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Study: the downside of too much homework

Stanford researcher examines attitudes in 10 high-performing high schools

A survey of more than 4,000 students from 10 high-performing high schools showed that excessive homework produces unhealthy levels of stress, sleep deprivation and related health problems as well as reduced social engagement, a Stanford researcher has found.

Denise Clark Pope, senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, co-authored this new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Education.

She and her colleagues used open-ended questions to examine perceptions about homework, behavioral engagement and student well-being in 4,317 students in California communities where the median household income exceeded $90,000 a year.

Too much homework can diminish its effectiveness and be counterproductive, said Pope and her colleagues, citing prior research suggesting that homework benefits plateau at about two hours per night and that 90 minutes to two-and-a-half hours is optimal for high school students.

Fifty-six percent of the students surveyed considered homework a primary source of stress, the study said. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33% said it was the pressure to get good grades. Less than 1% said homework was not a cause of stress.

In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems, including headaches, exhaustion, weight loss and stomach problems.

Pope and her colleagues reported that spending too much time on homework meant students were "not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills," failing to pursue hobbies they enjoy, dropping activities and not keeping up with family and friends.

"Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good," Pope wrote.

Ideally, homework "should have a purpose and benefit, and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development.

"...Busy work, by its very nature, discourages learning and instead promotes doing homework simply to get points."

Mollie Galloway of Lewis and Clark College and Jerusha Conner of Villanova University co-authored the paper with Pope. Pope is also the co-founder of Challenge Success, a research-based expansion of the Stressed-Out Students Project at Stanford University that develops curriculum, conferences and other programs for students, schools and parents.

Pleasanton Weekly staff.

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