GreatSchools Posts Several Articles on Homework

The website, Great Schools, just published a series of articles on homework, including an interview with me.

When I was doing research for my book, I found that everyone, including the National PTA and the National Education Association referred to the 10-minute rule, but I never did discover its origin. But in reading the pieces on GreatSchools, I discovered that so-called homework guru, Harris Cooper, made it up out of whole cloth:

So how can you know if your child is doing the right amount? Who came up with that 10-minutes-per-grade rule that’s become the accepted norm? (And if that is the magic number, why is my neighbor’s 8-year-old daughter doing two-plus hours a night?)

The oft-bandied rule on homework quantity — 10 minutes a night per grade (starting from between 10 to 20 minutes in first grade) — is ubiquitous. Indeed, go to the National Education Association’s website or the national Parent Teacher Association’s website, and 10 minutes per grade is the recommended amount for first through 12th grade.

But where did it come from? “The source [of that figure] was a teacher who walked up to me after a workshop I did about 25 years ago,” says Cooper. “I’d put up a chart showing middle school kids who reported doing an hour to an hour and a half were doing just as well as high schoolers doing two hours a night. The teacher said, ‘That sounds like the 10-minute rule.’” He adds with a laugh, “I stole the idea.”

14 thoughts on “GreatSchools Posts Several Articles on Homework

  1. Oh dear…that’s like poking a sharp stick at me through the cage bars.

    I always pictured the 10 minute rule getting its start around a table of grad students and Harris Cooper while discussing a research paper. It was a nobler vision than reality, apparently.

    I shouldn’t be surprised though. After he published a 30 page meta-analysis paper on homework whose results indicated that homework was of no use to elementary students, he still maintained that 10 minutes per grade of homework was a reasonable thing to do. While he didn’t have to say, “Don’t do homework”, the least he could have said was, “Homework provides no academic benefit” and left it at that.

    Reinforcing the 10 minute rule to a nation as acceptable educational practice based on an observation that 12 year olds do an average of 90 to 120 minutes of homework is not even close to science.

    Is the earth still flat too?


  2. Harris Cooper is just infuriating. Here’s a chunk from another article on the same site — about a child who procrastinates —

    The parents’ behavior can be just as important as the child’s. While Sarah’s studying, Cooper says her mom and dad should be engaged in activities that won’t interfere — reading a book or balancing the checkbook, for example. What’s more, their emotional response is important.

    “We have evidence that parents and children communicate emotions in the course of doing homework, so it’s really important to stay positive and relaxed,” Cooper explains. “Monitor the kid for frustration. Be a stage manager — make sure there’s a good place to study. Be a role model. Be a mentor when asked for help; offer guidance not solutions. Be a motivator — show them that it’s really important to succeed. And be on the same side as the teacher.”

    Women and children are constantly on the receiving end of this patronizing, clueless “advice”. (You know he’s not addressing fathers this way.) Mothers are presumed to be such idiots that we need to be reminded to provide “a place to study.” (So that’s the problem — we’ve been expecting the kid to do her worksheets in the bathtub!)

    Homework is imagined to be a pillar of middle-class family life. It’s a symbol of the disciplined, high-achieving family. It’s a cultural meme, like the one about Mom baking cookies for the kids. Nobody wants to look at the reality of an exhausted mother and child battling it out at the end of a long day.

    I’ve seen that “read a book or balance the checkbook” advice before. Really? Who balances their checkbook for a half-hour every night of the week? I like to read, but I bristle at people telling me to do it, and our kids do too.

    “Be a motivator — be on the same side as the teacher.” And who’s left to be on the child’s side?


  3. “Balance the checkbook” gives us a clue about the age of the people dreaming this up (they’d have to be at least 60, I would guess.) I don’t balance my checkbook, I read the Visa bill. But I don’t do that for a half hour every night of the week either.


  4. In my case, if I’m supposed to keep my emotional responses in check, looking at my VISA bill 5 nights a week would either cause depression and crying jags or make me so mad that I’d be cursing.

    Yeah, Harris Cooper has no right to be telling anyone what to do about anything. The whole approach in that paragraph FedUpMom copied is 1950’s……and I agree, very patronizing. It screams, “Make Nice and Teach Your Children to Make Nice too”


  5. That just turned my stomach. I feel like a fool. I bought in to the rule! Well, not entirely. I always said kids don’t need homework at all, they should be learning it in school (to which people tell me “but they are learning so much more than we did” and to which I reply “but why? they aren’t getting any smarter than we were. In fact, they are entering college LESS ready than we did!”) but I figured if we had to give them homework, the 10 – minutes sounded reasonable.
    Now I’m back to thinking homework is a waste of time.


  6. I find it interesting to hear what goes on when my 7th grader stays after school with others for homework help. She has told me of times when the teacher simply gives them the answers.

    This is the ridiculous bind parents are in. Of course we support the schools and learning, but we are not the teacher, so why are we placed in the position of being the teacher most nights of the week, for any amount of time? We have no discretion to change the rules — we puzzle things out with our children and hope our kids are not penalized if they don’t do the homework the “right” way.


  7. I’m shocked that Great Schools would publish anything negative about homework (or an article by Sara). This is the site that says there are no bad teachers….only a bad fit with your child. In addition, I have noticed negative reviews about elementary schools deleted from the site.


