• February 29 Cardinals continue magical playoff run
  • February 28 Yearbook interest meeting debrief
  • February 27 A final performance
  • February 26 Introducing computing research to the new generation
  • February 26 Defeating silence

The student news site of Bellaire High School

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average amount of time spent on homework in high school

Students spend three times longer on homework than average, survey reveals

Sonya Kulkarni and Pallavi Gorantla | Jan 9, 2022


Graphic by Sonya Kulkarni

The National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association have suggested that a healthy number of hours that students should be spending can be determined by the “10-minute rule.” This means that each grade level should have a maximum homework time incrementing by 10 minutes depending on their grade level (for instance, ninth-graders would have 90 minutes of homework, 10th-graders should have 100 minutes, and so on).

As ‘finals week’ rapidly approaches, students not only devote effort to attaining their desired exam scores but make a last attempt to keep or change the grade they have for semester one by making up homework assignments.

High schoolers reported doing an average of 2.7 hours of homework per weeknight, according to a study by the Washington Post from 2018 to 2020 of over 50,000 individuals. A survey of approximately 200 Bellaire High School students revealed that some students spend over three times this number.

The demographics of this survey included 34 freshmen, 43 sophomores, 54 juniors and 54 seniors on average.

When asked how many hours students spent on homework in a day on average, answers ranged from zero to more than nine with an average of about four hours. In contrast, polled students said that about one hour of homework would constitute a healthy number of hours.

Junior Claire Zhang said she feels academically pressured in her AP schedule, but not necessarily by the classes.

“The class environment in AP classes can feel pressuring because everyone is always working hard and it makes it difficult to keep up sometimes.” Zhang said.

A total of 93 students reported that the minimum grade they would be satisfied with receiving in a class would be an A. This was followed by 81 students, who responded that a B would be the minimum acceptable grade. 19 students responded with a C and four responded with a D.

“I am happy with the classes I take, but sometimes it can be very stressful to try to keep up,” freshman Allyson Nguyen said. “I feel academically pressured to keep an A in my classes.”

Up to 152 students said that grades are extremely important to them, while 32 said they generally are more apathetic about their academic performance.

Last year, nine valedictorians graduated from Bellaire. They each achieved a grade point average of 5.0. HISD has never seen this amount of valedictorians in one school, and as of now there are 14 valedictorians.

“I feel that it does degrade the title of valedictorian because as long as a student knows how to plan their schedule accordingly and make good grades in the classes, then anyone can be valedictorian,” Zhang said.

Bellaire offers classes like physical education and health in the summer. These summer classes allow students to skip the 4.0 class and not put it on their transcript. Some electives also have a 5.0 grade point average like debate.

Close to 200 students were polled about Bellaire having multiple valedictorians. They primarily answered that they were in favor of Bellaire having multiple valedictorians, which has recently attracted significant acclaim .

Senior Katherine Chen is one of the 14 valedictorians graduating this year and said that she views the class of 2022 as having an extraordinary amount of extremely hardworking individuals.

“I think it was expected since freshman year since most of us knew about the others and were just focused on doing our personal best,” Chen said.

Chen said that each valedictorian achieved the honor on their own and deserves it.

“I’m honestly very happy for the other valedictorians and happy that Bellaire is such a good school,” Chen said. “I don’t feel any less special with 13 other valedictorians.”

Nguyen said that having multiple valedictorians shows just how competitive the school is.

“It’s impressive, yet scary to think about competing against my classmates,” Nguyen said.

Offering 30 AP classes and boasting a significant number of merit-based scholars Bellaire can be considered a competitive school.

“I feel academically challenged but not pressured,” Chen said. “Every class I take helps push me beyond my comfort zone but is not too much to handle.”

Students have the opportunity to have off-periods if they’ve met all their credits and are able to maintain a high level of academic performance. But for freshmen like Nguyen, off periods are considered a privilege. Nguyen said she usually has an hour to five hours worth of work everyday.

“Depending on the day, there can be a lot of work, especially with extra curriculars,” Nguyen said. “Although, I am a freshman, so I feel like it’s not as bad in comparison to higher grades.”

According to the survey of Bellaire students, when asked to evaluate their agreement with the statement “students who get better grades tend to be smarter overall than students who get worse grades,” responders largely disagreed.

Zhang said that for students on the cusp of applying to college, it can sometimes be hard to ignore the mental pressure to attain good grades.

“As a junior, it’s really easy to get extremely anxious about your GPA,” Zhang said. “It’s also a very common but toxic practice to determine your self-worth through your grades but I think that we just need to remember that our mental health should also come first. Sometimes, it’s just not the right day for everyone and one test doesn’t determine our smartness.”

Coach Bruce Glover speaks to the varsity basketball team during their playoff game against Jordan High School. The team won 39-38.

Leading with faith

HUMANS OF BELLAIRE - Trenton Gardner, 12

HUMANS OF BELLAIRE – Trenton Gardner, 12

Members of the varsity guitar team pose on the stairwell at the annual regional UIL competition. They are all competing with class 1 pieces.

A final performance

Ellis and Lee figure out the best way to film the shot. Lee works with the camera for the angles, and Ellis thinks about how she wants the scene to play out with the lines.

From watching films to directing one

Tran was a finalist at the 2024 UIL State Tournament which took place from January 10 - 11. It was held at the Texas State Capitol.

Chasing the golden gavel

Junior Shelton Henderson flies in for a fast-break dunk.

Cardinals continue magical playoff run

The yearbook editor-in-chiefs made a presentation at their interest meeting on Feb. 15. Senior and editor-in-chief Lucy Vestal talks about what yearbook staff does and how they serve their school.

Yearbook interest meeting debrief

Graduate student Jennifer Wang and Matthew Yeh from MIT and Harvard present the program schedule and lesson plans to students.

Introducing computing research to the new generation

Senior and president of AAA, Joshua Percy, presents about powerful black women in history. He points out how influential Sojourner Truth was in the abolition movement.

Defeating silence

Humans of Bellaire

Lily Parker, Annie Kong, Charlotte Heemer, Kaitlin Nguyen, and Beatrix Gnemi take a picture after playing in the Aggieland tournament.

Women’s lacrosse takes on Aggieland

Cadence Johnson swimming the breaststroke leg of the individual medley. Despite coming in fourth for this event, she got called back and will be competing in state.

‘I just had a feeling that I had the ability to’

Perez performs at a recital at the West University Community Center. The event was hosted by the music school she attends.

‘I believe that music can be understood by people from all walks of life’

Guos portrait of Jose Trejo won a Gold Key in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition. She completed the drawing in freshman year in Michelle Vassallos Advanced Art II class.

It doesn’t come easel-y

Millward poses with his close friends Livingston (left) and Caplan (right). They are all wearing thrifted clothes.

From rummage to riches

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Anonymous • Nov 21, 2023 at 10:32 am

It’s not really helping me understand how much.

josh • May 9, 2023 at 9:58 am

Kassie • May 6, 2022 at 12:29 pm

Im using this for an English report. This is great because on of my sources needed to be from another student. Homework drives me insane. Im glad this is very updated too!!

Kaylee Swaim • Jan 25, 2023 at 9:21 pm

I am also using this for an English report. I have to do an argumentative essay about banning homework in schools and this helps sooo much!

Izzy McAvaney • Mar 15, 2023 at 6:43 pm

I am ALSO using this for an English report on cutting down school days, homework drives me insane!!

E. Elliott • Apr 25, 2022 at 6:42 pm

I’m from Louisiana and am actually using this for an English Essay thanks for the information it was very informative.

Nabila Wilson • Jan 10, 2022 at 6:56 pm

Interesting with the polls! I didn’t realize about 14 valedictorians, that’s crazy.

clock This article was published more than  1 year ago

How false reports of homework overload in America have spread so far

Confusing debate suggests homework is too much when it’s often too little.

average amount of time spent on homework in high school

A previous version of this column mistakenly referred to the education nonprofit Challenge Success as College Success. The column has been corrected.

Recently I saw in the Phi Delta Kappan magazine an attack on homework by a California high school junior, Colin McGrath. Writing the piece as a letter to his younger brother , he said:

“In a 2020 Washington Post article , Denise Pope described what she learned from a survey of more than 50,000 high school students: On average, they complete 2.7 hours of homework a night . That means you won’t be able to play on the trampoline anymore, ride your bike, or explore any other facet of life.”

My reaction: Huh??!! I’ve spent two decades trying to dispel the myth that our kids all get too much homework. The truth, according to several scholarly sources, is that U.S. high school homework averages about an hour a night.

What most teenagers do with the rest of their free time has little connection to trampolines, bicycles or other healthy pursuits. Scholars say their favorite leisure activities are watching TV, playing video games or maybe both at the same time.

So I looked for that Sept. 1, 2020, article in my newspaper that McGrath mentioned. McGrath quoted Pope correctly. I missed that piece when it came out. Maybe most people did. I looked for Wikipedia’s official answer to this frequently asked question: How much time does the average teenager spend on homework?

I was horrified by what I saw, delivered to millions of Wikipedia users: “High schoolers reported doing an average of 2.7 hours of homework per weeknight, according to a study by The Washington Post from 2018 to 2020 of over 50,000 individuals.”

That’s wrong, but I am used to widespread falsehoods about homework overload. Otherwise responsible writers and filmmakers seem unable to resist adding to the hysteria. The popular 2009 film documentary “Race to Nowhere,” screened in 47 states and 20 countries, left the impression that young Americans everywhere were buckling under homework’s weight, yet the film never told viewers that the average amount is an just an hour a night.

Why ‘Race to Nowhere’ documentary is wrong

When Sara Bennett, an attorney and activist parent, and Nancy Kalish, a journalist specializing in parenting issues, went on the “Today” show in 2006 to publicize their book “The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It,” they said the average homework load had “skyrocketed.” They used that same word in their book.

They were sensationalizing the fact that the average time 6-to-8-year-olds spent on homework went from eight minutes a day in 1981 to 22 minutes a day in 2003. That supposedly awful demand on their time was the equivalent of watching two episodes of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research reported in 2003 an average of 50 minutes of homework each weekday for 15-to-17-year-olds, based on a nationally representative sample of 2,907 children and adolescents. A 2019 report by the Pew Research Center , based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, said 15-to-17- year-olds spent on average an hour a day on homework during the school year. The 2019 UCLA Higher Education Research Institute survey of 95,505 college freshmen reported 57 percent of those students, all good enough to get into college, recalled spending five hours or less a week on homework their senior year of high school. Research shows homework has little value in elementary school, but does correlate with higher achievement in high school.

The false notion of teenagers averaging 2.7 hours a night was incorrectly derived from a study by Challenge Success, a nonprofit organization that works on identifying problems and implementing best practices in schools. Pope, the author of the piece in my newspaper, is a co-founder of Challenge Success and a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

Pope is a wonderful writer and scholar whom I have quoted in the past. She can’t be blamed for Wikipedia saying wrongly the Challenge Success study was done by The Post. She also tried to tell readers that her study did NOT use a representative sample of U.S. teens.

She said the students in the study were all from “high-performing schools.” I only wish she had revealed that in the same sentence that she reported the 2.7-hours-per-night homework average. Her note that the study was confined to the best schools appeared in a different paragraph. That may explain why McGrath, Wikipedia and careless people like me failed, at least on first reading, to see that the sample was skewed.

The Weak Case Against Homework

Too much homework can be a problem in high-achieving schools that cater to middle- and upper-class children. But they represent only about half the country. People on my side of the argument would say that three hours of homework a night is fine if the courses raise achievement and college readiness. I don’t think our kids’ favorite pastimes, video games and TV, are as good for them as going deep into those courses. And even three hours of homework leaves another three hours or so each night (plus the weekend) for nonacademic pursuits.

My concern is the less advantaged students who bring the national average down to just one hour a night by doing little or no homework at all. Since 1996 I have been studying hundreds of unusually dedicated public high schools in low-income communities that have raised achievement for their students and made it far more likely they will succeed in college or whatever they do after high school.

Those schools consider homework vital. One of them was led by Deborah Meier, a hero to many progressive educators. She created New York City’s Central Park East High School, where the mostly low-income students heard much about the importance of using time wisely.

“We told our kids … that the school’s explicit work probably required a 40-hour week — maybe more, maybe less,” she said to me. The official school week was about 30 hours. So she kept the school open an extra 10 hours a week — maybe an hour before school, an hour after school and Saturday mornings.

