Is homework unfair to low-income children?

France's president says that poorer children suffer because they can't get enough help from parents. But the problem isn't the quantity of work, it's the quality.

By Jonathan Berr Dec 4, 2012 9:49AM
Mother helping son with homework -- KidStock, Blend Images, Getty ImagesFrench President Francois Hollande has declared war on homework, arguing that it puts poor kids at a disadvantage because they are less likely to be able to get assistance from parents and other adults. The idea, which has been advocated in the past in the U.S., stands little chance of becoming a reality.

Hollande, who was elected in May, is right that there is an achievement gap between rich and poor students. The Washington Post quotes him as saying "work should be done at school, rather than at home." Getting rid of homework, though, will do little to level the academic playing field. In fact, it might make it worse.

"Disadvantaged kids have fewer resources for learning outside school, so removing homework might actually widen the achievement gap, not narrow it," writes Harris Cooper, professor and chair of the Duke University's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, in an email. "There are much better ways to close the achievement gap."

Evidence abounds that schools are assigning younger students increasing amounts of homework even though experts say it won't lead to higher academic achievement. A study cited by found that children age 6-to-8 spend an average of 123 minutes per week on homework, nearly three times the 44-minute average in 1981. This is not the case with older students.  
It's also not how things are done in other parts of the world. For instance, Japan, where students are forced to spend countless hours cramming for high school and college entrance exams, doesn't allow homework for younger students, according to Pennsylvania State University professor Gerald LeTendre. Many parents are not happy that their young kids have so much work to do.

"It takes up a lot of family time," he said. "This is where parents are getting very reactionary and very angry."

Between kindergarten and second grade, it's best that children have no homework. As they get older, they can handle about 10 minutes per day, increasing by 10 minutes per grade. Middle school kids can handle about an hour and half. High schoolers can go even longer depending on their classes, according to Cooper.
According to data cited by the National Education Association, most U.S. students spend less than an hour per day on homework, a statistic that has not changed much over the past 50 years. American kids are in the middle of the pack when it comes to homework when compared with their peers around the world. The problem isn't the quantity of work, it's quality.

There are some U.S. experts who echo Hollande's views. What they fail to realize, however, is that homework, like everything else, is fine in moderation.

--Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter@jdberr

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Dec 4, 2012 2:29PM

Getting rid of homework for the sake of the lower income kids is like accepting ebonics as a real language to appease the gangsta kids.  It's a cop out and lowering the standards so ALL can achieve.  What BS.

Dec 4, 2012 5:08PM
I rarely asked my parents for help with homework.   Of course, that was 40 years ago when we were held accountable for  our own actions.  If you pay attention in class, you can do your homework by yourself.  Help with homework should be needed very rarely.  The kids I see today simply rely on their parents to do the homework for them, so they don't bother paying attention in class -- and that doesn't do anyone any good.  I can't see why this is even an issue.  If you want to eliminate homework, then lengthen the school day by a couple hours and cut down on all the excessive vacation time.  
Dec 4, 2012 12:35PM

Just a shout out - one place that often has free volunteer tutors to help lower-income children with homework is the library.  I've been a tutor there for awhile, and it's very rewarding to work with kids.  I usually saw a huge improvement in reading and arithmatic skills, in only a few weeks, when working with them a few times a week.  Most of the people who took advantage of this were recent immigrents, who may not have the background in English to cover all of the work with them.  Also, I got to know people from all over the world!  Great for both volunteering, and as a resource. 

Dec 4, 2012 6:00PM
My God, lets coddle these kids until they can't function!  It's no wonder our way of life is in such trouble.  Liberals.........sheesh!
Dec 4, 2012 2:57PM
Liberal democrats have dumbed down education with their utopian ideas of Ebonics, feel good curriculums, and no grade courses, along with their hostility toward testing. They just cant deal with low income and minority students scoring lower. Just like they cant deal with other achievement gaps. So instead of focusing on the problem they try to equalize the results. As usual their agenda consists of rewarding the  dumb and lazy  while penalizing achievers. If there are no grades or scores , nobody stands out on either spectrum and everyone is dumb and happy.
Dec 4, 2012 7:46PM
Fair is a place where they judge pigs. Many young children today are being raised by the half wit victims of modern education and teachers unions. We grew up relatively poor but went to schools where we would get our a$$es beat if we didn't learn. 40 to 50 children per class in run down buildings and brothers and nuns. We have all been very successful in life and so were most of our classmates.We did not learn about racial studies and perverted sexual practices. Just readin, writin and rithmatic with a little bit of history and geography thrown in. 
Dec 4, 2012 11:06AM
Dec 4, 2012 8:32PM

It's very simple! Education begins at HOME!

