Homework woes

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
After finishing her graveyard shift at Bremerton Health and Rehabilitation Center, Julie Cone quizzed her son Mason, 7, on his homework at their South Kitsap, Wash., home before he headed off to school. (Associated Press)

Too much homework? Sorry, students, the adults aren't buying it.

Most parents say their children get the right amount of homework, and most teachers agree, according to an AP-AOL Learning Services Poll.

Even among the parents and teachers who say the load assigned these days is out of whack, more say it's too light -- not too heavy, according to the poll.

Locally, teachers agree with that, but parents and students say they think there is too much homework.

"Homework has to be meaningful, not busy work, or there's no point," says Bill Springer, a history and English teacher at Central High School. "I don't assign homework just to assign homework -- there has to be a reason."

Judith Matthews, a teacher of junior- and senior-level Spanish classes at Eagle Ridge School, has a different way of looking at homework.

"My students are assigned a lot of homework, but if they utilize their time correctly they're able to do most of it during the school day," she says. "I give homework that takes about an hour, but students can usually get at least half of it done in class if they use their time wisely."

Ted Towner, a senior at Central High School, says his homework load can vary from twenty minutes to four hours a night, depending on how much he is able to get done during his honors hour (similar to a study hall) during the day. Now that he is older, his parents don't really help him with his assignments, so Towner follows the national trend of more students turning to the Internet for help.

In the poll, 64 percent of parents said they have little trouble finding time to help with homework, and 57 percent said they spend the right amount of time helping out.

In some cases though, local parents say time is not the reason they're unable to help with homework.

"A lot of us parents who have kids that are 16 years old can't understand the new terms. We're part of the old school and sometimes it takes helping from the younger set, so my nephew who is in college usually helps my son with his homework, " said Georgia McMullen, whose son Paul is a sophomore at Central and averages about 90 minutes of homework a night. "I believe in that one hundred percent and I know several other parents who do as well."

Teachers, however, are skeptical about the support children get at home. Almost nine in 10 said parents don't set aside enough time to help.

By subject, math is the one that children need the most help with, parents and teachers agree.

As homework aids go, the Internet gets high marks, parents and teachers said in the AP-AOL Poll. More than 80 percent of both groups rated Internet resources as good or very good.

The survey also found:

* Less educated parents spend more time helping children with take-home assignments.

* The most affluent parents spend the least time helping their children with homework.

* Women spend an average 46 minutes a day helping with homework. Men spend 35 minutes.

* Black parents spend more time than Hispanics or whites on homework help.

* Public school students spend less time on homework than children in other schools.

So how much homework is too much? That's the question that elicits emotion, the one that sends parents to their school board asking why weary students must lug home huge book bags.

In the poll, only 19 percent of parents said their children get too much homework.

"My son works about 12 hours a week because I only let him work one day in the school week so he can do his [home]work and still have some free time, because free time is very important," said McMullen.

Such personal stories are real. But apparently they are not the national reality.

Parents polled said their children spend an average of 90 minutes a night on homework. The workload grows as the students do -- 78 minutes of homework a night in elementary school, 99 minutes in middle school and 105 in high school.

The AP-AOL poll of 1,085 parents and 810 teachers of children in kindergarten through 12th grade was conducted online Jan. 13 to 23 by Knowledge Networks after respondents were initially contacted by using traditional telephone polling. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for parents, 3.5 percentage points for teachers.

Associated Press writers Ben Feller, Elisabeth Goodridge, Will Lester, Juan-Carlos Rodriguez and Elizabeth White contributed to this story.

Emily Hendricks is a student at Southeast Missouri State University who freelances for the Southeast Missourian.

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