She didn’t call the extra time homework, but made clear it was essential. “Everyone had more to read than could be done while at school — mostly five-plus hours a week,” she said, “and probably another five for exploring and preparing and revising work done during school hours.”

Pope thinks in similar ways. She sees her Challenge Success research “as a way to a much larger conversation about how to create more meaningful and engaging learning, … how to add time for advisory/tutorial and more student to teacher interaction, how to make all the kids in the school feel like they belong and are cared for.”

That will require more than our puny national homework average of an hour a night, after an inadequate average of five hours of class a day. More learning takes time. One step in the right direction would be accepting the need for regular homework, particularly in high school, and dispensing with falsehoods about giving kids too much to learn.

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average amount of time spent on homework in high school

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Adolescent girl doing homework.

What’s the Right Amount of Homework?

Decades of research show that homework has some benefits, especially for students in middle and high school—but there are risks to assigning too much.

Many teachers and parents believe that homework helps students build study skills and review concepts learned in class. Others see homework as disruptive and unnecessary, leading to burnout and turning kids off to school. Decades of research show that the issue is more nuanced and complex than most people think: Homework is beneficial, but only to a degree. Students in high school gain the most, while younger kids benefit much less.

The National PTA and the National Education Association support the “ 10-minute homework guideline ”—a nightly 10 minutes of homework per grade level. But many teachers and parents are quick to point out that what matters is the quality of the homework assigned and how well it meets students’ needs, not the amount of time spent on it.

The guideline doesn’t account for students who may need to spend more—or less—time on assignments. In class, teachers can make adjustments to support struggling students, but at home, an assignment that takes one student 30 minutes to complete may take another twice as much time—often for reasons beyond their control. And homework can widen the achievement gap, putting students from low-income households and students with learning disabilities at a disadvantage.

However, the 10-minute guideline is useful in setting a limit: When kids spend too much time on homework, there are real consequences to consider.

Small Benefits for Elementary Students

As young children begin school, the focus should be on cultivating a love of learning, and assigning too much homework can undermine that goal. And young students often don’t have the study skills to benefit fully from homework, so it may be a poor use of time (Cooper, 1989 ; Cooper et al., 2006 ; Marzano & Pickering, 2007 ). A more effective activity may be nightly reading, especially if parents are involved. The benefits of reading are clear: If students aren’t proficient readers by the end of third grade, they’re less likely to succeed academically and graduate from high school (Fiester, 2013 ).

For second-grade teacher Jacqueline Fiorentino, the minor benefits of homework did not outweigh the potential drawback of turning young children against school at an early age, so she experimented with dropping mandatory homework. “Something surprising happened: They started doing more work at home,” Fiorentino writes . “This inspiring group of 8-year-olds used their newfound free time to explore subjects and topics of interest to them.” She encouraged her students to read at home and offered optional homework to extend classroom lessons and help them review material.

Moderate Benefits for Middle School Students

As students mature and develop the study skills necessary to delve deeply into a topic—and to retain what they learn—they also benefit more from homework. Nightly assignments can help prepare them for scholarly work, and research shows that homework can have moderate benefits for middle school students (Cooper et al., 2006 ). Recent research also shows that online math homework, which can be designed to adapt to students’ levels of understanding, can significantly boost test scores (Roschelle et al., 2016 ).

There are risks to assigning too much, however: A 2015 study found that when middle school students were assigned more than 90 to 100 minutes of daily homework, their math and science test scores began to decline (Fernández-Alonso, Suárez-Álvarez, & Muñiz, 2015 ). Crossing that upper limit can drain student motivation and focus. The researchers recommend that “homework should present a certain level of challenge or difficulty, without being so challenging that it discourages effort.” Teachers should avoid low-effort, repetitive assignments, and assign homework “with the aim of instilling work habits and promoting autonomous, self-directed learning.”

In other words, it’s the quality of homework that matters, not the quantity. Brian Sztabnik, a veteran middle and high school English teacher, suggests that teachers take a step back and ask themselves these five questions :

  • How long will it take to complete?
  • Have all learners been considered?
  • Will an assignment encourage future success?
  • Will an assignment place material in a context the classroom cannot?
  • Does an assignment offer support when a teacher is not there?

More Benefits for High School Students, but Risks as Well

By the time they reach high school, students should be well on their way to becoming independent learners, so homework does provide a boost to learning at this age, as long as it isn’t overwhelming (Cooper et al., 2006 ; Marzano & Pickering, 2007 ). When students spend too much time on homework—more than two hours each night—it takes up valuable time to rest and spend time with family and friends. A 2013 study found that high school students can experience serious mental and physical health problems, from higher stress levels to sleep deprivation, when assigned too much homework (Galloway, Conner, & Pope, 2013 ).

Homework in high school should always relate to the lesson and be doable without any assistance, and feedback should be clear and explicit.

Teachers should also keep in mind that not all students have equal opportunities to finish their homework at home, so incomplete homework may not be a true reflection of their learning—it may be more a result of issues they face outside of school. They may be hindered by issues such as lack of a quiet space at home, resources such as a computer or broadband connectivity, or parental support (OECD, 2014 ). In such cases, giving low homework scores may be unfair.

Since the quantities of time discussed here are totals, teachers in middle and high school should be aware of how much homework other teachers are assigning. It may seem reasonable to assign 30 minutes of daily homework, but across six subjects, that’s three hours—far above a reasonable amount even for a high school senior. Psychologist Maurice Elias sees this as a common mistake: Individual teachers create homework policies that in aggregate can overwhelm students. He suggests that teachers work together to develop a school-wide homework policy and make it a key topic of back-to-school night and the first parent-teacher conferences of the school year.

Parents Play a Key Role

Homework can be a powerful tool to help parents become more involved in their child’s learning (Walker et al., 2004 ). It can provide insights into a child’s strengths and interests, and can also encourage conversations about a child’s life at school. If a parent has positive attitudes toward homework, their children are more likely to share those same values, promoting academic success.

But it’s also possible for parents to be overbearing, putting too much emphasis on test scores or grades, which can be disruptive for children (Madjar, Shklar, & Moshe, 2015 ). Parents should avoid being overly intrusive or controlling—students report feeling less motivated to learn when they don’t have enough space and autonomy to do their homework (Orkin, May, & Wolf, 2017 ; Patall, Cooper, & Robinson, 2008 ; Silinskas & Kikas, 2017 ). So while homework can encourage parents to be more involved with their kids, it’s important to not make it a source of conflict.

How Much Homework Is Too Much for Our Teens?

Here's what educators and parents can do to help kids find the right balance between school and home.

Does Your Teen Have Too Much Homework?

Today’s teens are under a lot of pressure.

They're under pressure to succeed, to win, to be the best and to get into the top colleges. With so much pressure, is it any wonder today’s youth report being under as much stress as their parents? In fact, during the school year, teens say they experience stress levels higher than those reported by adults, according to a previous American Psychological Association "Stress in America" survey.

Odds are if you ask a teen what's got them so worked up, the subject of school will come up. School can cause a lot of stress, which can lead to other serious problems, like sleep deprivation . According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night, but only 15 percent are even getting close to that amount. During the school week, most teens only get about six hours of zzz’s a night, and some of that sleep deficit may be attributed to homework.

When it comes to school, many adults would rather not trade places with a teen. Think about it. They get up at the crack of dawn and get on the bus when it’s pitch dark outside. They put in a full day sitting in hours of classes (sometimes four to seven different classes daily), only to get more work dumped on them to do at home. To top it off, many kids have after-school obligations, such as extracurricular activities including clubs and sports , and some have to work. After a long day, they finally get home to do even more work – schoolwork.

[Read: What Parents Should Know About Teen Depression .]

Homework is not only a source of stress for students, but it can also be a hassle for parents. If you are the parent of a kid who strives to be “perfect," then you know all too well how much time your child spends making sure every bit of homework is complete, even if it means pulling an all-nighter. On the flip side, if you’re the parent of a child who decided that school ends when the last bell rings, then you know how exhausting that homework tug-of-war can be. And heaven forbid if you’re that parent who is at their wit's end because your child excels on tests and quizzes but fails to turn in assignments. The woes of academics can go well beyond the confines of the school building and right into the home.

This is the time of year when many students and parents feel the burden of the academic load. Following spring break, many schools across the nation head into the final stretch of the year. As a result, some teachers increase the amount of homework they give. The assignments aren’t punishment, although to students and parents who are having to constantly stay on top of their kids' schoolwork, they can sure seem that way.

From a teacher’s perspective, the assignments are meant to help students better understand the course content and prepare for upcoming exams. Some schools have state-mandated end of grade or final tests. In those states these tests can account for 20 percent of a student’s final grade. So teachers want to make sure that they cover the entire curriculum before that exam. Aside from state-mandated tests, some high school students are enrolled in advanced placement or international baccalaureate college-level courses that have final tests given a month or more before the end of the term. In order to cover all of the content, teachers must maintain an accelerated pace. All of this means more out of class assignments.

Given the challenges kids face, there are a few questions parents and educators should consider:

Is homework necessary?

Many teens may give a quick "no" to this question, but the verdict is still out. Research supports both sides of the argument. Personally, I would say, yes, some homework is necessary, but it must be purposeful. If it’s busy work, then it’s a waste of time. Homework should be a supplemental teaching tool. Too often, some youth go home completely lost as they haven’t grasped concepts covered in class and they may become frustrated and overwhelmed.

For a parent who has been in this situation, you know how frustrating this can be, especially if it’s a subject that you haven’t encountered in a while. Homework can serve a purpose such as improving grades, increasing test scores and instilling a good work ethic. Purposeful homework can come in the form of individualizing assignments based on students’ needs or helping students practice newly acquired skills.

Homework should not be used to extend class time to cover more material. If your child is constantly coming home having to learn the material before doing the assignments, then it’s time to contact the teacher and set up a conference. Listen when kids express their concerns (like if they say they're expected to know concepts not taught in class) as they will provide clues about what’s happening or not happening in the classroom. Plus, getting to the root of the problem can help with keeping the peace at home too, as an irritable and grumpy teen can disrupt harmonious family dynamics .

[Read: What Makes Teens 'Most Likely to Succeed?' ]

How much is too much?

According to the National PTA and the National Education Association, students should only be doing about 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level. But teens are doing a lot more than that, according to a poll of high school students by the organization Statistic Brain . In that poll teens reported spending, on average, more than three hours on homework each school night, with 11th graders spending more time on homework than any other grade level. By contrast, some polls have shown that U.S. high school students report doing about seven hours of homework per week.

Much of a student's workload boils down to the courses they take (such as advanced or college prep classes), the teaching philosophy of educators and the student’s commitment to doing the work. Regardless, research has shown that doing more than two hours of homework per night does not benefit high school students. Having lots of homework to do every day makes it difficult for teens to have any downtime , let alone family time .

How do we respond to students' needs?

As an educator and parent, I can honestly say that oftentimes there is a mismatch in what teachers perceive as only taking 15 minutes and what really takes 45 minutes to complete. If you too find this to be the case, then reach out to your child's teacher and find out why the assignments are taking longer than anticipated for your child to complete.

Also, ask the teacher about whether faculty communicate regularly with one another about large upcoming assignments. Whether it’s setting up a shared school-wide assignment calendar or collaborating across curriculums during faculty meetings, educators need to discuss upcoming tests and projects, so students don’t end up with lots of assignments all competing for their attention and time at once. Inevitably, a student is going to get slammed occasionally, but if they have good rapport with their teachers, they will feel comfortable enough to reach out and see if alternative options are available. And as a parent, you can encourage your kid to have that dialogue with the teacher.

Often teens would rather blend into the class than stand out. That’s unfortunate because research has shown time and time again that positive teacher-student relationships are strong predictors of student engagement and achievement. By and large, most teachers appreciate students advocating for themselves and will go the extra mile to help them out.

Can there be a balance between home and school?

Students can strike a balance between school and home, but parents will have to help them find it. They need your guidance to learn how to better manage their time, get organized and prioritize tasks, which are all important life skills. Equally important is developing good study habits. Some students may need tutoring or coaching to help them learn new material or how to take notes and study. Also, don’t forget the importance of parent-teacher communication. Most educators want nothing more than for their students to succeed in their courses.

Learning should be fun, not mundane and cumbersome. Homework should only be given if its purposeful and in moderation. Equally important to homework is engaging in activities, socializing with friends and spending time with the family.

[See: 10 Concerns Parents Have About Their Kids' Health .]

