun


Are Sonoma high school students burdened by too much homework? Many Valley parents feel their kids need fewer assignments and more sleep, according to a new survey. A Sun staff report.

A few years ago, a group of Sonoma Valley High School parents approached the school and District administration and proposed that a parents group be formed to focus on matters that impact their children’s learning. Unlike the existing Boosters group, which raises funds for sports and other school activities, the purpose of the new parents group was to discuss issues and ideas related to improving their students’ education. The proposal was to form a networking group so parents could connect, inform and support one another, lend their skills and assistance to the school, enhance school/family collaboration, and increase parent involvement.

The parents were politely informed that there was no need for such a group. Undeterred, some parents created their own independent group, called the SVHS Parent Connection. Its motto was “Communication, Collaboration, Connection.”

The few dozen parents who attended the inaugural meeting last summer shared many of the same goals, among them:

  • Expanding opportunities for parent involvement in their children’s education
  • Volunteering their time and expertise to help make the high school great
  • Reducing student stress
  • Increasing school transparency and accountability on matters of education
  • Establishing better protocols for resolving student-teacher issues
  • Promoting more responsiveness on the part of administrators and teachers

One specific issue of concern was that of excessive homework and lack of sleep, brought to the administration’s attention for several years with the encouragement of some of the high school’s counselors who had expressed similar concerns. As the recent state-mandated assessment of school performance demonstrates, overwhelming high school kids with homework has not done much to improve their learning, especially in key areas such as math and language arts.

When the administration stated last year that students had on average one to two hours of homework per night, based on an informal straw poll, SVHS Parent Connection decided to do a more formal survey to collect reliable, impartial data on how much homework Sonoma Valley High School students actually had—on average—and how it impacted their sleep and family time.

The results showed that homework for most SVHS students far exceeds the widely accepted standards for homework time, set by the National Education Association, of 10 minutes per grade level. That translates to a maximum of 90 minutes for freshman and up to two hours per night for seniors.

Some key survey findings for SVHS students:

  • 81% of Sophomores, 82% of Juniors, and 80% of Seniors reported more than two hours of homework nightly.
  • Freshmen are better off by comparison: 34% have more than two hours, still exceeding NEA guidelines.
  • The workload for Juniors is the highest overall; over 50% reported three or more hours of homework a night, including 28% who said they had over four hours a night.
  • 87% of Juniors said homework “sometimes or often” keeps them up late.
  • 70% of SVHS students overall feel homework interferes with their ability to get adequate rest.
  • Again Juniors are the most effected, with 89% having homework that “sometimes or often” impacts their ability to get the recommended nine hours of sleep.
  • 80% of Seniors and 74% of Sophomores said homework sometimes or often prevents adequate sleep.
  • While Freshmen are the least impacted, still almost half (49%) report having their sleep adversely impacted by homework.

Chart: Over 50% of juniors reported over three hours of homework per night, on average.

unnamed-11The survey also invited parent comments. Here are a typical few:

  • My daughter averages 5-6 hours of sleep per night due to the excessive homework load. I am very concerned about the lack of sleep and poor sleep habits that have developed this school year.
  • He begins homework immediately after school and is usually up until 12 am each night if not later.
  • He usually starts at 6, stops at 11 p.m., then break/snack before bed. He does between 12-15 hours of homework each weekend. Way too much homework!
  • School vacations are also busy with homework, which is why we don’t travel. And he will be doing two summer assignments this summer, which also cuts down on family and travel time.
  • She is a very good time manager and a very good student. Not only does homework take hours to get done on most weeknights, but weekends are often occupied with it as well.
  • Homework is a daily event and has to be done on the weekends just to maintain completion of their workload. The daily assignments average an hour of homework per class and on Wednesdays it is a very heavy load as ALL classes give homework assignments.
  • As very involved parents, we have stayed up in the late hours and early mornings numerous times to provide company to my daughter and prevent her from falling asleep.
  • I don’t agree with homework over summer. My son spent upwards of ten hours on his summer assignment for English alone and the teacher never looked at the work or provided comments.
  • It’s a myth that mountains of homework is required to get into a competitive college.
  • There were evenings when he would stay up doing homework and not finish, was tired and would go to bed and get up early the next morning and finish.
  • She always has to spend the majority of Sunday working on assignments and a major portion of her summer is taken up due to summer assignments.

Chart: 87% of juniors said homework “sometimes or often” keeps them up late.

unnamed-12Recently, District administration took a small step toward addressing homework concerns. During a May meeting seeking parents’ input on the District’s annual goals for the Local Control Accountability Plan parents asked that District Homework Guidelines be updated (for the first time in 20 years) and that homework limits be set, by grade.

Outgoing District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno added an LCAP goal for the coming year: “Create a task force through Curriculum and Instruction to review homework load pre-K – 12.” It’s a good first step. (However, if pre-K students have homework, that’s definitely a discussion for another day.)

Worth noting is that other schools and districts have created homework limits, without any adverse academic impact. Finland has eliminated it altogether and far outpaces the U.S. in academic achievement. Denise Pope, senior lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, stresses that too much homework — more than two hours per night in high school — can do more harm than good. Like many other education researchers, Harris Cooper, Director of Duke’s Program in Education, has confirmed that research validates the 10-minute rule.

Whether the new District administration will make any changes in its homework policies for local high schoolers is not yet known, but SVHS Parent Connection appears determined to keep asking.

Readers can view more of the SVHS Homework/Survey results at the SVHS Parent Connection website:

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