Guest Blogger: There’s No Time for High School Students to Do Hours of Homework Each Night

When I was in Chicago at the AERA conference two weeks ago, I was on a panel with Chris Ellsasser, an associate professor of education at Pepperdine University, a high school English teacher, and the founder of a group of progressively-minded teachers known as the Mad Tea Educators. Chris approaches homework by asking high school teachers and students one simple question: How much time do we really have? Below is an excerpt from the paper he wrote to accompany the presentation.

Do the Math:
Redesigning Homework to Create More Time for Learning
by Christopher Ward Ellsasser

Time is a finite resource and something which cannot be changed, so it makes sense to begin by establishing exactly how time works for students.

Too often discussions and decision making processes in schools related to issues like homework are based on personal preferences, social norms, and the mythology of schooling. Such a process is akin to medical doctors basing treatment on “gut feeling� rather than science and knowledge of the particular patient. In order to develop policies that reflect the best of what we know about education using the most sophisticated ways of knowing we have, time must be created to establish a baseline of facts. Such is the case with homework. While each school and community has it differences which need to be considered, there is also a shared body of knowledge we can draw from.

Developing a thoughtful approach to homework can begin by doing the math on the time students spend each day. We can begin our calculations by looking at how much time students need to be healthy. The following questions reveal how much time students spend per day on health related activities:

• How much time should students spend sleeping? (9 hours)
• How much time should students spend eating? (three meals = 2 hours
• How much time should students spend exercising? (1 hour)
• Total hours spent maintaining basic health = 12 hours per day

The next consideration is time spent engaged in structured activities such as classes and other organized programs. The following questions reveal how much time students spend on structured activities:

• How much time do students spend in school? (6 hours)
• How much time do students spend in after school activities (i.e. sports, art, work)? (2 hours)
• How much time do students spend commuting = 1 hour
• Total hours spent on structured activities = 9 hours

Once we have accounted for maintaining health and engaging in structured activities (21 hours), students have three hours of discretionary time per day. Of course that assumes the day is without unexpected glitches or distractions. Factor in a conservative thirty minutes twice a day for hygiene/waking up/winding down and you are down to two hours unaccounted for each day.

Given the overwhelming research on the importance of reading, we would be inclined to set aside one hour for reading. Now we are down to one hour per day for school age children to play, relax, or just spend down time with others like friends and family. Regardless of the recommended 10 minutes of homework per day (90 -120 minutes for high school students), even if we eliminate “personal time� today’s high school student only have one hour each day to spend doing homework. So now the question becomes what, if anything, can be done in one hour to enhance the quality of their education.

65 Comments on “Guest Blogger: There’s No Time for High School Students to Do Hours of Homework Each Night”

  1. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    Fantastic post! Exquisitely simple and honest, and oh, so true. I wish all teachers would stop and think about this from time to time.


    April 23rd, 2007 at 7:45 am
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  2. Harold Jarche » Tempus Fugit says:

    […] Bennett has posted a guest article that looks at how much discretionary time is available for homework in the average student’s […]

    April 23rd, 2007 at 3:42 pm
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  3. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree with you and see your logic with the time thing. I am in 7th grade and I’m doing a persuasive essay against The Homework Overload, and your site really helped! thank you!

    April 23rd, 2007 at 7:04 pm
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  4. Nini Engel says:

    Very interesting post. After almost a full year of negotiations with my daughter’s high school, we received an email which justified their current policy and expectation that students will have four hours of homework, five nights per week. We’re taking her out of the school.

    Sleep, reading, exercise- all have been given short-shrift to feed the homework monster.

    April 24th, 2007 at 10:49 pm
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  5. Anonymous says:

    This really helps

    May 8th, 2007 at 11:39 am
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  6. Anonymous says:

    People should really get over the homework thing. Students are young and reselient for the most part. Yes elementary students shouldn’t be overwhelmed with homework. Junior high should get a little more each year. High school students, however, should be spending more time on their homework. They’re almost adults and need to be able to balance their schedule. Another thing. Who decided that kids work only two hours a day? What kind of job is that and where can I sign up? I go to school a minimum of six hours a day, then I go to work for at least four, then go home and do homework for another minimum of three hours. Todays world is on the go but you expect students to not be? Wake up people, the real world destoys people that can’t handle it when something extra is thrown on their plate.