Most adults don’t work a full-time job and then go home and do three more hours of work, and neither should your child. It's not easy learning to balance everything, especially if you're a teen. If your child is spending several hours on homework each night, don't hesitate to reach out to teachers and, if need be, school officials. Collectively, we can all work together to help our children de-stress and find the right balance between school and home.

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11 Surprising Homework Statistics, Facts & Data

homework pros and cons

The age-old question of whether homework is good or bad for students is unanswerable because there are so many “ it depends ” factors.

For example, it depends on the age of the child, the type of homework being assigned, and even the child’s needs.

There are also many conflicting reports on whether homework is good or bad. This is a topic that largely relies on data interpretation for the researcher to come to their conclusions.

To cut through some of the fog, below I’ve outlined some great homework statistics that can help us understand the effects of homework on children.

Homework Statistics List

1. 45% of parents think homework is too easy for their children.

A study by the Center for American Progress found that parents are almost twice as likely to believe their children’s homework is too easy than to disagree with that statement.

Here are the figures for math homework:

  • 46% of parents think their child’s math homework is too easy.
  • 25% of parents think their child’s math homework is not too easy.
  • 29% of parents offered no opinion.

Here are the figures for language arts homework:

  • 44% of parents think their child’s language arts homework is too easy.
  • 28% of parents think their child’s language arts homework is not too easy.
  • 28% of parents offered no opinion.

These findings are based on online surveys of 372 parents of school-aged children conducted in 2018.

2. 93% of Fourth Grade Children Worldwide are Assigned Homework

The prestigious worldwide math assessment Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) took a survey of worldwide homework trends in 2007. Their study concluded that 93% of fourth-grade children are regularly assigned homework, while just 7% never or rarely have homework assigned.

3. 17% of Teens Regularly Miss Homework due to Lack of High-Speed Internet Access

A 2018 Pew Research poll of 743 US teens found that 17%, or almost 2 in every 5 students, regularly struggled to complete homework because they didn’t have reliable access to the internet.

This figure rose to 25% of Black American teens and 24% of teens whose families have an income of less than $30,000 per year.

4. Parents Spend 6.7 Hours Per Week on their Children’s Homework

A 2018 study of 27,500 parents around the world found that the average amount of time parents spend on homework with their child is 6.7 hours per week. Furthermore, 25% of parents spend more than 7 hours per week on their child’s homework.

American parents spend slightly below average at 6.2 hours per week, while Indian parents spend 12 hours per week and Japanese parents spend 2.6 hours per week.

5. Students in High-Performing High Schools Spend on Average 3.1 Hours per night Doing Homework

A study by Galloway, Conner & Pope (2013) conducted a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California. 

Across these high-performing schools, students self-reported that they did 3.1 hours per night of homework.

Graduates from those schools also ended up going on to college 93% of the time.

6. One to Two Hours is the Optimal Duration for Homework

A 2012 peer-reviewed study in the High School Journal found that students who conducted between one and two hours achieved higher results in tests than any other group.

However, the authors were quick to highlight that this “t is an oversimplification of a much more complex problem.” I’m inclined to agree. The greater variable is likely the quality of the homework than time spent on it.

Nevertheless, one result was unequivocal: that some homework is better than none at all : “students who complete any amount of homework earn higher test scores than their peers who do not complete homework.”

7. 74% of Teens cite Homework as a Source of Stress

A study by the Better Sleep Council found that homework is a source of stress for 74% of students. Only school grades, at 75%, rated higher in the study.

That figure rises for girls, with 80% of girls citing homework as a source of stress.

Similarly, the study by Galloway, Conner & Pope (2013) found that 56% of students cite homework as a “primary stressor” in their lives.

8. US Teens Spend more than 15 Hours per Week on Homework

The same study by the Better Sleep Council also found that US teens spend over 2 hours per school night on homework, and overall this added up to over 15 hours per week.

Surprisingly, 4% of US teens say they do more than 6 hours of homework per night. That’s almost as much homework as there are hours in the school day.

The only activity that teens self-reported as doing more than homework was engaging in electronics, which included using phones, playing video games, and watching TV.

9. The 10-Minute Rule

The National Education Association (USA) endorses the concept of doing 10 minutes of homework per night per grade.

For example, if you are in 3rd grade, you should do 30 minutes of homework per night. If you are in 4th grade, you should do 40 minutes of homework per night.

However, this ‘rule’ appears not to be based in sound research. Nevertheless, it is true that homework benefits (no matter the quality of the homework) will likely wane after 2 hours (120 minutes) per night, which would be the NEA guidelines’ peak in grade 12.

10. 21.9% of Parents are Too Busy for their Children’s Homework

An online poll of nearly 300 parents found that 21.9% are too busy to review their children’s homework. On top of this, 31.6% of parents do not look at their children’s homework because their children do not want their help. For these parents, their children’s unwillingness to accept their support is a key source of frustration.

11. 46.5% of Parents find Homework too Hard

The same online poll of parents of children from grades 1 to 12 also found that many parents struggle to help their children with homework because parents find it confusing themselves. Unfortunately, the study did not ask the age of the students so more data is required here to get a full picture of the issue.

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Interpreting the Data

Unfortunately, homework is one of those topics that can be interpreted by different people pursuing differing agendas. All studies of homework have a wide range of variables, such as:

  • What age were the children in the study?
  • What was the homework they were assigned?
  • What tools were available to them?
  • What were the cultural attitudes to homework and how did they impact the study?
  • Is the study replicable?

The more questions we ask about the data, the more we realize that it’s hard to come to firm conclusions about the pros and cons of homework .

Furthermore, questions about the opportunity cost of homework remain. Even if homework is good for children’s test scores, is it worthwhile if the children consequently do less exercise or experience more stress?

Thus, this ends up becoming a largely qualitative exercise. If parents and teachers zoom in on an individual child’s needs, they’ll be able to more effectively understand how much homework a child needs as well as the type of homework they should be assigned.

Related: Funny Homework Excuses

The debate over whether homework should be banned will not be resolved with these homework statistics. But, these facts and figures can help you to pursue a position in a school debate on the topic – and with that, I hope your debate goes well and you develop some great debating skills!


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 50 Durable Goods Examples
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  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 30 Globalization Pros and Cons
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Students Spend More Time on Homework but Teachers Say It's Worth It

Time spent on homework has increased in recent years, but educators say that's because the assignments have also changed.

Students Spending More Time on Homework

Make sure you understand your test answers, both right and wrong, in order to identify weaknesses and improve your overall score.


High school students get assigned up to 17.5 hours of homework per week, according to a survey of 1,000 teachers.

Although students nowadays are spending significantly more time on homework assignments – sometimes up to 17.5 hours each week – the type and quality of the assignments have changed to better capture critical thinking skills and higher levels of learning, according to a recent survey of teachers conducted by the University of Phoenix College of Education. 

The survey of 1,000 K-12 teachers found, among other things, that high school teachers on average assign about 3.5 hours of homework each week. For high school students who typically have five classes with different teachers, that could mean as much as 17.5 hours each week. By comparison, the survey found middle school teachers assign about 3.2 hours of homework each week and kindergarten through fifth grade teachers assign about 2.9 hours each week. 

[ READ : Standardized Testing Debate Should Focus on Local School Districts, Report Says ]

By comparison, a 2011 study from the National Center for Education Statistics found high school students reported spending an average of 6.8 hours of homework per week, while a 1994 report from the National Center for Education Statistics – reviewing trends in data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress – found 39 percent of 17-year-olds said they did at least one hour of homework each day.

"What has changed is not necessarily the magic number of how many hours they’re doing per night, but it’s the quality of the homework," says Ashley Norris, assistant dean of the university's college of education. Part of that shift in recent years, she says, may come from more schools implementing the Common Core State Standards, which are intended to put more of an emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

"You see a change from teachers … giving, really, busy work … to where they’re actually creating long-term projects that students have to manage outside of the classroom, or reading, where they read and come back into the classroom and share their findings," Norris says. "It's not just about rote memorization, because we know that doesn't stick."

For younger students, having more meaningful homework assignments can help build time-management skills, as well as enhance parent-child interaction, Norris says. But the bigger connection for high school students, she says, is doing assignments outside of the classroom that get them interested in a career path.

[ MORE : How Virtual Games Can Help Struggling Students Learn ]

Moving forward, as more schools dive into more time-consuming – but Norris says more meaningful – assignments, there may be a greater shift in the number of schools utilizing the "flipped classroom" method, in which students watch a lesson or lecture at home online, and bring their questions to the classroom to work with their peers while the teacher is present to help facilitate any problems that arise. 

"This is already happening in the classrooms. And I think that idea, this whole idea where homework is this applied learning that goes outside the boundaries of a classroom – what can we use that actual class time for?" Norris says "To come back and collaborate on learning, learn from each other, maybe critique our own [work] and share those experiences."

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Tags: K-12 education , education , Common Core , teachers

average amount of time spent on homework in high school

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How Much Homework Is Enough? Depends Who You Ask

African American boy studies for science test from home

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Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from You, Your Child, and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education ( Viking)—the latest book by author and speaker Sir Ken Robinson (co-authored with Lou Aronica), published in March. For years, Robinson has been known for his radical work on rekindling creativity and passion in schools, including three bestselling books (also with Aronica) on the topic. His TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” holds the record for the most-viewed TED talk of all time, with more than 50 million views. While Robinson’s latest book is geared toward parents, it also offers educators a window into the kinds of education concerns parents have for their children, including on the quality and quantity of homework.

The amount of homework young people are given varies a lot from school to school and from grade to grade. In some schools and grades, children have no homework at all. In others, they may have 18 hours or more of homework every week. In the United States, the accepted guideline, which is supported by both the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association, is the 10-minute rule: Children should have no more than 10 minutes of homework each day for each grade reached. In 1st grade, children should have 10 minutes of daily homework; in 2nd grade, 20 minutes; and so on to the 12th grade, when on average they should have 120 minutes of homework each day, which is about 10 hours a week. It doesn’t always work out that way.

In 2013, the University of Phoenix College of Education commissioned a survey of how much homework teachers typically give their students. From kindergarten to 5th grade, it was just under three hours per week; from 6th to 8th grade, it was 3.2 hours; and from 9th to 12th grade, it was 3.5 hours.

There are two points to note. First, these are the amounts given by individual teachers. To estimate the total time children are expected to spend on homework, you need to multiply these hours by the number of teachers they work with. High school students who work with five teachers in different curriculum areas may find themselves with 17.5 hours or more of homework a week, which is the equivalent of a part-time job. The other factor is that these are teachers’ estimates of the time that homework should take. The time that individual children spend on it will be more or less than that, according to their abilities and interests. One child may casually dash off a piece of homework in half the time that another will spend laboring through in a cold sweat.

Do students have more homework these days than previous generations? Given all the variables, it’s difficult to say. Some studies suggest they do. In 2007, a study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that, on average, high school students spent around seven hours a week on homework. A similar study in 1994 put the average at less than five hours a week. Mind you, I [Robinson] was in high school in England in the 1960s and spent a lot more time than that—though maybe that was to do with my own ability. One way of judging this is to look at how much homework your own children are given and compare it to what you had at the same age.

Many parents find it difficult to help their children with subjects they’ve not studied themselves for a long time, if at all.

There’s also much debate about the value of homework. Supporters argue that it benefits children, teachers, and parents in several ways:

  • Children learn to deepen their understanding of specific content, to cover content at their own pace, to become more independent learners, to develop problem-solving and time-management skills, and to relate what they learn in school to outside activities.
  • Teachers can see how well their students understand the lessons; evaluate students’ individual progress, strengths, and weaknesses; and cover more content in class.
  • Parents can engage practically in their children’s education, see firsthand what their children are being taught in school, and understand more clearly how they’re getting on—what they find easy and what they struggle with in school.

Want to know more about Sir Ken Robinson? Check out our Q&A with him.

Q&A With Sir Ken Robinson

Ashley Norris is assistant dean at the University of Phoenix College of Education. Commenting on her university’s survey, she says, “Homework helps build confidence, responsibility, and problem-solving skills that can set students up for success in high school, college, and in the workplace.”

That may be so, but many parents find it difficult to help their children with subjects they’ve not studied themselves for a long time, if at all. Families have busy lives, and it can be hard for parents to find time to help with homework alongside everything else they have to cope with. Norris is convinced it’s worth the effort, especially, she says, because in many schools, the nature of homework is changing. One influence is the growing popularity of the so-called flipped classroom.

