November 7, 2022
It’s been two months now since the school year began. We’ve all facilitated and attended Back to School nights and the opening of the year socials, so parents, administrators, and teachers can get to know one another and reconnect. One of the perennial conversations, like Sisyphus interminably rolling a boulder up a steep hill, is that of homework. What parents always want to know: How long should my child be spending on homework? Do you know how long my child actually spends on homework? For teachers, this conversation of forever explaining one’s homework policies can feel like eternal punishment.
Across schools, there are department and faculty meetings in which teachers and administrators discuss posting homework in a timely manner with clarity of expectations (how much, where to submit, due dates, etc). Some institutions, like mine, use the 10-minute-per-grade metric for how much homework faculty should be assigning students on a daily basis. It amounts to 90 minutes in total/night for 9th-graders all the way up to 120 minutes in total/night for 12th-graders. But, as anyone who has a child and works in schools knows, student pacing is variable. What takes one student 15 minutes can take another 30 minutes and yet another, 45 minutes. This metric can be a good place to begin to help faculty think about homework load. And….
As a department chair who designs curriculum and reads about the science of learning, I have come to the conclusion that all these conversations on homework (is it too much and how long should it take?) miss the point. Instead, homework is only stressful and time-consuming because we, teachers, have designed homework to be stressful and time-consuming, resulting in students experiencing cognitive overload. And administrators have supported this learning paradigm under a misguided understanding of rigor and high standards. A colleague who is a science department chair at another institution once disclosed that what is happening in the classroom is fantastic, but homework is a problem. I repeat: But homework is a problem! The truth is that as long as we think of homework as a problem, it will remain a problem. Instead, I suggest we expand our scope to consider that homework isn’t the problem, but rather course design is the fundamental issue. Essentially, what we have is a design problem.
The question isn’t how long homework should take; instead,…