Study: the downside of too much homework

Stanford researcher examines attitudes in ten high-performing high schools

A survey of more than 4,000 students from ten 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 percent said it was the pressure to get good grades. Less than 1 percent 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.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 12, 2014 at 7:14 am

I wonder how much homework per night Denise Clark Pope did, and still does, to become a senior lecturer at Stanford?

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Posted by Whatever
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 12, 2014 at 8:47 am

What a silly comment. Children have different needs for healthy development than adults. Perhaps you should take some time and learn of Mrs. Pope's work. She's extensively published.

I love it when people feel like it is their job to simply be critical of others. Didn't you ever learn if you have nothing nice to say, don't say it at all?

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Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 12, 2014 at 11:59 am

Finland has the finest education system on Earth. No homework at all there.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 12, 2014 at 1:36 pm


You're like the pot calling the kettle black.

Why not post a comment related to the article and leave my comment alone?

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Posted by Whatever
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 12, 2014 at 2:36 pm

What!? You can't handle a little criticism? That's funny.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 12, 2014 at 6:51 pm


What I can't handle is hypocrisy.

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Posted by Wonderbar
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2014 at 8:38 am

When my son comes home from his high school at around 5 ( after playing a sport), and he is up until about 11:00 doing homework non-stop, taking a break only for dinner, I get concerned that he is missing something. When his weekend is spent worrying the entire time about the hours and hours of work he has before Monday, he is stressed. I think Pope is onto something.

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Posted by Concerned Mom
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 13, 2014 at 1:00 pm

I couldn't agree more about too much homework. When my daughter was in Kindergarten she had homework to do and by third grade she was spending 3 hours a night. Now that she is a senior in high school I find there is little free time for her to just be a teen and have fun with friends. But she has learned to hate school and it has been a real struggle to get her to finish. I somehow doubt homework is really helping the kids to learn the material and be able to apply it to life if the standardized test scores are anything to judge by.

Like this comment
Posted by Another Mom
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 13, 2014 at 4:11 pm

My daughter is in 7th grade and is an A+ student. I am proud of her, but the other half of me worries about too much homework and the time she spends on it. She doesn't come out of her room until 8pm or 9pm. It's great to be learning, but it is also great to live your life. There needs to be a balance, whatever that may be.

I take her traveling and we learn about the places we go. Real life experience really great too. It stays with you and you don't feel like you had to work hard to learn it. We must have hit 8 California missions in 5th grade.

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Posted by College
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Mar 16, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Rather than continuing to promote a position with which most agree, I'd like to see Pope use her position to come up with solutions...many of which lie at the college level.

Kids are free to take classes with less homework. Unfortunately those courses don't impress the colleges. An alternative is to take the tougher courses (curriculum defined nationally by the AP folks). However, not putting in the outside time, and performing poorly in those courses also does not impress colleges (although a "B" would often be fine).

Much of the problem is driven by what colleges are demanding, and what kids (and their parents) are doing to impress the colleges. Why doesn't Pope work with colleges to get them to cap the number of advanced courses they'll consider in admissions? Why doesn't Pope work with the State to expand the number of UC opportunities for in-State kids? (Right now it takes a GPA over 4.0 to get into many of the UC's).

If expectation levels are reduced...either by colleges or by students/parents, then the workloads would more easily go down. Come up with solutions for problem...then I'll be impressed. Just stating over and over that too much homework isn't good...that's hardly novel PhD level work.

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