In the stereotypical classroom, the teacher spends time in class presenting material to the students. Their homework consists of assignments based on that material. In the flipped classroom, the teacher provides the students with presentational materials—videos, slides, lecture notes—which the students review at home and then bring questions and ideas to school where they work on them collaboratively with the teacher and other students. As Norris notes, in this approach, homework extends the boundaries of the classroom and reframes how time in school can be used more productively, allowing students to “collaborate on learning, learn from each other, maybe critique [each other’s work], and share those experiences.”

Even so, many parents and educators are increasingly concerned that homework, in whatever form it takes, is a bridge too far in the pressured lives of children and their families. It takes away from essential time for their children to relax and unwind after school, to play, to be young, and to be together as a family. On top of that, the benefits of homework are often asserted, but they’re not consistent, and they’re certainly not guaranteed.

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The way u.s. teens spend their time is changing, but differences between boys and girls persist.

average amount of time spent on homework in high school

Teens today are spending their time differently than they did a decade ago. They’re devoting more time to sleep and homework, and less time to paid work and socializing. But what has not changed are the differences between teen boys and girls in time spent on leisure, grooming, homework, housework and errands, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

More sleep and homework, less socializing and paid work for teens today

Teens are also getting more shut-eye than they did in the past. They are clocking an average of over nine and a half hours of sleep a night, an increase of 22 minutes compared with teens a decade ago and almost an hour more than those in the mid-1990s. Sleep patterns fluctuate quite a bit – on weekends, teens average about 11 hours, while on weekdays they typically get just over nine hours a night. (While these findings are derived from time diaries in which respondents record the amount of time they slept on the prior night, results from other types of surveys suggest teens are getting fewer hours of sleep .) 

Teens now enjoy more than five and a half hours of leisure a day (5 hours, 44 minutes). The biggest chunk of teens’ daily leisure time is spent on screens: 3 hours and 4 minutes on average. This figure, which can include time spent gaming, surfing the web, watching videos and watching TV, has held steady over the past decade. On weekends, screen time increases to almost four hours a day (3 hours, 53 minutes), and on weekdays teens are spending 2 hours and 44 minutes on screens.

A day in the life of a U.S. teen

Time spent by teens in other leisure activities has declined. Over the past decade, the time spent socializing – including attending parties, extracurriculars, sporting or other entertainment events as well as spending time with others in person or on the phone – has dropped by 16 minutes, to 1 hour and 13 minutes a day.

Teens also are spending less time on paid work during the school year than their predecessors: 26 minutes a day, on average, compared with 49 minutes about a decade ago and 57 minutes in the mid-1990s. Much of this decline reflects the fact that teens are less likely to work today than in the past; among employed teens, the amount of time spent working is not much different now than it was around 2005.

While the way teens overall spend their time has changed in a number of ways, persistent gender differences in time use remain. Teen boys are spending an average of about six hours a day in leisure time, compared with roughly five hours a day for girls – driven largely by the fact that boys are spending about an hour (58 minutes) more a day than girls engaged in screen time. Boys also spend more time playing sports: 59 minutes vs. 33 minutes for girls.

Boys and girls differ in how they spend their time

Teen girls also spend more time than boys on grooming activities, such as bathing, getting dressed, getting haircuts, and other activities related to their hygiene and appearance. Girls spend an average of about an hour a day on these types of tasks (1 hour, 3 minutes); boys spend 40 minutes on them.

Girls also devote 21 more minutes a day to homework than boys do – 71 minutes vs. 50 minutes, on average, during the school year. This pattern has held steady over the past decade, as the amount of time spent on homework has risen equally for boys and girls.

The daily life of teen boys and girls

Girls also spend more time running errands, such as shopping for groceries (21 minutes vs. 11 minutes for boys).

In addition to these differences in how they spend their time, the way boys and girls feel about their day also differs in some key ways. A new survey by Pew Research Center of teens ages 13 to 17 finds that 36% of girls say they feel tense or nervous about their day every or almost every day; 23% of boys say the same. At the same time, girls are more likely than boys to say they get excited daily or almost daily by something they study in school (33% vs. 21%). And while similar shares of boys and girls say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades, be involved in extracurricular activities or fit in socially, girls are more likely than boys to say they face a lot of pressure to look good (35% vs. 23%).

This analysis is based primarily on time diary data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which has been sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and annually conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau since 2003. The ATUS produces a nationally representative sample of respondents, drawn from the Current Population Survey.

Most of the analyses are based on respondents in the 2003-2006 and the 2014-2017 ATUS samples (referred to in the text as “2005” and “2015”). Data regarding time use in the mid-1990s is based on 1992-1994 data from the American Heritage Time Use Survey (AHTUS). For all time points, multiple years of data were combined in order to increase sample size. Because time use among teens can vary so much between the summer and the school year, only data for September through June are used for these analyses. Although focused on the school year, the data also reflect time use during school holidays, such as spring break.

These time diaries track in detail how Americans spend their time, focusing on each respondent’s primary activity (i.e., the main thing they were doing) sequentially for the prior day, including the start and end times for each activity.

All data were accessed via the ATUS-X website made available through IPUMS .

Time use activity classifications

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About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

How Much Homework Do American Kids Do?

Various factors, from the race of the student to the number of years a teacher has been in the classroom, affect a child's homework load.


In his Atlantic essay , Karl Taro Greenfeld laments his 13-year-old daughter's heavy homework load. As an eighth grader at a New York middle school, Greenfeld’s daughter averaged about three hours of homework per night and adopted mantras like “memorization, not rationalization” to help her get it all done. Tales of the homework-burdened American student have become common, but are these stories the exception or the rule?

A 2007 Metlife study found that 45 percent of students in grades three to 12 spend more than an hour a night doing homework, including the six percent of students who report spending more than three hours a night on their homework. In the 2002-2003 school year, a study out of the University of Michigan found that American students ages six through 17 spent three hours and 38 minutes per week doing homework.

A range of factors plays into how much homework each individual student gets:

Older students do more homework than their younger counterparts.

This one is fairly obvious: The National Education Association recommends that homework time increase by ten minutes per year in school. (e.g., A third grader would have 30 minutes of homework, while a seventh grader would have 70 minutes).

Studies have found that schools tend to roughly follow these guidelines: The University of Michigan found that students ages six to eight spend 29 minutes doing homework per night while 15- to 17-year-old students spend 50 minutes doing homework. The Metlife study also found that 50 percent of students in grades seven to 12 spent more than an hour a night on homework, while 37 percent of students in grades three to six spent an hour or more on their homework per night. The National Center for Educational Statistics found that high school students who do homework outside of school average 6.8 hours of homework per week.


Race plays a role in how much homework students do.

Asian students spend 3.5 more hours on average doing homework per week than their white peers. However, only 59 percent of Asian students’ parents check that homework is done, while 75.6 percent of Hispanic students’ parents and 83.1 percent of black students’ parents check.


Teachers with less experience assign more homework.

The Metlife study found that 14 percent of teachers with zero to five years of teaching experience assigned more than an hour of homework per night, while only six percent of teachers with 21 or more years of teaching experience assigned over an hour of homework.


Math classes have homework the most frequently.

The Metlife study found that 70 percent of students in grades three to 12 had at least one homework assignment in math. Sixty-two percent had at least one homework assignment in a language arts class (English, reading, spelling, or creative writing courses) and 42 percent had at least one in a science class.

Regardless of how much homework kids are actually doing every night, most parents and teachers are happy with the way things are: 60 percent of parents think that their children have the “right amount of homework,” and 73 percent of teachers think their school assigns the right amount of homework.

Students, however, are not necessarily on board: 38 percent of students in grades seven through 12 and 28 percent of students in grades three through six report being “very often/often” stressed out by their homework.

Homework in America

  • 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education

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Tom loveless tom loveless former brookings expert @tomloveless99.

March 18, 2014

  • 18 min read

Part II of the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education

part two cover

Homework!  The topic, no, just the word itself, sparks controversy.  It has for a long time. In 1900, Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies Home Journal , published an impassioned article, “A National Crime at the Feet of Parents,” accusing homework of destroying American youth.  Drawing on the theories of his fellow educational progressive, psychologist G. Stanley Hall (who has since been largely discredited), Bok argued that study at home interfered with children’s natural inclination towards play and free movement, threatened children’s physical and mental health, and usurped the right of parents to decide activities in the home.

The Journal was an influential magazine, especially with parents.  An anti-homework campaign burst forth that grew into a national crusade. [i]   School districts across the land passed restrictions on homework, culminating in a 1901 statewide prohibition of homework in California for any student under the age of 15.  The crusade would remain powerful through 1913, before a world war and other concerns bumped it from the spotlight.  Nevertheless, anti-homework sentiment would remain a touchstone of progressive education throughout the twentieth century.  As a political force, it would lie dormant for years before bubbling up to mobilize proponents of free play and “the whole child.” Advocates would, if educators did not comply, seek to impose homework restrictions through policy making.

Our own century dawned during a surge of anti-homework sentiment. From 1998 to 2003, Newsweek , TIME , and People , all major national publications at the time, ran cover stories on the evils of homework.  TIME ’s 1999 story had the most provocative title, “The Homework Ate My Family: Kids Are Dazed, Parents Are Stressed, Why Piling On Is Hurting Students.” People ’s 2003 article offered a call to arms: “Overbooked: Four Hours of Homework for a Third Grader? Exhausted Kids (and Parents) Fight Back.” Feature stories about students laboring under an onerous homework burden ran in newspapers from coast to coast. Photos of angst ridden children became a journalistic staple.

The 2003 Brown Center Report on American Education included a study investigating the homework controversy.  Examining the most reliable empirical evidence at the time, the study concluded that the dramatic claims about homework were unfounded.  An overwhelming majority of students, at least two-thirds, depending on age, had an hour or less of homework each night.  Surprisingly, even the homework burden of college-bound high school seniors was discovered to be rather light, less than an hour per night or six hours per week. Public opinion polls also contradicted the prevailing story.  Parents were not up in arms about homework.  Most said their children’s homework load was about right.  Parents wanting more homework out-numbered those who wanted less.

Now homework is in the news again.  Several popular anti-homework books fill store shelves (whether virtual or brick and mortar). [ii]   The documentary Race to Nowhere depicts homework as one aspect of an overwrought, pressure-cooker school system that constantly pushes students to perform and destroys their love of learning.  The film’s website claims over 6,000 screenings in more than 30 countries.  In 2011, the New York Times ran a front page article about the homework restrictions adopted by schools in Galloway, NJ, describing “a wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, especially in elementary grades.”   In the article, Vicki Abeles, the director of Race to Nowhere , invokes the indictment of homework lodged a century ago, declaring, “The presence of homework is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.” [iii] 

A petition for the National PTA to adopt “healthy homework guidelines” on change.org currently has 19,000 signatures.  In September 2013, Atlantic featured an article, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me,” by a Manhattan writer who joined his middle school daughter in doing her homework for a week.  Most nights the homework took more than three hours to complete.

The Current Study

A decade has passed since the last Brown Center Report study of homework, and it’s time for an update.  How much homework do American students have today?  Has the homework burden increased, gone down, or remained about the same?  What do parents think about the homework load?

A word on why such a study is important.  It’s not because the popular press is creating a fiction.  The press accounts are built on the testimony of real students and real parents, people who are very unhappy with the amount of homework coming home from school.  These unhappy people are real—but they also may be atypical.  Their experiences, as dramatic as they are, may not represent the common experience of American households with school-age children.  In the analysis below, data are analyzed from surveys that are methodologically designed to produce reliable information about the experiences of all Americans.  Some of the surveys have existed long enough to illustrate meaningful trends.  The question is whether strong empirical evidence confirms the anecdotes about overworked kids and outraged parents.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provide a good look at trends in homework for nearly the past three decades.  Table 2-1 displays NAEP data from 1984-2012.  The data are from the long-term trend NAEP assessment’s student questionnaire, a survey of homework practices featuring both consistently-worded questions and stable response categories.  The question asks: “How much time did you spend on homework yesterday?”  Responses are shown for NAEP’s three age groups: 9, 13, and 17. [iv]

Table 21

Today’s youngest students seem to have more homework than in the past.  The first three rows of data for age 9 reveal a shift away from students having no homework, declining from 35% in 1984 to 22% in 2012.  A slight uptick occurred from the low of 18% in 2008, however, so the trend may be abating.  The decline of the “no homework” group is matched by growth in the percentage of students with less than an hour’s worth, from 41% in 1984 to 57% in 2012. The share of students with one to two hours of homework changed very little over the entire 28 years, comprising 12% of students in 2012.  The group with the heaviest load, more than two hours of homework, registered at 5% in 2012.  It was 6% in 1984.

