Student achievement is in danger because of homework — too much homework, experts say. New research is finding that too much homework — especially repetitive “busy work” that lacks rigor — is counterproductive and even a waste of time.
East Valley school districts are listening. More schools are turning to a “less is more” approach — less pressure to complete homework, more time to relax.
Most schools in the Chandler and Scottsdale unified school districts follow what national experts recommend: Nightly homework that increases by 10 minutes for each grade level starting with just 20 minutes in second grade.
Scottsdale fourth-grader Marcelo Barbaro completes about 45 minutes of homework each night.
“It’s okay,” the 9-year-old Zuni Elementary School student said. “Sometimes I don’t really want to do it because I just want to play with my friends.”
His mother, Cristina, said she learned about the time limit for homework through the school’s newsletter given out at the beginning of the school year.
Diane Russhon, a fifthgrade teacher at Chandler’s Jacobson Elementary School said she doesn’t give her students more than 50 minutes of homework each night.
“If homework takes longer than an hour, parents should tell me where (their student) is getting stuck,” Russhon said. “(After an hour) frustration sets in and homework is done wrong and I have to reteach it.”
Russhon is constantly working to balance homework in different subjects.
Students read for 20 minutes each night, which leaves Russhon with only 30 minutes to have students complete another assignment.
She frequently decides whether to give them a math or science worksheet while trying to cram in handwriting and vocabulary.
“You can’t give them homework in every subject or it would be overload,” Russhon said.
Still, she added, she gets requests from parents to give their children more homework.
James Middleton, director of curriculum and instruction for the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education at Arizona State University said balance and the right type of homework is key.
“More homework does not necessarily mean a student will perform better academically,” Middleton said. “In certain circumstances, more homework can be counterproductive.”
Middleton cited a recent U.S. study that revealed that low-achieving students in kindergarten through third grade actually reported spending more time on homework.
However, the principle does not necessarily apply to highachieving high school students who usually have more timeconsuming assignments to do outside of class.
Homework should not be repetitive or just be “finish up the stuff we didn’t finish today,” he said. But “I’m a firm believer if homework is designed properly, it should be given regularly.”
Students at traditional academies and schools that stress a back-to-basics approach receive more homework.
Trevor Hambrick, a thirdgrader at the Chandler Traditional Academy Freedom Campus, spends at least an hour doing his homework every night.
The 8-year-old reads 20 minutes every day and works on math, handwriting, and vocabulary for an average of 45 minutes.
It’s more than experts recommend, but his mom, Triss, said she doesn’t mind the homework because Trevor is being challenged.
“Last year he was so far above the rest of his classmates” at Chandler’s Sanborn Elementary School, Triss Hambrick said. “We get (to the traditional academy) and he has some catching up to do.”
The academy uses the Spalding method, which focuses on phonics and incorporates reading, writing and oral language into each assignment.
The school also aims for student math achievement to be one grade higher than state requirements.
Hambrick admits her son’s homework load can be hefty.
“He has more homework than his eighth-grade sister,” she said.