If the parents ignore the children, the children will do what THEY want, which in  most case isn't studing.  I'm sorry to then these become the Welfare, Housing Assistant, Food-Stamp,  Recipients. 

Dec 4, 2012 10:44PM
Don't give them poor babies home work. It's Not working anyway.

Then you won’t be putting the parents through this inconvenience and unnecessary time with their children. Then when they graduate from high school and they will graduate, they will be as smart as mommy and daddy. And just think in a few years they can vote. Wonder which party they will be a part of...... 

Dec 4, 2012 8:52PM
This HAS to be a joke. So...only poor people work?
Dec 4, 2012 10:03PM

I personally believe that around 70% of the teachers in the public schools have given up.  And I don't blame them.  Their hands are tied by liberal administrators, federal, and in some cases state (read California) leaders, administrators and school boards that are not interested in anything but the approval of the all-powerful teachers unions..  If you look at the uniion's priorities, they are 1) do not, under any circumstances hold a teacher accountable for anything under any circumstances (take a look at the situation in NYC where teachers that should have been fired years ago, sit in a room, read the paper and play cards), 2) teachers need more money, shorter hours and shorter school years, regardless of the financial situation of the taxed body (Chicago), (3) do not, under any circumstances, any way, any day mention "merit."


If I was in one of these situations where no one cared whether I did an outstanding job, or warmed a chair, where I counldn't get fired, where I was forced to pass minority and other students, regardless of skill level, where the curriculum was dumbed down to accomodate the dimmest bulb in the class, and, on top of that, where I couldn't get fired --- I would give up and warm the chair.


Like I said, if you want your kids to get an education, beg, borrow or steal to get them into a private school.

Dec 4, 2012 8:57PM
you control if you kid procrastinates... REMEMBER THAT PARENTS. ITS UP TO YOU
Dec 4, 2012 6:11PM

When high school graduates cannot read or write, question nothing, and live to play video games (the simple ones, of course, challenging ones will be banned as discriminatory), the liberals will be happy.


If you want your kids to get an education, you had better figure out a way to get them into a private school.  Its going to be the only path to an education that means anything.



Dec 4, 2012 9:44PM
my 13 yr old neice does  an average of 4 hr a day homework. while she does great in school. 4 hours a day. when does she have time to be a kid. Some homework is good, an hour or so, but 4 sometimes 5 hrs. come on.
Dec 4, 2012 10:58PM

If anyone is interested, the Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) program is an excellent way to help a disadvantaged child. I filled in one day before work for a volunteer who could not make her usual appointment with a disadvantaged, poor reader. I was amazed at how much the child improved his reading skills in just one short hour. It was very heartwarming.


I hated homework as a child, but that was 1963-1975, when teachers seemed to compete in regard to piling on homework -- and God forbid that one of us complained about our load. If we did, we got 10 more pages!


Too bad that our school systems cannot offer an extra hour per day after school to tutor children. In the long run, our world would be far more educated -- and likely better off. However, we live in a world whereby that would be out of reach for the budgets of many school systems.



Dec 4, 2012 8:06PM
So he is saying poor parents are lazy parents?
Dec 5, 2012 8:32AM
Maybe it is not the homework causing the problem.  Rather the poor parenting or lack there of.  It shouldn't be about how muchmoney you have, homework is homework.
Dec 4, 2012 9:49PM
Give me a break !!!!!!!!!!!!!  I had between 60 and 90 each night.  Weekends were a little worse as we had a longer time to do the work.  This amount of time is not that great as there are about 4-5 hours each evening to get this done.

Class of 1966

Dec 4, 2012 1:40PM
Hey the products of the 'public option' in education are indoctrinated good democrats.  They may not be able to read, write or perform math, beyond a 7th grade level, but they are good little democrats...

If only we have paid their teachers a lot more, maybe the kids education would not be as poor as it is.   Imagine had we paid those teachers 100% more!   The might be able to read at an 8th grade level!  

Sorry, public education, like the post office is a failure....  face facts...
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