    May 16th, 2007 at 5:41 pm
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  7. Anonymous says:

    i can use this for my essay…thanx!

    May 30th, 2007 at 5:42 pm
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  8. flashimashi says:

    great post, there is never enough time for homework…

    June 5th, 2007 at 5:52 pm
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  9. Anonymous says:

    how is that work. you should do the homework to get a good grade. i don’t think it’s a good idea

    July 30th, 2007 at 10:01 am
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  10. Anonymous says:

    Why are you accounting for exercise PLUS sports PLUS assuming the students have gym class. And last time I checked that 45 minutes for breakfast was more like 5, and the 45 minutes for lunch a part of school.

    6 AM Wake up
    8-3 School
    3-5 Afterschool activities
    5-6 Relax
    6-6:30 Dinner
    6:30-9:30 Homework
    9:30-10 TV
    10 Bed

    As a middle school teacher, we aim for between one hour and 90 minutes a day. I doubled it, and still find this to be an honest expectation. The students I find can’t complete the homework are either in a day care that doesn’t enforce homework time and have no study skills themselves and don’t begin till 7 when their parents come home; or the students who are over dedicated to sports and have multiple 3-hour-a-day practices during the week and feel that athletic achievement and ‘well-roundedness’ are more important than school.

    October 18th, 2007 at 10:45 pm
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  11. Soph says:

    You are right!
    I am currently writing an essay called… Homework has no purpose!
    I get so much homework and am always stressed and tired!

    November 27th, 2007 at 3:23 am
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  12. Sara Bennett says:

    Soph: Will you send me a copy of your essay when it’s finished? You might have noticed that I sometimes publish students’ work on my blog.

    November 27th, 2007 at 11:31 am
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  13. Ty says:

    This is great! I’m currently writing an argumentative essay for my english class: Homework is Hindrance. This should help greatly!

    November 28th, 2007 at 11:00 am
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  14. Anonymous says:

    While I completely understand that there is less time in a day than required for all the things we have to do and want to get done, there are a few things I’d like t say on both sides of the issue-

    First of all, I’m a junior in high school I spend 2 hours on homework, if I’m lucky. I sometimes spend almost an entire night on it. Yes, this involves sacrificing afterschool activities and sleep, but I’m sure there are job that require the same amount of time, not to mention college. If you can’t prioritize and put the work first, you’re not going to get far in our competetive society. It’s unfortunate, but true. I hate it when people blame unfinished homework on team practices and games. If sports is making you not finish your homework, you probably shouldn’t be participating.

    At the same time, it’s true that there shouldn’t be as much homework as there is. homework should either be optional or review- not everyone needs the extra practice in math, science and whatever other class EVERY DAY. Some people get the material. Some people just cheat on the homework anyway, and turn it in. What is the point for those who won’t do the work?

    In the question of whether there should be that much work- there shouldn’t be. Very little of it actually helps in any way,shape or form. But since it’s there, and counts for a grade, students need to shut up and get it done.

    December 12th, 2007 at 10:20 am
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  15. payton says:

    this is such a true statement. i find my weekends filling up so fast, including homework, theres just not enough time in the day. too much HOMEWORK!!!!! NOT ENOUGH FUN! …stupid teachers

    December 12th, 2007 at 9:27 pm
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  16. payton says:

    This is such a true statement. Theres not enough hours in the week just to get all of my homework done. And the only time possible for hanging out with friends is the weekend. The little time that is availible on the weekends get filled up fast with friends, events and most definatley more homework. It is the week before finals and teachers seem to feel the need to pile everything on in the very second. Which creats enormous amounts of stress!!! If only there was less homework and studying to do, life would be more of a breeze!

