Since 2000, the Brown Center has released an annual report taking on three important issues in education policy. In this thirteenth installment, author Tom Loveless presents analysis on the PISA-Shanghai controversy (in brief: by failing to take Shanghai’s Hukou laws into account, the test significantly overstates the city’s performance), Common Core implementation to date (Loveless finds that early-adopter states are showing bigger gains on NAEP, though we believe that it is far too early to draw conclusions), and homework in American schools (an update of a 2003 report on the same topic). The homework issue is particularly thorny, as anti-homework crusades—while in and out of the media spotlight—have maintained for the last decade that kids are being buried in piles of burdensome and ineffective homework. To discover if this is true, Loveless employs three methods. First, he looks at NAEP data from 1984–2012—specifically, at a survey question that asks nine-, thirteen-, and seventeen-year-olds how much time they spent on homework the day before. He found that the homework load has remained stable since 1984 (except among nine-year-olds, more of whom are doing some homework than were before) and that only a small percentage of students report more than two hours of homework per night (5–6 percent for age 9, 6–10 percent for age 13, and 10–13 percent for age 17). Second, Loveless looked at the Higher Education Research Institute’s annual survey of college freshmen, which has since 1986 queried students about how they spent their time in their final year of high school. The survey found that only 38.4 percent of students reported spending six or more hours per week on studying and homework, behind working for pay (40.9 percent), exercise or sports (53 percent), and socializing (66.2 percent). Third, he looked at the Met Life survey, which queried parents on their children’s homework loads in 1987 and 2007; he found that there was little change over the two-decade span in how parents perceived the quality and quantity of homework (the proportion giving poor ratings to either quantity or quality did not surpass 10 percent). In all, Loveless cautions that the “homework horror stories” in the press amount to nothing more than anecdotes that do not reflect the larger picture—and ought to be taken with a grain of salt.
SOURCE: Tom Loveless, 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, March 2014).