Homework Concepts and Purposes Have Changed

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Press Release

It may seem to parents that students in high school nowadays spend more time on homework than ever, and there is research to show that it may be true. A recent report in U.S. News and World Report says that the average student is now spending about 17.5 hours a week on homework. That, according to statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, is up from 6.8 hours in 2011 and about 5 to 6 hours per week in the mid-1990s.

So when is homework too much?

Well it depends. Homework assigned as busy work or as general work, not keyed into the student who is doing it can be too much even when it is a small amount. Homework that is designed for a particular student, could be invaluable, regardless of the size of the assignment.

“Home work, how it is assigned and how much of it there is, is a nationwide discussion,” said Bruce Bean, the Principal at Carbon High School. “What needs to happen is that homework needs to be focused on the particular students needs.”

That is a change from years ago when homework was assigned to students on a general basis. For instance, take math. There was a time when study and work was done in class and a teacher then sent home 20 or 30 problems with the students. Everyone got the same problems to solve. The top achievers often did work that they had mastered long ago, while others struggled night after night with problems they knew little about. What is being done with homework is much different now.

“Part of the problem with the old way of doing things was that homework was not equitable to students,” said Bean. “In the case of some subjects students really need the support of parents to get their work done and done correctly. In today’s society many kids are at home alone either because they have a single parent trying to provide a living or their parents both work late or have shift work. If someone sends home 40 math problems for the student to do, no one is there to help.”

While Bean says there is no formal written policy concerning homework at Carbon High School, he says that teachers know that it needs to be focused throughout. But even with motivated and supported students homework can be a large problem.

“Kids nowadays are involved in so many things that they literally run out of time,” said Bean. “Many of the brightest students take very rigorous coursework but they are also involved in lots of activities at school and some of them have jobs too. They just run out of time.”

He said that Carbon High has a philosophy about assigning homework.

“The mantra is that if a student doesn’t know how to do something that is sent home, sending it home won’t help,” he said. “If they understand it, then whatever homework they go home with should reinforce that knowledge.”

Some of that change in homework comes from the fact the Common Core has made it more important for students to think critically than just come up with rote answers. Teachers are now assigning homework that is deliberate and focused to reinforce concepts students should know. Bean said there are some other changes in the way education is being administered that has led to this too.

  • First is the fact that in Carbon District Chromebooks have become a way of life for students in the high school. Rather than using textbooks so much, students deal with teacher generated materials that deal with the exact things students need to learn.
  • The “flipped classroom” is also a concept that is being used a great deal. So much material can be put out through videos and other learning materials that teachers can prepare students for what they will face in the classroom before they get there. Then when they do come to class they are prepared to discuss and think critically about the material.
  • Focused homework based on the daily assessments that teachers are doing should be assigned and tied in with the interventions that are available at school. Bean says that because of the societal changes in families more time must now be spent in the classroom going over concepts and ideas.

Carbon High with the  5 by 5 schedule has time within that schedule to help students who are struggling. Going to the Dino Academy (study hall) and using intervention time to aid students is important, particularly for freshmen and sophomores.

“We are dealing with a competency based program,” said Bean. “We assess their skill in various ways. Sometimes they don’t have to take a test to prove that they know what they are doing or that they have a concept down. But we have to be sure they have the essential building blocks before they move on.”

Bean says he has found that parents are busy like their kids, so many of them really can’t spend time as much time working through all the issues as they or educators would like. Bean also said there is one other problem about homework and it is not about whether a student is smart or average.

“Half the problem with handling homework is behavioral, not about skill,” he said.

He says he finds he sometimes ends up with students in his office who have no concept of the repercussions people face by their actions. When he approached one young man about his possibly failing a class he the student said, “So what?”

He also pointed out that sometimes he is surprised by parents.

“While I have some that complain about how much homework students have, I have others that ask why their son or daughter doesn’t have more,” he said.

It is a different world when it comes to homework from what it was for students even just 15 years ago. While the model student is still driven by grades, some don’t seem to care much about that. Many just want to get through school and go to work. But it is still the schools job to see that they are as prepared as much as possible for the future, whether it be for higher education or the world of work.

“We have a viable curriculum and teachers take it personally if students don’t know the concepts they should have learned in their class,” said Bean. “So homework these days is about learning, not about how much time students spend doing it.”

Although students nowadays are spending significantly more time on homework assignments – sometimes up to 17.5 hours each week – the type and quality of the assignments have changed to better capture critical thinking skills and higher levels of learning, according to a recent survey of teachers conducted by the University of Phoenix College of Education.

The survey of 1,000 K-12 teachers found, among other things, that high school teachers on average assign about 3.5 hours of homework each week. For high school students who typically have five classes with different teachers, that could mean as much as 17.5 hours each week. By comparison, the survey found middle school teachers assign about 3.2 hours of homework each week and kindergarten through fifth grade teachers assign about 2.9 hours each week.

By comparison, a 2011 study from the National Center for Education Statistics found high school students reported spending an average of 6.8 hours of homework per week, while a 1994 report from the National Center for Education Statistics – reviewing trends in data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress – found 39 percent of 17-year-olds said they did at least one hour of homework each day.

“What has changed is not necessarily the magic number of how many hours they’re doing per night, but it’s the quality of the homework,” says Ashley Norris, assistant dean of the university’s college of education. Part of that shift in recent years, she says, may come from more schools implementing the Common Core State Standards, which are intended to put more of an emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“You see a change from teachers … giving, really, busy work … to where they’re actually creating long-term projects that students have to manage outside of the classroom, or reading, where they read and come back into the classroom and share their findings,” Norris says. “It’s not just about rote memorization, because we know that doesn’t stick.”

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