  8. Grow up. Homework is practice. If your son or daughter didn’t catch on during the day, then you are stuck re-teaching at night. It’s not surprising that the children of such whiny parents can’t sit down and pay attention. Additionally large portions of homework also come when off task students have to finish their work at home. You can’t waste large periods of time at school and expect that you won’t have to take the work home and do it. Grow up and teach your children some work ethic. Lazy Lazy Lazy parents.


  9. Seriously…there isn’t a lazy parent that I’ve come across yet who writes in here.

    Kids are wasting their time at school if they are required to come home and do schoolwork at home. That’s why we parents are demanding more accountability from our schools and not permitting teachers to download their work onto us. We have jobs. If teachers cannot do theirs in the 6 hours they get with our youngsters, that’s not my problem.

    I’m busy being a very good parent. I don’t deserve your disrespect.


  10. My son never had a day of homework in his life while attending a Montessori school. We recently had to switch him (mid 3rd grade) to a traditional private school. Academically he transitioned fine, which means he learned without homework and proves it IS possible to teach what they need in a school day, without re-drilling it into their heads each night. It has nothing to do with parents being lazy, we just know when something doesn’t feel right for our kids. My niece on the other hand loves homework, so to each his own. I’m so glad I found this site – I didn’t know about the idea of an opt out policy. I’m going to gather what I need and have a meeting with the Director – it should be interesting!


  11. Seriously says:

    If your son or daugh­ter didn’t catch on dur­ing the day, then you are stuck re-teaching at night.

    Since when? It’s the teacher’s job to teach, not mine. If I have to do all the teaching, it’s not a school, it’s daycare.

    Addi­tion­ally large por­tions of home­work also come when off task stu­dents have to fin­ish their work at home. You can’t waste large peri­ods of time at school and expect that you won’t have to take the work home and do it.

    The vast majority of homework has nothing to do with the individual child. The child who was on task all day gets the exact same homework as the child who was off task. The child who wasted time at school gets the exact same homework as the child who never wastes time. The gifted child gets the exact same homework as the learning disabled child. The child who understood the math last year has to do the same problem set as the child who still doesn’t understand it.

    Seriously, you seem to think that homework overload only happens to children with no “work ethic”. In my experience, the exact opposite is true. The best students, the ones with a strong work ethic and desire to succeed, suffer the most, and the most involved parents are the strongest fighters against the overload.


  12. Seriously- You sound very, very angry at parents. I am assuming you are a teacher. “It’s not suprising that children of such whiny parents can’t sit down and pay attention.” Do you really think there is a connection between “whiny parents” and children who aren’t paying attention? If children aren’t paying attention in the classroom, do you think there are other methods available in school to help them engage with the material?
    If not, don’t you think those “whiny parents” will be just as frustrated as you are trying to teach the curriculum at home?

    No offense, but I think your anger is misplaced. I think you should be angry at the system which has failed our children (and the teachers to a degree). If some kids need extra help with the curriculum, why is that help not available at the school? If you are a teacher and part of a powerful union, why isn’t your union rallying for more teachers’ aids to help in the classroom? If untrained parents can teach their kids at home just as well as trained professionals, why do teachers need certification? Would it be more effective to hire graduate students training to become teachers and work with kids in small group settings?

    I don’t pretend to have the answers to a myriad of questions we should all be asking. I do know that being at war with the parents will cause you to become more and more embittered and this feeling will filter down to the children. Maybe our New Year’s resolution should be to lay down all of the anger and bitterness and work on viable solutions. I have a question for you; if homework was off the table and money was no object, what solutions would you propose to help our kids have a meaningful, enriching, humane and thorough education?


  13. “Seriously” reminds me a lot of “teachermom”, who posted here:

    “teachermom” was also interested in the work ethic:

    soci­ety has cho­sen for schools to eval­u­ate both learn­ing and work ethic

    There’s several issues here.

    1.) There’s too much emphasis on evaluation, and not enough on learning.

    2.) Evaluating both learning and work ethic leads to crazy situations. For instance, it’s not unusual for a bright child to wind up with low grades because he learned the material with minimal effort (read the “Out of Left Field” blog.)

    3.) What is “work ethic”? Is it the ability to put aside your own interests and desires and do whatever you’re told to do, for as long as it takes, without asking questions? Whose interests does this serve?


  14. Seriously, you are right. I am so incredibly lazy that I pulled my daughter out of school for a year and homeschooled. And that year, we did not waste time. You know what? We got our academics done during the day and had plenty of time left over for play, hikes, Odyssey of the Mind, theatre, robotics, chorus, just to name a few.

    Learning was seamless in our home. Reading for pleasure was Charles Dickens and Wuthering Heights. Homeschoolers like to say, we do twice as much in half the time. We have an abiding motto in our home, Learning Never Ends. Corny, I know, but would that school would adopt the same credo.

    We are hardly lazy here. Instead of peering into my living room, why don’t you spend your time investigating what goes on during the school day and why so much has to come home in the first place. Because if the child and her parents have to do all the work, I may as well keep her home and make it official. No sane homeschooling parent would ever waste a child’s day and then start educating at the end of the day when the child is already exhausted.

    In homeschooling, my child awoke when she was rested, ate when she was hungry, and learned at the most optimal time of day for her. This tends to be the waking hours when they are the most fresh, the hours she’d be in school. This is a no brainer yet lost on school. What sane educator would ever expect a child to begin an essay at midnight and still be up seven hours later?

    And don’t give me that old canard, she waited till the last minute, because I watch, check in on her all the time, and can testify how much time homework eats up her life and how she is doing it most of her free time. And I can further testify how deleterious all that homework overload has been and how much it has robbed her of childhood.


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