The amount of homework for 13-year-olds appears to have lightened slightly. Students with one to two hours of homework declined from 29% to 23%.  The next category down (in terms of homework load), students with less than an hour, increased from 36% to 44%.  One can see, by combining the bottom two rows, that students with an hour or more of homework declined steadily from 1984 to 2008 (falling from 38% to 27%) and then ticked up to 30% in 2012.  The proportion of students with the heaviest load, more than two hours, slipped from 9% in 1984 to 7% in 2012 and ranged between 7-10% for the entire period.

For 17-year-olds, the homework burden has not varied much.  The percentage of students with no homework has increased from 22% to 27%.  Most of that gain occurred in the 1990s. Also note that the percentage of 17-year-olds who had homework but did not do it was 11% in 2012, the highest for the three NAEP age groups.  Adding that number in with the students who didn’t have homework in the first place means that more than one-third of seventeen year olds (38%) did no homework on the night in question in 2012.  That compares with 33% in 1984.  The segment of the 17-year-old population with more than two hours of homework, from which legitimate complaints of being overworked might arise, has been stuck in the 10%-13% range.

The NAEP data point to four main conclusions:

  • With one exception, the homework load has remained remarkably stable since 1984.
  • The exception is nine-year-olds.  They have experienced an increase in homework, primarily because many students who once did not have any now have some.  The percentage of nine-year-olds with no homework fell by 13 percentage points, and the percentage with less than an hour grew by 16 percentage points.
  • Of the three age groups, 17-year-olds have the most bifurcated distribution of the homework burden.   They have the largest percentage of kids with no homework (especially when the homework shirkers are added in) and the largest percentage with more than two hours.
  • NAEP data do not support the idea that a large and growing number of students have an onerous amount of homework.  For all three age groups, only a small percentage of students report more than two hours of homework.  For 1984-2012, the size of the two hours or more groups ranged from 5-6% for age 9, 6-10% for age 13, and 10-13% for age 17.

Note that the item asks students how much time they spent on homework “yesterday.”  That phrasing has the benefit of immediacy, asking for an estimate of precise, recent behavior rather than an estimate of general behavior for an extended, unspecified period.  But misleading responses could be generated if teachers lighten the homework of NAEP participants on the night before the NAEP test is given.  That’s possible. [v] Such skewing would not affect trends if it stayed about the same over time and in the same direction (teachers assigning less homework than usual on the day before NAEP).  Put another way, it would affect estimates of the amount of homework at any single point in time but not changes in the amount of homework between two points in time.

A check for possible skewing is to compare the responses above with those to another homework question on the NAEP questionnaire from 1986-2004 but no longer in use. [vi]   It asked students, “How much time do you usually spend on homework each day?” Most of the response categories have different boundaries from the “last night” question, making the data incomparable.  But the categories asking about no homework are comparable.  Responses indicating no homework on the “usual” question in 2004 were: 2% for age 9-year-olds, 5% for 13 year olds, and 12% for 17-year-olds.  These figures are much less than the ones reported in Table 2-1 above.  The “yesterday” data appear to overstate the proportion of students typically receiving no homework.

The story is different for the “heavy homework load” response categories.  The “usual” question reported similar percentages as the “yesterday” question.  The categories representing the most amount of homework were “more than one hour” for age 9 and “more than two hours” for ages 13 and 17.   In 2004, 12% of 9-year-olds said they had more than one hour of daily homework, while 8% of 13-year-olds and 12% of 17-year-olds said they had more than two hours.  For all three age groups, those figures declined from1986 to 2004. The decline for age 17 was quite large, falling from 17% in 1986 to 12% in 2004.  

The bottom line: regardless of how the question is posed, NAEP data do not support the view that the homework burden is growing, nor do they support the belief that the proportion of students with a lot of homework has increased in recent years.  The proportion of students with no homework is probably under-reported on the long-term trend NAEP.  But the upper bound of students with more than two hours of daily homework appears to be about 15%–and that is for students in their final years of high school.

College Freshmen Look Back  

There is another good source of information on high school students’ homework over several decades.  The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA conducts an annual survey of college freshmen that began in 1966.  In 1986, the survey started asking a series of questions regarding how students spent time in the final year of high school.  Figure 2-1 shows the 2012 percentages for the dominant activities.  More than half of college freshmen say they spent at least six hours per week socializing with friends (66.2%) and exercising/sports (53.0%).  About 40% devoted that much weekly time to paid employment.

Figure 21

Homework comes in fourth pace. Only 38.4% of students said they spent at least six hours per week studying or doing homework. When these students were high school seniors, it was not an activity central to their out of school lives.  That is quite surprising.  Think about it.  The survey is confined to the nation’s best students, those attending college.  Gone are high school dropouts.  Also not included are students who go into the military or attain full time employment immediately after high school.  And yet only a little more than one-third of the sampled students, devoted more than six hours per week to homework and studying when they were on the verge of attending college.

Another notable finding from the UCLA survey is how the statistic is trending (see Figure 2-2).  In 1986, 49.5% reported spending six or more hours per week studying and doing homework.  By 2002, the proportion had dropped to 33.4%.  In 2012, as noted in Figure 2-1, the statistic had bounced off the historical lows to reach 38.4%.  It is slowly rising but still sits sharply below where it was in 1987.

Figure 22

What Do Parents Think?

Met Life has published an annual survey of teachers since 1984.  In 1987 and 2007, the survey included questions focusing on homework and expanded to sample both parents and students on the topic. Data are broken out for secondary and elementary parents and for students in grades 3-6 and grades 7-12 (the latter not being an exact match with secondary parents because of K-8 schools).

Table 2-2 shows estimates of homework from the 2007 survey.  Respondents were asked to estimate the amount of homework on a typical school day (Monday-Friday).  The median estimate of each group of respondents is shaded.  As displayed in the first column, the median estimate for parents of an elementary student is that their child devotes about 30 minutes to homework on the typical weekday.  Slightly more than half (52%) estimate 30 minutes or less; 48% estimate 45 minutes or more.  Students in grades 3-6 (third column) give a median estimate that is a bit higher than their parents’ (45 minutes), with almost two-thirds (63%) saying 45 minutes or less is the typical weekday homework load.

Table 22

One hour of homework is the median estimate for both secondary parents and students in grade 7-12, with 55% of parents reporting an hour or less and about two-thirds (67%) of students reporting the same.  As for the prevalence of the heaviest homework loads, 11% of secondary parents say their children spend more than two hours on weekday homework, and 12% is the corresponding figure for students in grades 7-12.

The Met Life surveys in 1987 and 2007 asked parents to evaluate the amount and quality of homework.  Table 2-3 displays the results.  There was little change over the two decades separating the two surveys.  More than 60% of parents rate the amount of homework as good or excellent, and about two-thirds give such high ratings to the quality of the homework their children are receiving.  The proportion giving poor ratings to either the quantity or quality of homework did not exceed 10% on either survey.


Parental dissatisfaction with homework comes in two forms: those who feel schools give too much homework and those who feel schools do not give enough.  The current wave of journalism about unhappy parents is dominated by those who feel schools give too much homework.  How big is this group?  Not very big (see Figure 2-3). On the Met Life survey, 60% of parents felt schools were giving the right amount of homework, 25% wanted more homework, and only 15% wanted less.

Figure 23

National surveys on homework are infrequent, but the 2006-2007 period had more than one.  A poll conducted by Public Agenda in 2006 reported similar numbers as the Met Life survey: 68% of parents describing the homework load as “about right,” 20% saying there is “too little homework,” and 11% saying there is “too much homework.”  A 2006 AP-AOL poll found the highest percentage of parents reporting too much homework, 19%.  But even in that poll, they were outnumbered by parents believing there is too little homework (23%), and a clear majority (57%) described the load as “about right.”  A 2010 local survey of Chicago parents conducted by the Chicago Tribune reported figures similar to those reported above: approximately two-thirds of parents saying their children’s homework load is “about right,” 21% saying it’s not enough, and 12% responding that the homework load is too much.

Summary and Discussion

In recent years, the press has been filled with reports of kids over-burdened with homework and parents rebelling against their children’s oppressive workload. The data assembled above call into question whether that portrait is accurate for the typical American family.  Homework typically takes an hour per night.  The homework burden of students rarely exceeds two hours a night.  The upper limit of students with two or more hours per night is about 15% nationally—and that is for juniors or seniors in high school.  For younger children, the upper boundary is about 10% who have such a heavy load.  Polls show that parents who want less homework range from 10%-20%, and that they are outnumbered—in every national poll on the homework question—by parents who want more homework, not less.  The majority of parents describe their children’s homework burden as about right.

So what’s going on?  Where are the homework horror stories coming from?

The Met Life survey of parents is able to give a few hints, mainly because of several questions that extend beyond homework to other aspects of schooling.  The belief that homework is burdensome is more likely held by parents with a larger set of complaints and concerns.  They are alienated from their child’s school.  About two in five parents (19%) don’t believe homework is important.  Compared to other parents, these parents are more likely to say too much homework is assigned (39% vs. 9%), that what is assigned is just busywork (57% vs. 36%), and that homework gets in the way of their family spending time together (51% vs. 15%).  They are less likely to rate the quality of homework as excellent (3% vs. 23%) or to rate the availability and responsiveness of teachers as excellent (18% vs. 38%). [vii]

They can also convince themselves that their numbers are larger than they really are.  Karl Taro Greenfeld, the author of the Atlantic article mentioned above, seems to fit that description.  “Every parent I know in New York City comments on how much homework their children have,” Mr. Greenfeld writes.  As for those parents who do not share this view? “There is always a clique of parents who are happy with the amount of homework. In fact, they would prefer more .  I tend not to get along with that type of parent.” [viii] 

Mr. Greenfeld’s daughter attends a selective exam school in Manhattan, known for its rigorous expectations and, yes, heavy homework load.  He had also complained about homework in his daughter’s previous school in Brentwood, CA.  That school was a charter school.  After Mr. Greenfeld emailed several parents expressing his complaints about homework in that school, the school’s vice-principal accused Mr. Greenfeld of cyberbullying.  The lesson here is that even schools of choice are not immune from complaints about homework.

The homework horror stories need to be read in a proper perspective.  They seem to originate from the very personal discontents of a small group of parents.  They do not reflect the experience of the average family with a school-age child.  That does not diminish these stories’ power to command the attention of school officials or even the public at large. But it also suggests a limited role for policy making in settling such disputes.  Policy is a blunt instrument.  Educators, parents, and kids are in the best position to resolve complaints about homework on a case by case basis.  Complaints about homework have existed for more than a century, and they show no signs of going away.

Part II Notes:

[i]Brian Gill and Steven Schlossman, “A Sin Against Childhood: Progressive Education and the Crusade to Abolish Homework, 1897-1941,” American Journal of Education , vol. 105, no. 1 (Nov., 1996), 27-66.  Also see Brian P. Gill and Steven L. Schlossman, “Villain or Savior? The American Discourse on Homework, 1850-2003,” Theory into Practice , 43, 3 (Summer 2004), pp. 174-181.

[ii] Bennett, Sara, and Nancy Kalish.  The Case Against Homework:  How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It   (New York:  Crown, 2006).  Buell, John.  Closing the Book on Homework: Enhancing Public Education and Freeing Family Time . (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004). Kohn, Alfie.    The Homework Myth:  Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing  (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006).  Kralovec, Etta, and John Buell.  The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning  (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000).

[iii] Hu, Winnie, “ New Recruit in Homework Revolt: The Principal ,” New York Times , June 15, 2011, page a1.

[iv] Data for other years are available on the NAEP Data Explorer.  For Table 1, the starting point of 1984 was chosen because it is the first year all three ages were asked the homework question.  The two most recent dates (2012 and 2008) were chosen to show recent changes, and the two years in the 1990s to show developments during that decade.

[v] NAEP’s sampling design lessens the probability of skewing the homework figure.  Students are randomly drawn from a school population, meaning that an entire class is not tested.  Teachers would have to either single out NAEP students for special homework treatment or change their established homework routine for the whole class just to shelter NAEP participants from homework.  Sampling designs that draw entact classrooms for testing (such as TIMSS) would be more vulnerable to this effect.  Moreover, students in middle and high school usually have several different teachers during the day, meaning that prior knowledge of a particular student’s participation in NAEP would probably be limited to one or two teachers.