    December 12th, 2007 at 9:31 pm
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  17. jhonny says:

    yeah. I know this

    December 21st, 2007 at 5:35 am
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  18. courtney says:

    yes, i totally agree, we are getting to much homework each night, and its cutting down on my time for sports. And plus, im only in 8th grade and I atleast have 2 hours of homework each night.

    im working on a L.A. project and your site really helped.

    thank youu 🙂

    January 10th, 2008 at 10:49 pm
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  19. Ty says:

    Man I wish our teachers would look at this website, homework has been lowering my grades, I’ve been given so much for the past few months, I can’t do it all in one night…

    January 21st, 2008 at 6:49 pm
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  20. Courtney says:

    Due to the Excessive demands already placed upon the Contemporary High school students, the traditional system of homework needs to be rethought.
    After cheer practice and cheering at my gamess i usually get home around 9:30 to 10:00 o’clock each night, I am up really late doing my homework and waking up at 4:30 for cheer practice before school and then going straight to zero hour. Most activities are held after school. but with as much homework who would wanna attend.
    there is way to much homework, we are required to spend more than 6 hours a day at school why come home and have to work there.

    February 5th, 2008 at 10:46 am
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  21. Chris says:

    This site is very true, we kids don’t just do sports, do homework, eat, go to bed. That life would be boring, and we are here to enjoy our life in a good way, without ruining it. I find hangingout with friends very fun, and somtimes homework, on stuff that i get but i have to do anyways gets in the way of my social life. Its extremely pointless!

    February 24th, 2008 at 8:25 pm
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  22. Chris says:

    Oh, and i got another thing to say(Has to do with what Courtney said) We go to school for 6-7 hours right? Well my school maxed possible school time legally, and the Full time job for the average adult is about 7-9 hours. Yet we are expected to have 2-3 hours over our 6-7 hours in homework. Concidering we have been working in school our whole lives, i think we deserve rest time at home. Get what i am saying?

    February 24th, 2008 at 8:32 pm
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  23. Krystal says:

    I truly am glad there are other people that feel the way I do about the homework overload. I’m working on an essay about it right now. I find it really interesting that the people who advocate homework so much are those who don’t have to do it. Now apparently teenagers have become completely incompetent to know when it is to much, but they want us to learn responsibility. Then they wonder why so many people are depressed. Unless you’ve experienced homework you shouldn’t talk. Especially when they say its just two hours. NO, its two hours plus the six we go to school. Two hours is not true though, I spend anywhere from 4-8 is I’m lucky. SO don’t tell me that the real world will spit people like me out. I work and manage everything else I have to do and you know what I am/ will be fine. Apparently some people cannot count. It doesn’t ” build character. It destroys a childhood. Teachers also need to realize kids don’t just have school or just their class going on. God-for-bid we have a life outside school. Take a look at what is really going on!

    February 24th, 2008 at 8:35 pm
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  24. Sara Bennett says:

    Krystal: Will you send me a copy of your essay when it’s finished? You might have noticed that I sometimes publish students’ work on my blog.

    February 25th, 2008 at 1:35 pm
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  25. agrin says:

    i really think that we should have less homework
    i am a grade eight student and sometimes i end up doing more than 3 hours of homework.i wish life would not be this stressful for teens.

    March 3rd, 2008 at 10:49 pm
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  26. arwin says:

    next year i am going to go to high school and i am very scared because as a grade eight they give me lots of homework and if i go to high school for sure they will give even more.
    i think your right the teachers should give us less homework.

    March 3rd, 2008 at 11:27 pm
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  27. Sara Bennett says:

    One day a month doesn’t seem like too much to ask for. Have you talked to your student council representatives to see whether they would bring this up at a meeting?

    March 4th, 2008 at 12:30 pm
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  28. Anonymous says:

    im doing a dabate and this really helps but i think people should still get studying but its no fair for teachers to give us pages andpages of homework

    March 11th, 2008 at 11:44 am
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  29. aaliyah bradley says:

    i think that they should not have homework and i know that i have a 7th grade child and i know that when she gets out of school i have things to do with her and it is hard to get my plans done cause she has to do so much homework and i dont want to leave her home alone so i just wait until she is done and i cant make her not do it cause it is part of her grades and i dont want her failing her classes so i just wait

    March 14th, 2008 at 12:46 pm
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  30. u.c mami says:


    April 28th, 2008 at 9:30 pm
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  31. u.c mami says:


    April 28th, 2008 at 9:38 pm
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  32. Suat says:

    As a parent, I had seen the pain my daughter and son, suffered as they already knew the Math or science concepts yet they still have to complete the assigned homework by the teachers. Now they are home school. “No more homework”. They may have to do a lot more assignments eg 46 exercises for Math 20 Pure, 16 assignment + quizzes, for soc. st 20 but they are able to track along their own pace. As a highly discipline kids, they work in summer 4-7 hrs per day, take off 3 months holiday to South East Asia, and still able to complete all their courses, + playing Wii sports + hanging out with friends.
    All because they are not confined within the 4 walls of school. Knowing how to prioritize, home school is Totally flexible to fit their lifestyle.
    My daughter needs to train 4- 6 hrs per day for Arctic Winter Games, she did not complete any courses during training months, but once competition was over, she focused and set goals. She just completed both Science 10 and ELA10 and Soc St 10 in 3.5 months. ie classwork is home work at all time!
    They work on tasks assigned to succeed. All courses are meant to be completed within a yr but for any reasons need to be extended for another yr, it is permitted by paying $100 reregistration.

    July 3rd, 2008 at 3:35 am
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  33. Tony says:

    I tottaly agree with you homework is not fair… its just a reason to bore us students out of our mind… We already have 6 hours of school no fair: 🙂

    August 4th, 2008 at 2:51 am
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  34. Anonymous says:

    I am a sophomore and I am writing a persuasive essay in my English class and I could not agree more. This has been just in the past two months the hardest year of schooling for me, and I am a 4.0 student. That is with the homework and keeping up my grades. Thank you for posting this it is a huge help!

    October 15th, 2008 at 9:58 pm
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  35. Tyler says:

    I am a high school student and I am writing an essay on alternatives to homework. Homework is a problem because it is only benifitial to some students. My two mediocre solutions are not having homework and making homwork optional. Not having homework would be disastrous for students who do not do well on tests, and optional homework would make some students do nearly three times the work of the students who are better test-takers. A solution that I think would work is to lengthen the school day a little and provide optional quizzes on the new material to test understaning. Students who do not think they understand the material can do the homework at this time. Many of my teachers give out homework that is far too long and most times useless. My Algebra II teacher gives around twenty-five problems that take at least a minute apiece every night. I think that there are many improvements that could be made to everyday things that have not changed for the better in too long.

    October 29th, 2008 at 7:20 pm
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  36. Sara Bennett says:

    Tyler–Please send me a copy of your essay. I’d like to see your arguments and suggestions. Thanks.

    October 30th, 2008 at 2:28 pm
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  37. Hadley says:

    This essay makes a lot of sense. I’m a junior in high school and I have four to eight hours of homework every night. It’s hard enough going to school full-time. Now it seems like I don’t even get a break at home. On an average day, school ends at 3. After school I go to tennis practice, but I leave an hour early so I can get to work on time. I’m at work from 5:00-8:00 five days a week. By the time I get home, it’s around 8:30, and I still have to eat dinner, take a shower, do my chores, and finish all my homework. Most of the time I don’t get to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning, only to wake up again at 7 to get to school.

    It’s not fair for school to expect teenagers like me to get all our homework done to the best quality when we are on such a tight schedule. There is so much to do and so little time to do it. How are we supposed to find a balance when such a huge part of our lives are consumed by our schoolwork? There’s no room left for me to enjoy high school!

    Junior year is supposed to be your most important because it’s the one colleges look at the closest. This is why I think teachers should lighten the homework load for juniors and seniors so we can focus on more important things, like taking the SATs and applying for schools. There are other ways to get good grades in school besides doing homework. Teachers should assign more projects or classwork, or even make exams worth more points. Homework should be a tool to help us, not bring us down. The amount of homework we recieve on a daily basis should be significantly reduced so we can concentrate on the bigger issues we are faced with during these years.

    December 16th, 2008 at 8:41 pm
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  38. amatoriali says:

    Great web-site!!! You did an amazing job!!! I enjoyed watching the videos!!! You guys are great!
    Talking about ideas, theres this really good show, which I like a lot, and Im sure youve heared about it. Its called STOMP. What these guys do is so cool, I saw them live in NY. Im sure you can do the same and even better. It really turns people on. Just an idea, hope it could be any helpful.
    codec k
    panorami di

    December 22nd, 2008 at 2:01 am
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  39. AUBREY says:


    December 23rd, 2008 at 4:32 pm
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  40. Anonymous says:

    thats not the olny thing they dont even think about trees lol they should all stop giviing out so much homework

