Survey says: Homework is an issue for our teens

The Start Times Advisory Committee surveyed parents, students, and staff about sleep in June. On October 4, the committee presented the results of the survey at a community forum. This slide shows responses to the question: How much time does your child spend on homework on a typical day?  for the parent survey and a similar question on the student survey.

Masconomet STAC survey: how much time does your child spend on homework on a typical day

The committee asked this question because homework has a big effect on student schedules. The yellow bands in this chart indicate the recommended amount of homework from the National Education Association: 10 minutes per grade per night. Up through grades 5-6, the homework load follows the NEA guidelines fairly closely. Those guidelines have been the basis for homework policies at the Tri-Town elementary schools.

However, at Masconomet there is more homework reported than the guidelines recommend. Staff, Parents, and Students agree that Masconomet students have more than 2 hours of homework, which is the recommended maximum for a student in Grade 12. Those in Grade 9 should have 90 minutes of homework.

Notice also the differences reported by each group: the staff report considerably less homework than parents and students do. In middle school, parents report about 40 minutes more than staff. At high school, the students report nearly an hour more homework than the staff, and 24 minutes more than their parents.

One problem with this measure of homework is that it relies on the amount of time spent on homework. But this can vary considerably from student to student. Some do homework very efficiently and some do not. One important point that Dr. Owens made to the community during her presentation is that a child who has not had enough sleep will take longer to do homework and will make more mistakes on that homework.

How does everyone feel about the amount of homework? The survey also asked: How do you feel about your child’s homework?

Looking at the responses, there is a significant difference in perception about homework. Two thirds of staff of students at Masconomet report that that students have just about the right amount of homework (or too little, in fact) and parents largely agree with them. However, students tell a different story. In middle school, 44% of students say that they have too much homework and an additional 19% say that they have so much homework that they cannot give it the attention that it needs.

In high school these numbers get worse: 43% say too much homework and an additional 38% say that they have so much homework that they cannot give it the attention that it needs: a total of 81% of students feel overwhelmed with homework.

Masconomet STAC survey: how do you feel about your child's homework?

During the presentation (at about 35m) of the survey results, Dr. William Hodges, chair of STAC said: “The problem of chronic sleep deficit that adolescents are facing certainly has … part of the issue is when school starts and when that forces them to wake up in the morning, but if we’re really going to look at this appropriately and … be able to make whatever recommendation we come up with… it’s got to be somewhat comprehensive. I’m not going to commit to solve all those problems in one fell swoop. Our current thinking is that we need to take a comprehensive look at homework. I don’t think that we’re going to wait until we do that before we make a recommended change on this. We might. It’s possible.  Let’s take our best shot at this, but knowing how big an issue homework is and the role that it should play in the learning process – maybe there’s some changes we need to make.”

Dr. Lyons (superintendent) added: “This isn’t a Masco phenomenon. This is a national phenomenon. In Massachusetts it’s probably a bit higher because of the accountability system that has driven the state to #1 status in the country – #1 in every category you could measure in student achievement. The accountability movement has been very successful in that relatively narrow measurement of how students are achieving in the state’s frameworks. I think that accountability has really transformed teacher cultures since 1997, 1998. It’s changed the relationship between teachers and students because there’s always concern about scores and numbers. […] I think we need to change some of the structures and start that conversation. It’s very complicated. That’s not an excuse. I think it’s a reason why it’s important to do it in a very thoughtful way involving faculty discussion. Not all homework is the same. Not every subject is the same. Not all parents are the same in terms of what they expect their students to get for homework and not all students are the same.  No matter what position you took […] you would have parental debate on what’s appropriate. […] I don’t think there’s a real solid science on that. But it’s got to be part of the community dialog. I look at this from a different point of view: the anxiety levels, the social/emotional health levels of our kids is being impacted, I’d say by start time, by the amount of time they spend on homework, the amount of time they on sports and clubs, the amount of time they’re doing screen time, and goodness knows what else – we know they’re very stressed out.”