[vi] NAEP Question B003801 for 9 year olds and B003901 for 13- and 17-year olds.

[vii] Met Life, Met Life Survey of the American Teacher: The Homework Experience , November 13, 2007, pp. 21-22.

[viii] Greenfeld, Karl Taro, “ My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me ,” The Atlantic , September 18, 2013.

Education Policy K-12 Education

Governance Studies

Brown Center on Education Policy

Amna Qayyum, Claudia Hui

March 7, 2024

William A. Galston, Jon Valant, Chinasa T. Okolo, E.J. Dionne, Jr., Bill Baer

March 6, 2024

Annelies Goger


Time Spent on Homework and Academic Achievement: A Meta-analysis Study Related to Results of TIMSS

[el tiempo dedicado a la tarea y al rendimiento académico: un estudio metaanalítico relacionado con los resultados de timss], gulnar ozyildirim akdeniz university, konyaalti, antalya, turkey, https://doi.org/10.5093/psed2021a30.

Received 31 August 2020, Accepted 24 May 2021

Homework is a common instructional technique that requires extra time, energy, and effort apart from school time. Is homework worth these investments? The study aimed to investigate whether the amount of time spent on homework had any effect on academic achievement and to determine moderators in the relationship between these two terms by using TIMSS data through the meta-analysis method. In this meta-analysis study, data obtained from 488 independent findings from 74 countries in the seven surveys of TIMSS and a sample of 429,970 students was included. The coefficient of standardized means, based on the random effect model, was used to measure the mean effect size and the Q statistic was used to determine the significance of moderator variables. This study revealed that the students spending their time on homework at medium level had effect on their academic achievement and there were some significant moderators in this relationship.

La tarea es una técnica instructiva común que requiere tiempo extra, energía y esfuerzo aparte del horario escolar. ¿Vale la pena hacer estas inversiones? El objetivo del estudio era investigar si el tiempo dedicado a la tarea tenía algún efecto en el rendimiento académico y determinar los moderadores de la relación entre estos dos términos mediante el uso de datos TIMSS a través del método de metaanálisis. En este estudio de metaanálisis se incluyeron los datos obtenidos de 488 hallazgos independientes de 74 países en las siete encuestas de TIMSS y una muestra de 429,970 estudiantes. Se utilizó el coeficiente de medias estandarizadas, basado en el modelo de efecto aleatorio, para medir el tamaño medio del efecto y el estadístico Q para determinar la significación de las variables moderadoras. El estudio reveló el hecho de que los estudiantes que dedican su tiempo a la tarea en el nivel medio tiene efecto en su rendimiento académico y hubo algunos moderadores significativos de esta relación.

Palabras clave

Cite this article as: Ozyildirim, G. (2022). Time Spent on Homework and Academic Achievement: A Meta-analysis Study Related to Results of TIMSS. Psicología Educativa, 28 (1) , 13 - 21. https://doi.org/10.5093/psed2021a30

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average amount of time spent on homework in high school

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The Long-Term Effects of Time Use during High School on Positive Development

Jasper tjaden.

Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, International Organization for Migration

Dom Rolando

Department of Family, Youth & Community Services, University of Florida-Gainesville

Jennifer Doty

Jeylan t. mortimer.

Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Associated Data

This longitudinal study examines how the time that youth spend in activities during high school may contribute to positive or negative development in adolescence and in early adulthood. We draw on data from 1103 participants in the longitudinal Youth Development Study, followed from entry to high school to their mid-twenties. Controlling demographic, socioeconomic, and psychological influences, we estimate the effects of average time spent on homework, in extracurricular activities, and with friends during the four years of high school on outcomes measured in the final year of high school and twelve years later. Our results suggest that policies surrounding the implementation and practice of homework may have long-term benefits for struggling students. In contrast, time spent with peers on weeknights was associated with both short- and long-term maladjustment.


Time use in adolescence is a contentious topic that has generated extensive research and policy discussion. Parents, teachers, and the wider public have strong opinions about how students should spend their time during high school ( Farb & Matjasko, 2012 ; Zuzanek, 2009 ). Out-of-school activities are thought to shape life outcomes beyond the senior year ( U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007 ), and research supports this claim ( Broh, 2002 ; Fredricks & Eccles, 2006 ; Gibbs, Erickson, Dufur, & Miles, 2015 ; McHale, Crouter, & Tucker, 2001 ; Peck et al., 2008 ; Viau, Denault, & Poulin, 2015 ). Homework and extracurricular activities (e.g. theater, music, sports, church youth groups) are found to have positive effects on educational achievement, prosocial behavior, problem behavior, and delinquency ( Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006 ; Farb & Matjasko, 2012 ; Fredricks & Eccles, 2006 ; Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2003 ; Vandell, Larson, Mahoney, & Watts, 2015 ). 1 In contrast, unsupervised time with peers may be detrimental to positive development in and out of school at various ages ( Barnes, Hoffman, Welte, Farrell, & Dintcheff, 2007 ; Mahoney, Larson, Eccles, & Lord, 2005 ; Osgood & Anderson, 2004 ; Vandell et al., 2015 ), though evidence indicates that positive relationships with peers can be beneficial for youth emotionally, socially, and academically (e.g. MacLeod 1987 ; Oberle, Shonert-Reichl, & Thompson, 2010 ; Vitaro et al. 2009 ; Wentzel, 2009 ).

We aim to extend existing studies of adolescents’ use of time and positive youth development ( Peck et al., 2008 ) in several ways: First , most studies in this area are cross-sectional or rely on just a few years of observation ( Bartko & Eccles, 2003 ; Busseri et al., 2006 ; Camacho & Fuligni, 2015 ; Darling, 2005 ; Fredricks & Eccles, 2006 ; Fredricks & Simpkins, 2012 ; Simpkins, Eccles, & Becnel, 2008 ; Wolf et al., 2015 ). Relatively little is known about the long-term implications of the ways time is spent during high school. The transition to adulthood is often conceived as a “fresh start,” a time of exploration, with opportunity to develop new commitments, enter new social contexts, and form new relationships ( Arnett, 2007 ; Settersten & Ray, 2010 ). At this time of life, some youth turn their lives around despite difficulties in adolescence ( Masten, 2015 ). In contrast, other youth may falter when they encounter new responsibilities as they take on adult roles. We use longitudinal data to follow students prospectively over 12 years, from mid-adolescence (age 14/15) to early adulthood (age 26/27). The temporal ordering of time spent in high school and outcomes later in life, as well as the use of a wide range of earlier socio-demographic, socio-economic, and psychological controls, help to establish directionality ( Sacker & Schoon, 2007 ).

Second, previous research mainly examines single outcomes of youth development, such as educational achievement or delinquency. As we will elaborate in the following sections, we propose a multi-dimensional definition of positive youth development. Positive youth development refers to the dynamic integration of personality strengths; constructive engagement with families, peer groups, schools, organizations, and communities; adaptation to environmental contexts; and other positive outcomes that indicate “thriving” across adolescence and into young adulthood ( Larson, 2000 ; Lerner et al., 2009 ; Sesma et al., 2013 ). This framework obviously encompasses multiple kinds of characteristics and experiences, and cannot be captured by single outcomes alone. Thus, it must be measured in broader, holistic terms to capture the complex array of potential time-use effects and to accommodate the multi-faceted nature of positive development. Accordingly, we constructed multivariate measures of development in adolescence and early adulthood using a Latent Class Analysis based on educational, occupational, behavioral, and psychological outcomes.

Third , most previous studies of time use focus on average effects for a student cohort. Yet, different student populations face distinct challenges from the outset. We expect that time use may have different implications for students with more favorable starting positions compared to students who are situated less favorably. We explore whether time allocation during high school is associated with positive development for teenagers who face initial difficulties ( Luthar, Crossman, & Small, 2015 ; Yates, Tyrell, & Masten, 2015 ), and whether outcomes are different for students who started out in more sanguine positions.

Fourth , many previous studies examine one type of time use, for example, extracurricular activities, in isolation from other types (e.g. homework, time with peers). Time spent on one activity may be conditional on time spent on other activities and the effects of each may be highly interdependent. We take into account three measures of time use (extracurricular activities, homework, evenings with peers) to disentangle net effects. As such, we respond to the call to examine extracurricular activities in tandem with other ways that adolescents spend their time ( Farb & Matjasko, 2012 ).

We find positive medium- to long-term effects of time spent on homework and extracurricular activities on positive youth development and negative effects of time spent with peers in the evenings. Time spent in organized activities may enhance adolescents’ positive development by providing structure and by reducing the amount of time available to spend in unsupervised contexts. Policies that encourage the practice of homework and extracurricular activities, particularly for youth whose developmental attributes are less favorable at the start of high school, may have the potential to promote positive development far beyond high school in ways that may not have been primarily intended by such homework or extracurricular programs.

Positive Youth Development and Time Use

The Positive Youth Development (PYD) literature (see, for example, Lerner et al., 2009 ; Sesma, Mannes, & Scales, 2013 ) provides a framework for assessing the complex trajectories of youth throughout and beyond high school. PYD is often described as the development of mutually adaptive and beneficial relations between youth and the contexts in which they grow up (i.e. Lerner, 2017 ). There is no common agreement, however, about how positive development should be measured. Studies vary substantially in terms of the outcomes used to indicate positive development, including educational performance, problem behavior, employment, aspirations, etc. (see, e.g. Leman, Smith, Peterson & SRCD Ethnic-Racial Issues and International Committees, 2017 ). Common to most studies relying on the PYD framework is the notion that positive development is a complex, multifaceted process that may affect multiple life domains ( Lerner et al., 2009 ).

PYD frames development as resulting from the reciprocal relationship between individual choices and youth contexts. The study of adolescents’ use of time is integral to understanding this dynamic (e.g., Wolf et al., 2015 ). Policies that provide opportunities for growth and protect against risk are critical from the PYD perspective (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003). While researchers and practitioners previously embraced a deficit-oriented perspective, recent literature stresses the importance of developing assets to promote strength (promotive factors) and resources for those exposed to risk ( Sesma et al., 2013 ; Luthar et al., 2015 ). The ways students spend their time during high school reflect the contexts of development that youth are regularly exposed to and that are either more or less conducive to positive outcomes.

However, relatively little attention outside the field of criminology (e.g. Barnes et al., 2007 ) has been directed to factors that protect adolescents with favorable starting points from negative development over time. Because those youth are seen as advantaged, scholars have been less interested in the personal strengths and circumstances that enable young people in favorable starting positions to maintain their positive development over time, and those factors that lead some of them to falter. We are therefore interested in both differential and long-term correlates of time use. From a policy standpoint, so-called ‘overscheduling’ youth in activities may be a problem for more affluent high school districts, involved parents, and active teachers. It may be less of a problem for at-risk youth who face difficulties at home or impoverished schools, with few resources for extracurricular activities, and poor neighborhoods ( Putnam, 2015 ).

Although numerous factors have been shown to contribute to positive youth development, few have examined time spent in activities during the high school period as a predictor of positive or negative development in adulthood. In light of the proposition that children’s activities constitute developmental opportunities ( Larson, 1994 ; Larson & Verma, 1999 ), in the following sections we describe how three ways youth allocate time may enhance or reduce their exposure to promotive and protective processes.

Homework, Extracurricular Activities, and Time Spent with Peers

Despite some controversy about the drawbacks of too much homework (e.g. Zuzanek, 2009 ) and the challenges of homework for students with learning disabilities or economically disadvantaged students ( Bennet & Kalish, 2006 ), studies of homework time and effort have consistently demonstrated positive associations with academic achievement ( Cooper et al., 2006 ; Farb & Matjasko, 2012 ). Beyond promoting educational achievement, a positive factor in itself, homework may have beneficial spill-over. Doing homework, and seeing its results, may enhance motivational resources, including self-regulation, discipline, time-management, self-determination, goal-setting, and achievement motivation ( Bempechat, 2004 ; Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2011 ). Adolescents who invest more time in doing their homework consistently and thoroughly across their high school years may learn to appreciate its long-term benefits (e.g., better grades, admission to selective colleges).

