Kindergartners Do Too Much Homework, Study Says, and High-Schoolers Don’t Do Enough

Too much homework too early does not a happy family make.

Photo by Shyamalamuralinath/Shutterstock

How much homework is too much, and how much is just right? Parents, teachers, and of course their student charges have been pondering that question for generations. In the past decade, the National PTA and the National Education Association weighed in on the debate by endorsing the so-called 10-Minute Rule derived from extensive research conducted by Duke University professor Harris Cooper: a maximum combined total of 10 minutes a night starting in first grade, plus an additional 10 for every subsequent grade. That means that a third-grader should be doing roughly 30 minutes a night and a twelfth-grader should be doing 120. And kindergartners shouldn’t be doing any.

But a new study published Wednesday by the American Journal of Family Therapy found that the youngest students were getting assigned significantly more than this amount of homework: “Contrary to the 10 Minute Rule,” the study says, “primary school children received about three times the recommended load of homework.” Kindergartners were averaging almost 25 minutes a night, “which may be both taxing for the parents and overwhelming for the children”—ya think?—and interfere with the more developmentally appropriate focus on socialization and fine motor skills. First- and second-graders, meanwhile, were clocking in at nearly 30 minutes a night.

And another thing, for anyone hoping that the worksheet-burdened young children of today will turn into the Nobel Prize winners of tomorrow: The study, conducted by researchers at Brown University School of Medicine, Children’s National Health System, Brandeis University, Rhode Island College, and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, affirmed previous research that an “overload of homework is associated with a decrement in performance” in elementary-aged children.

The study—based on surveys of more than 1,100 English- and Spanish-speaking parents of kids from kindergarten through twelfth grade in the Providence, Rhode Island, area in 2012 and 2013—also found that, while early-elementary students were being assigned too much homework, high-schoolers, who benefit more from homework, were being assigned too little, with most of them averaging less than an hour a night.

The study also looked at the relationship between family stress and homework and found, predictably, that stress increased with homework quantity. More educated parents were generally less stressed about homework than those with less education, and families with parents without a college degree were twice as likely to fight about homework. In homework, as in so many other aspects of education, the generational disparities endure.