Los Angeles Gives Students a Break on Homework

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Updated 6/28, 11:45 AM:

The nation’s second largest school district made a controversial decision concerning the most often despised part of school: homework.

Beginning July 1, students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will likely spend significantly less time on homework each week thanks to a new policy that says homework assignments can account for no more than 10% of a students’ final grade.

The policy states that while “homework is a formative tool for practice toward mastery, … studies have shown that by limiting the weight of homework towards a student’s academic grade, a truer picture of the student’s knowledge will be reflected in the achievement grade.”

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With the bold move, L.A. Unified joins an increasing list of school districts nationwide who have placed limits on the amount of homework assigned to students so those kids can spend more time with their families, on extracurricular activities, sports and hobbies.

A general rule of thumb for the amount of time students should be expected to spend on homework is 10 minutes per day multiplied by the grade of the student, Harris Cooper, a professor at Duke University told The Los Angeles Times. Using that methodology, a student in the sixth grade should be doing 60 minutes of homework per night, but research shows many times students are assigned more than is appropriate for their grade level.

In fact, a survey of 2,900 students, conducted in 2004 by the University of Michigan, found that the amount of time spent on homework increased 51% since 1981.

And the youngest students are often the most affected. Another academic study found that in 1981 students ages 6 to 8 did an average of 52 minutes of homework a week, but by 1997 they were doing  128 minutes. Yet another study, although admittedly less scientific as it was conducted by the Associated Press and AOL, found elementary school students averaged 78 minutes of homework a night. Meaning a third grader, who should only be hitting the books for about 30 minutes a night, may be grappling with much more homework than they can reasonably handle.

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Additionally, an exhaustive review by Duke’s Cooper found no correlation between the amount of time spent on homework and achievement among elementary school students. He did, however, find a moderate correlation between homework and achievement in middle school students.

Critics of the new policy — mainly teachers — point to research that shows students who do their homework perform significantly better than those who don’t. They say they are worried the policy is essentially a reward for those students who are already disregarding their homework assignments and will encourage them to slack off further.

While teachers have a fair concern, so do those in support the policy who say for too long homework has been used as a form of punishment for those students who do not have adequate academic support at home. After all, it’s hard to complete your homework when you’re also the member of the family charged with putting food on the table.

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