Studies of extracurricular activities consistently show that mere participation is associated with positive outcomes ( Farb & Matjasko, 2012 ; Lauer et al., 2006 ; Vandell et al., 2015 ), including prosocial behavior, educational achievement, and college completion, as well as lower risk of dropout, substance abuse, and criminal behavior ( Broh, 2002 ; Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010 ; Farb & Matjasko, 2012 ; Gibbs et al., 2015 ; Shulruf, 2010 ; Vandell et al., 2015 ). Extracurricular activities can broadly be defined as activities officially or semiofficially approved and usually organized student activities connected with school and usually carrying no academic credit (e.g., theater, music, sports, church youth groups). The positive effects of such activities increase with program quality, duration, intensity, and consistency ( Hirsch et al., 2011 ; Vandell et al., 2015 ). A few studies indicate benefits over the transition to young adulthood. Fredericks and Eccles (2006) found that participating in sports and clubs in high school was associated with educational status and civic engagement a year after high school. In a study of female high school athletes, participation in sports was associated with greater odds of college graduation ( Troutman & Dufur, 2007 ). The current study extends this body of research by examining the long-term associations of extracurricular activities and adjustment in young adulthood at age 26/27.

While extracurricular activities are diverse in character and heterogeneous in their effects ( Eccles, Barber, Stone, & Hunt, 2003 ), they are typically designed with the intention to enhance adolescent development. As such, they have a number of attributes in common. First, extracurricular activities (e.g., theater, music, sports, church youth groups) provide opportunities for the development of positive social ties, and they promote cooperative prosocial behavior, social skills, and a sense of community (e.g., Gibbs et al., 2015 ; Mahoney, 2000 ). Second, supervised programs expose adolescents to potential adult role models and facilitate relationships with teachers, coaches, and community workers ( Viau et al., 2015 ). Third, many extracurricular activities involve goal setting, long-term commitment, and self-determination (e.g., competitive sports, rehearsing for a play or concert). They offer opportunities to explore interests, acquire skills, develop talents, and experience success (e.g. Hansen, Larson, & Dworkin, 2003 ; Mahoney et al., 2005 ). Fourth, when youth are participating in extracurricular activities they are not in ‘harmful’ environments, such as stressful circumstances at home. Thus, structured activities, like homework and participation in the extra curriculum, may enhance the development of protective factors that prevent problem behaviors in adolescence ( Barnes et al., 2007 ; Wolf et al., 2015 ).

In contrast, research on unsupervised settings has revealed a very different developmental course. Large amounts of unsupervised time with peers may foster problem behaviors like substance use and delinquency ( Barnes et al., 2007 ; Dishion et al., 2015 ), interfere with school bonding, and reduce achievement ( Maimon & Browning, 2010 ; Mahoney et al., 2005 ; Osgood & Anderson, 2004 ). Time spent in the company of other adolescents may also reduce time spent with parents, parental monitoring and control, and routine social interaction in the family that reinforces social norms. However, in some circumstances a lack of time with friends may be harmful to development (e.g., Twenge, Martin, Campbell, 2018 ), perhaps because students who are socially isolated do not build the interpersonal skills needed for adult roles. Additionally, time with friends – in some cases – is believed to be a strategy to avoid problem situations at home, which could lead to even more adverse consequences (e.g. MacLeod 1987 ). Thus, peer influence can be positive or negative, depending largely on the pro- or anti-social orientations of friends and the context ( Vitaro et al., 2009 ). In the current study, we specifically focus on unsupervised settings of peer influence by examining evening time with friends.

The review of key research on adolescents’ use of time in the previous section informs a clear set of expectations:

  • 1) Time investments in homework and extracurricular activities will enable students with less favorable starting positions to achieve positive developmental outcomes as well as help students with favorable starting positions to avoid losing their relative advantage.
  • 2) Unstructured time spent with peers in the evenings during high school will reduce chances for positive development and increase the likelihood that adolescents with favorable starting positions will show lower levels of later positive development.
  • 3) Adolescents’ use of time during high school will matter not only over the course of high school (from middle to late adolescence) but also in early adulthood.

In 1987, Youth Development Study participants ( N = 1,139) were recruited as ninth graders (mostly age 14–15) entering all high schools in the St. Paul, Minnesota Public School District via random sampling ( Mortimer, 2012 ). U.S. Census data show that this site was comparable to the nation as a whole with respect to several economic and sociodemographic indicators ( Mortimer, 2003 ). In 1989, per capital incomes in St. Paul and in the nation at large were $13,727 and $14,420 respectively. However, St. Paul residents were more highly educated than in the U.S. (among persons 25 and older, 33% and 20%, respectively, were college graduates). The minority population in the St. Paul School District was 30 percent in the mid-1980s, and 25 percent in the YDS panel. Because the YDS panel represented the ethnic/racial composition of the St. Paul community, the largest minority group consisted of Hmong children (11% of the initial panel) who were recent refugees. Comparison of census tract data for those who consented and those who refused the invitation to participate in the study did not reveal significant differences in socioeconomic variables.

Children were surveyed annually, during the first four years in their school classrooms, and subsequently by mail. The current study utilizes waves 1 (1988), 2 (1989), 3 (1990), 4 (1991), and 12 (2000). In 2000, 12 years after the first wave, 70% of the original sample (age 26–27) remained. Because of attrition, analyses of time use and developmental change during adolescence are based on a larger sample than those covering the period of transition to adulthood. Although a wide range of attitudes and behaviors (measured in 1988) do not predict retention in the study, attrition has been greater among men, minorities, and youth without an employed parent ( Mortimer, 2012 ).

Dependent variable.

To capture the complex array of potential time-use effects and to accommodate the multi-faceted nature of positive development, we constructed holistic, multivariate measures of development in adolescence and early adulthood using a person-centered approach. Person-centered analyses, like Latent Class Analysis (LCA), enable a global focus on the whole person, which is more naturalistic than the traditional regression approach of statistically “controlling” various aspects of life ( Masten, 2015 ). Based on a range of indicators of positive development over time, the LCA statistically identified ‘more favorable’ and ‘less favorable’ positions at three stages of development:

  • wave 1—middle adolescence, or the freshman year of high school, when most respondents were 14 and 15 years old;
  • wave 4—late adolescence, or the senior year of high school, ages 17–18;
  • and wave 12—early adulthood, ages 26/27.

Subsequently, we look at movements between categories across adolescence and the transition to adulthood. We examined “upward” movement from less favorable to more favorable positions over time (i.e. positive development). Conversely, “downward” movement refers to moving from favorable positions at the start to overall less favorable positions indicated by a range of outcomes. Figure 1 provides a graphic representation of our conceptual framework, showing positive and negative development over time.

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Movement between latent classes across developmental stages

Using the period between Grades 9 and 12 as an example, if a respondent is identified as having a more favorable developmental status in the 9 th grade, but is then seen to exhibit less favorable attributes in 12 th Grade, he or she is considered to experience negative development (downward movement). If instead, the movement seen is from the less favorable to more favorable categories, they are thought to experience positive development (upward movement). Respondents can also be stable if there is no movement between any two periods.

An advantage of LCA is that it allows groups to emerge from relationships in the data, rather than imposing groupings based on researchers’ preconceived notions, in this case, of what constitutes positive development. In using this method, we assume that choices, attitudes, motivations, and behaviors can be observed and that the interrelations of these phenomena are similar for individuals in a specific group and distinct from other groups. Therefore, identifying how these observable characteristics converge lets us construct a plausible grouping of individuals exhibiting similar multifaceted patterns.

Latent classes were constructed based on variables in educational, behavioral, and psychological domains that are time-variant and indicative of “positive development” in each phase. 2 These domains have close and complementary relationships over time ( Masten, 2015 ; Obradovíc et al., 2009.) The choice of indicators was informed by the Policy Research Team in Ramsey County, Minnesota, which oversees and evaluates several programs targeted to improving the prospects of at-risk youth. We established variable cut-offs indicating the points at which students might be considered to be in more or less favorable positions based on past literature and practical guidelines (e.g., a GPA of C+ is below the average of students admitted to college), not to separate the most high-achieving students from others. As a result, cut-offs for some variables may be considered a rather “low bar.” In setting these markers, we also considered the variable distributions to have sufficient numbers of cases in each category. Though this measurement strategy might be considered a limitation (given restricted variance), it honors the empirical linkages among several variables in a holistic manner.

In middle and late adolescence, educationally-related variables included grade point average (C+ or better, less than C+); educational aspiration, or the highest level of schooling the students think they will achieve (4 years of college or more, less than 4 years of college); and intrinsic motivation toward school (high, low). In the behavioral domain, we included getting in trouble at school (low, high), number of alcoholic drinks in the last 30 days (2 or less, more than 2); and smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days (no, yes). Psychological orientations included certainty about achieving career goals (high certainty, not as certain) and an index of more general expectations concerning the future (high, or more optimistic, or low, more pessimistic).

Considering these indicators together produces strong, holistic measures of more or less favorable development in adolescence. 3 Table 1 shows the prevalence of each class in our sample in middle and late adolescence, as well as the respective predicted probabilities of each indicator in our latent class analysis. In middle adolescence (age 14–15), 64% of the respondents were likely to be in a latent class we call “favorable development”; 32% were likely to be in the “less favorable development” latent class.

Estimated Prevalence and Conditional Probabilities of Observed Attitudes and Behaviors for Development Classes in Middle and Late Adolescence

In young adulthood, development categories were defined by the following stage-appropriate developmental indicators 4 : educational attainment (high school or less; vocational or associates degree; some college; or bachelor’s degree or more); currently employed (yes, no); job satisfaction (satisfied; somewhat satisfied; dissatisfied); how one’s current job relates to one’s career goal (yes; it is a stepping stone; no); certainty about eventually achieving one’s career goal (already achieved it; very certain; somewhat or not certain); economic self-sufficiency (100% spouse/self; 25% or more from relatives or government; other); and physical or emotional health problems that interfere with daily activities (no, yes). Table 2 shows the conditional probabilities of observed attitudinal and behavioral indicators of respondents assigned to each class, as well as the likelihood of each class assignment. 5

Estimated Prevalence and Conditional Probabilities of Observed Attitudes and Behaviors for Positive Development in Early Adulthood.

In our study, we are less interested in those who remain stable over time than in movement between classes through adolescence and during the transition to adulthood. Table A1 and A2 in the Appendix show movement from middle to late adolescence (freshman to senior year of high school) and movement from late adolescence to early adulthood (senior year of high school to age 26/27). Overall, 28% of respondents move between categories from middle to late adolescence and 46% from late adolescence to early adulthood. In early adulthood, we thus observe less stability than during high school. Forty-eight percent of those who were starting with a less favorable developmental pattern at the end of high school (late adolescence) experience positive development by early adulthood (upward movers); 41 percent of youth in the more favorable latent class in late adolescence experienced negative development eight years later (downward movers).

When considering transition patterns across all three periods (see Table A3 in the supplementary material ), we find that 39% of cases (N= 264) with valid responses across all three periods neither move up nor down (they are stable). Thirty-five percent of all students (N= 233) in the sample are one-time downward movers. Among downward movers, most move down after senior year. Thirteen percent (N= 86) are one-time upward movers and another 13% (N= 90) move at each period. However, it must be noted that comparing rates of transition across all three periods may be misleading given that the sample is reduced by more than 50%, due to attrition, and the indicators of positive development change between period 2 (late adolescence) and 3 (early adulthood). We therefore focus our attention on movement from mid to late adolescence, and then from late adolescence to early adulthood.

Independent variables.

The independent variables included hours spent per week on homework, hours spent per week in extra-curricular activities, and number of weekday evenings spent with friends during adolescence. Time spent on homework and extracurricular activities include the weekend, as students may catch up on homework on the weekend and many extracurricular events occur during the weekend. Time spent with peers includes only weekday evenings. Time spent with friends in the evening on weekdays is more likely to be time spent in ‘unstructured’ environments than in the afternoon, since during the latter time organized programs may take place that are not interpreted as “extracurricular activities.” We use averages of reported time spent in activities across four annual waves of data (one for each year of high school). Averaging across years is preferable to relying exclusively on information from one particular year because adolescent use of time can change substantially during high school. Moreover, we use continuous scores of hours spent on an activity as the independent variable of central interest. Arguably, the effect of time use may be sensitive to certain threshold values. For example, while a moderate amount spent on homework may be beneficial, too many late-night hours on homework may be harmful. To test the sensitivity of our time-use measures, we estimated all models with various cut-off points.

We use the average of all four high school years because the survey question can be considered retrospective for the current school year. This means that the number of hours spent on homework, for example, in the last year of high school, reflects time spent on this activity during the school year up to the day of the survey. As such, this measure maintains the temporal ordering of time use measures (independent variable) and developmental outcomes (dependent variable). In addition, we test the robustness of time-use effects by estimating the models with alternate measures (years 1–3, and years 2–3).