    February 3rd, 2009 at 1:34 pm
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  41. THE DEIANATOR says:

    but its just DUMB that they give out so much homework and they give out a lot to so they shud realy stop and think about mother nature

    February 3rd, 2009 at 1:37 pm
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  42. Someone who is very upset right now. says:

    I am currently in an Honors English class and receiving upwards of 5 hours of homework in that class alone, not to mention Honors Chemistry and other classes. For example, on this past Thursday night we had to read the entirety of and analyze symbolism in a 200 page novel. We also had three snow days two weeks ago from the big Northeast storm, and received over 25 pages to analyze and memorize details from through the internet. Each night, we would receive more homework over the computer and the day we came back to school we were tested on the papers’ details.
    In the past two years, the earliest I have gotten to sleep on a school night is about 2:30, and I have to wake up at 6:00 to get to school on time.
    This stress is extremely disgusting.

    February 10th, 2009 at 1:20 am
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  43. Janet says:

    Add to this that teachers sometimes have no sense of how long on average, an assignment takes. When my 6th grader brought home yet another Algebra with Pizzaz worksheet on solving proportions, I decided to see how long it would take me to complete. Writing non-stop, I finished half the assigment in about 25 minutes, at which point I’d had enough. Each problem took 3 to 4 steps. I never had to stop to think about the process and I made no mistakes. So how long does it take a child who is hasn’t yet mastered the material, or makes some mistakes, or gets frustrated? And if the child has no problems, then what’s the point in doing so many problems? Now, apply this to writing assignments, review questions, spelling word study, research papers. How long would it take the teacher to complete the same assignment?

    Here’s a novel concept: structure time into each period for students to work independently on assigments, with all the resources they might need on hand, including a teacher to offer guidance. You’ve now created a more level playing field and you are serving as a facilator of learning rather than a dispenser of information.

    I know some teachers will argue that rigorous homework better prepares students for the realities of college. But last time I looked, a typical college load is 15 to 18 hours. That’s 3 – 3.6 hours spent in class each day. Less time commuting, and resources, including study partners, close at hand. And none of the typical after school activites: scouts, religious events, music or dance lessons. And college students have some say in the school and the program. And they don’t have homework during semester breaks or over the summer.

    February 22nd, 2009 at 9:42 pm
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  44. Janet says:

    I wonder if Lincoln, were he a high school student today, would have found time for reading and thinking.

    February 22nd, 2009 at 11:13 pm
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  45. Anonymous says:

    Janet, Lincoln would have to choose between reading and thinking or not failing his course. Lousy choices, wouldn’t you say?

    My daughter loves anthropology and is taking a course in it this semester. The other day she was sitting in the usual big maroon chair, calculus textbook open before her. Her brow was furrowed in rapt concentration, she was completely engrossed. Hmmm, I thought. So I quietly ambled over and took a peek.

    My husband had left an anthropology book lying around by mistake (we have to hide books) and she’s picked it up. Now it was captivating her attention. I looked at her and thought, I’m supposed to take this away from her, right?

    I stood there. She wasn’t watching tv (and as a friend once said, and if tv is what they choose to do in their free time, it’s their free time. But she wasn’t watching tv!), she wasn’t reading Gossip Girl, she wasn’t doing her nails, she wasn’t on Facebook, she was reading a book about Neanderthals! And Heather, the first grade teacher, might very well tell me I did the right thing when I finally did ask her to get back to math.

    We aren’t letting our kids read and think anymore unless it’s prescribed. Heather, the first grade teacher tells us our kids will fail at college and life if we do.

    Are we growing intellectuals and creative geniuses or dutiful middle managers?

    February 23rd, 2009 at 8:45 am
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  46. Maggy says:

    This site is really superb!!! Thank you for you work! Good Luck

    May 24th, 2009 at 2:06 am
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  47. Anonymous says:

    homework on weekends is an intrusion on family time- you are only young once- at least wait until your mid-life crisis to have so much pressure you want to snap- lay off these kids

    September 17th, 2009 at 6:41 pm
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  48. gene k says:

    I am a grade 10 student in canada and I have 3 core classes this semester (none optional) and i would just like to point out that students going to school 6 hours a day can get just as stressed as a parentgoing to work 8 hours a day. its not just the fact that we are not getting a social life but we are getting mentally hurt in the fact that people can be ruined by the extra homework. we should be given 6 hours of school a day (not including lunch) but at most 2 hours of homework a night everything shouldnt matter like sleep or eating those are needs schooling is an option in actuallity.

    February 4th, 2010 at 4:47 pm
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  49. Maryam says:

    Hey Chris,

    You have to check out this movie Race to Nowhere by Vicki Abeles

    Bring it to your school it talks about everything Mad tea believes in.

    We just saw it and it reminded me of your blog!!!!

    March 5th, 2010 at 9:54 pm
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  50. bethany says:

    I agree with this article. I am in eleventh grade and I do my homework every night and on the weekend. It is just too much but I have to do it to keep grades up. But I just have no time to do anything I want to do for enjoyment or relaxation. It’s awful. It makes a person feel overwhelmed.

    October 18th, 2010 at 8:16 pm
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  51. Anonymous says:

    I strongly agreed
    That is true students don’t need too much homework we have
    6 hours of class work each day plus homework what
    do teachers thing we are? Students with hundreds brains?
    We are still kids we need more time and not have to thing about school work ALL THE TIME!!!!!!!!!!!! i hate school.

    November 11th, 2010 at 3:50 am
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  52. spencer haley says:

    sara, i cant a agree more. i just wrote an essay on this same topic. it sounds like we think a like. all schools should not assign hw. there is still studying that has to be done at home and why should there be hw?

    April 6th, 2011 at 10:15 am
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  53. Sara Bennett says:

    Spencer–Please post your essay in the comments section so we can read it. Thanks!

    April 6th, 2011 at 3:49 pm
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  54. Jay says:

    Haha, what an interesting article. It’s amazing the amount of work some students have to do, or rather, the amount of homework teachers nowadays expect us to do. We shouldn’t be forced to work an ungodly amount of hours in exchange for our well-being!
    evergreen articles and traffic

    June 5th, 2011 at 3:19 am
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  55. Anonymous says:

    my schedule a sixth grade student

    5.45 to 6.45 wake up have shower and breakfast and leave for school
    7.00am to 2.00 pm school and sports
    2.00 to 5.00 pm extra classes
    5.00 to 6.00 pm relax eat breakfast
    7.00pm to 11.00pm homework
    11.00 pm to 11.30 dinner
    11.30 to 5.45 go to bed and sleep

    August 23rd, 2011 at 3:18 am
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  56. nooby says:

    oof tat is too much work for u and sh3e didn’t say ting bout him and i said 2 hrs now b/c or the noobs and more nooby noovsm and for him!!!!!!!!

    October 19th, 2011 at 4:18 pm
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  57. Anonymous says:

    homework is not fun

    November 16th, 2011 at 12:18 pm
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  58. Anonymous says:

    i agree

    November 16th, 2011 at 4:11 pm
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  59. Dac says:

    i would rather do sports than homework

    November 16th, 2011 at 4:13 pm
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  60. Dac says:

    i would rather do sports

    November 16th, 2011 at 4:14 pm
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  61. Anonymous says:

    This post completely disregards the fact that on average American high school students only spend an hour on homework a night and this number is decreasing. The figures are misbased and unsupported in their research. Guessing at time management of high schoolers is incredibly irresponsible if you are trying to make a serious effort to analyze the problem with America’s declinging public education system. Instead you should focus on three key areas that encompass all the variables influencing the system: changes in society, the schools and the system’s functions, and the structure and policy surrounding the education system. There is validity in that some students are over worked, but the majority are choosing to prioritize other aspects over their education.

    December 2nd, 2011 at 11:11 am
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  62. Alexandra says:


    January 12th, 2012 at 10:01 pm
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  63. Alexandra says:

    thank you so much Sara you gave me ideas for my no more homework essay

    January 12th, 2012 at 10:04 pm
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  64. Sara Bennett says:

    You’re welcome, Alexandra. Good luck with your essay.

    January 12th, 2012 at 10:58 pm
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  65. Anonymous says:

    homework only takes away time that kids have in which they could be using to do chores etc. but teachers and school board members fail to see and understand that.

    February 8th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
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