Covariates included background and psychological variables, measured in the first wave, that could affect time spent in activities during high school as well as the multidimensional indicators of positive development in adolescence and early adulthood, reflected in the latent classes. Background variables include parental household income, parental education, race, gender, and family structure. These measures are commonly included to reflect the relative advantages of youth at the beginning of high school. Additional psychological variables include depressed mood, self-esteem, self-mastery, academic self-efficacy, and parental educational expectations for the child. These constructs represent relatively stable, long-term characteristics. All controls could drive movement toward more or less beneficial uses of time, as well as eventual positive development during adolescence and the transition to adulthood; including them in the analyses reduces the risks of endogeneity and time-use effects. Table A6 in the Appendix shows how each variable in the analysis was operationalized.

Table 3 shows descriptive statistics for the independent, dependent, and control variables in the two key analytic samples, representing adolescence and the transition to adulthood (the latter smaller due to sample attrition). On average, the adolescents spent 7.9 hours in extracurricular activities per week; 9.1 hours per week doing homework, and 2.5 evenings per week with peers. Descriptives for all variables are presented for the analytic adolescent sample as well as the analytic transition to adulthood sample (see Table 3 ). Summary statistics of all model variables are shown by the dependent variable, i.e. movement category (upward, downward, stable high, stable low), in Table A9, Table A10, and Table A11 in the Appendix.

Descriptive Statistics (Analytic Samples)

Analytic Strategy.

As described above, a latent class analysis of key indicators of positive youth development at three times (freshman year of high school, senior year of high school, and early adulthood) distinguished a “favorable” class and a less favorable class. Then, because “class movement” is categorical, consisting of four categories (stable favorable status, stable unfavorable status, positive development, negative development), we used multinomial logistic regression to assess the likelihood of upward movement and downward movement across adolescence and over the transition to adulthood.

As our key analysis, we estimate two models: The first “adolescence” model predicts the 1) Relative Risk Ratio, or odds, of being an upward mover, i.e. positive development by the end of high school despite initial difficulty; and 2) the Relative Risk Ratio of being a downward mover, negative development over the course of the high school years for those who start out in an initially more favorable position. The second model repeats this analysis for the period from the end of high school to early adulthood (age 26/ 27). We only report results for changes across time rather than stability because these findings, particularly factors promoting movement from less favorable to more favorable outcomes, could inform interventions designed to support positive youth development. Variables measuring time spent in activities during high school are entered in the model simultaneously to ascertain their independent effects net of one another (e.g., the effects of extracurricular time above and beyond time spent with friends and time doing homework). To include the maximal number of cases, we estimate the adolescent model with data from all respondents who were retained by 1991, the last year of high school; we estimate the transition to adulthood model with those remaining by 2000, when most respondents were 26–27 years old.

Robustness Checks.

To assess the sensitivity of the results to our methods, model specification, sample, and missing cases, we conducted a series of robustness checks. First, sample attrition is of concern, particularly at the transition into adulthood. In response, we estimated all models for the earlier stage (mid to late adolescence) using the smaller sample for the “transition to adulthood” model. Second, we re-estimated the model incorporating multiple imputation using chained equations. Third, we checked how sensitive the results were to different codings of time variables. Fourth, we estimated our key models for development between the beginning of high school and early adulthood – spanning a period of 12 years. Fifth, we assessed the impact of including and excluding basic socio-demographic and psychological controls into the model. Our reported results were robust against all the outlined checks (available upon request).

Development from Middle Adolescence to Late Adolescence

The findings shown in Table 4 clearly demonstrate that how students spend their time in high school was associated with their development over the course of high school. Students starting in less favorable positions in the ninth grade were 7% more likely to move upward with each additional hour spent, on average, per week on homework (compared to participants who remained in the less favorable developmental status). The effects for time in extracurricular activities and with peers were not statistically significant.

Multinomial Logistic Regression Estimates (Relative Risk Ratios) of Positive and Negative Development in Adolescence

Exponentiated coefficients; Standard errors in parentheses

Note: See Table A7 for a full list of coefficients.

Next, we estimated the effects of time use on the likelihood of negative development, that is, moving to the less favorable developmental condition. Negative development during the course of high school did not depend on homework time or extracurricular involvement. Instead, the effect of time spent with peers was substantial. An additional evening with peers during the week, on average, increases the risk of negative development by 42% (p < .01). The multivariate results are consistent with patterns in the descriptive summary statistics ( Table A9 – A11 in the Appendix) – Upward movers spent on average more time on homework, on extracurricular activities and less time with peers compared to downward movers and students with stably low development.

Development from Late Adolescence to Early Adulthood

Adolescents’ use of time during high school also predicted positive and negative development during the transition from late adolescence to adulthood. Having spent more hours a week on homework and extracurricular activities increased the likelihood of upward movement (positive development) by age 26/27.

What about late adolescents who started off more favorably? Strikingly, earlier involvement with peers had a large and deleterious effect on their future (see Table 5 ). Those who had spent one more evening on average a week with friends during high school were 38% (p < .05) more likely to be downward movers. All effects shown in Table 5 are net of key socio-demographic, socio-economic, and psychological variables.

Multinomial Logistic Regression Estimates (Relative Risk Ratios) of Positive and Negative Development during the Transition to Adulthood

Note: See Table A8 for a full list of coefficients.

In sum, our findings show that the ways students spend their time in high school are associated with their development, both in the short- and long-term. Homework and, to some degree, extracurricular activities, increase the likelihood of positive development, but are less implicated in the likelihood of moving downward. Time spent with peers increases the likelihood of negative development for youth who started out more favorably both in adolescence and early adulthood. Contrary to our expectations, the effects of time spent in activities on positive development and negative development are not mirror images of one another. We discuss this asymmetry in the next section.

This study aimed at extending the literature on time use during high school and positive youth development in several ways. We examined long-term effects at 4 and 12 years after starting high school. We assessed predictors of positive development for those who started high school with unfavorable developmental attributes, as well as predictors of negative development for those who started out as relatively promising. We constructed holistic measures for positive development rather than relying on single outcomes such as educational achievement or delinquency. Lastly, we took into account different types of time use (homework, extracurricular activities, time spent with peers) simultaneously rather than studying each one of them in isolation.

We conceptualized and operationalized the positive development of adolescents and young adults as multifaceted phenomena that encompass several psychological orientations, achievements, and other behaviors. As such, we used a person-centered approach, Latent Class Analysis, to assess positive development. According to Yates and colleagues (2015) : “Cumulative risk is best met by cumulative protection efforts that prevent risk, promote resources, and buffer adaptive functioning” (2015, pp.778). Our results suggest that adolescents’ use of time may be a fruitful avenue for such “cumulative protection efforts”.

Most attention in the developmental literature has been directed to understanding risk and vulnerability. Long-term disadvantage and repeated failures (in school, work, with peers, etc.) engender cumulative risk and negative developmental outcomes necessitating multiple protective resources and strategies. But even in dire circumstances, many disadvantaged adolescents manage to thrive by the time they reach adulthood. The transition into adulthood is often portrayed as a “fresh start,” with developmental pathways dependent on exposure to new contexts and the greater capacity to exercise individual agency and autonomy ( Arnett, 2007 ; Crosnoe 2001 ; Masten, 2015 ; Settersten & Ray, 2010 ). Laub and Sampson (2003) draw attention to “knifing off” experiences in the military (see also London and Wilmoth 2016 ), support from a conforming spouse, and positive work experiences, all of which lead to desistance from crime. However, it is important to acknowledge that continued exposure to disadvantaged contexts, and the cumulative risks they pose, may limit the opportunities many youth have to get a fresh start ( Bynner, 2005 ; Cote, 2008 ; Dannefer, Kelley-Moore, & Huang, 2016 ; Furstenberg, 2008 ; Putnam, 2015 ). For example, structural factors in high school, such as ability tracking within and across schools, limit individual choices beyond the senior year (e.g. Lucas 2001). Those less favorably positioned, and particularly those who do not achieve a post-secondary degree of any kind (i.e., bachelors’ or associates degrees, vocational certificates) face considerable challenges in the new “gig” economy, in achieving stable employment, independent residence, and economic self-sufficiency. Many join the working “precariat” and become “boomerang children.” In fact, difficult experiences in attaining key markers of adulthood may have led a substantial portion of young people in this study to experience “downward movement” during the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

While “fresh start” and “knifing off” processes signify sharp discontinuities, breaking from the past, the present study sheds light on more mundane, quotidian uses of time (i.e., homework, extracurricular pursuits) that may interrupt negative developmental trajectories. Our results suggest that time use during high school may be one leverage point that opens doors. For example, early decisions about homework and extracurricular activities may influence later decisions about the use of time in post-secondary settings, including continued schooling and occupational pathways that foster continued attainments.

We find that the average time spent on homework and with peers during the four years of high school matter for development. Because students in middle to late adolescence spend a lot of their time in the structured environments under consideration, we would expect homework and extracurricular activities to have immediate effects on positive development over the course of high school. As discussed in the beginning of this article, homework may boost achievement, and extracurricular activities promote the development of non-cognitive skills and social ties. It is reasonable to suppose that the effects of adolescent time use would wane once students leave the structured environment of high school.

Surprisingly, however, the use of time in high school still had predictive power several years later when respondents had reached early adulthood. In the current study, time spent doing homework and, to a lesser extent, in extracurricular activities (in the transition to adulthood period only) increased the probability of positive development. Interestingly, the effects of time spent in these two activities on those who started off more favorably at the beginning of each interval were not statistically significant (at the p < 0.05 level). In other words, time spent in homework and extracurricular activities did not protect students from negative development. But every additional weekday evening spent with peers during high school increased the chances of negative development in late adolescence and in early adulthood.

These results link back to the ongoing and heated debate about “overscheduling” students, which may be a concern only for some students. More time spent doing homework and extracurricular activities had positive effects, in particular, for students starting off less favorably, independent of socio-economic origins and early psychological orientations. In contrast, our findings indicate that doing more homework or more extracurricular activities may not help students to maintain an initial advantage. This implies that policies encouraging homework may be especially important for students facing challenges at the beginning of high school; increasing homework time is likely to affect favorable development across multiple domains over time. Although many have argued against giving too much homework or homework that is merely “busy work” ( Marzano & Pickering, 2007 ), the current research underscores the importance of homework for students starting with a less favorable developmental status, including, for example, at-risk subgroups of students. Rather than shielding at-risk students from homework, providing support for a diverse range of students to complete homework is important ( Voorhees, 2011 ).

Interestingly, the negative effects of evening time spent with peers were significant among youth who started out more favorably in both periods. Spending four evenings a week on average with friends compared to one doubled the probability of negative development. A study of low-income minority children similarly found high levels of problem behaviors (e.g., delinquency, substance use, and peer substance use) for those who spent unstructured time away from home, presumably with peers, compared to unstructured time at home ( Wolf et al., 2015 ). Notwithstanding a body of research that highlights potential benefits from positive friendships ( Vitaro et al., 2009 ), our findings also corroborate a body of work on peer deviance training (e.g., Dishion, Kim, & Tein, 2015 ). That is, youth are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors when they are together with other youth in unstructured contexts (Dodge et al., 2008; Osgood and Anderson, 2004 ).

Time spent in extracurricular activities during high school predicted upward movement, or a positive developmental pathway, over the transition to adulthood. Although extra-curricular activities are a possible support mechanism for young people, policy makers are cautioned against simply grouping vulnerable youth together in after school activities (Dodge et al., 2008). Instead, mixed groups, structured activities, and connections with adult mentors are key components that contribute to positive development in extra-curricular contexts. Additionally, practices that discourage at-risk students from engaging in extra-curricular activities should be reexamined, particularly fees that may be prohibitive to families from lower socio-economic backgrounds ( Putnam, 2015 ).

While our design was not able to directly test explanations of why time spent in homework, extracurricular activities, and peers has such strong and long-lasting statistical “effects,” we offer a number of potential mechanisms that could explain our key results. The persistent effects of adolescents’ use of time can be explained if distinct activities are understood as opportunity structures for non-cognitive skill and habit formation. The impacts of non-cognitive skills (such as self-regulation, motivation, values, etc.) on life outcomes are key interests of psychologists; such interests are increasingly spreading to other fields such as economics ( Heckman, Stixrud, & Urzua, 2006 ) and sociology ( Johnson & Mortimer, 2011 ; Vuolo, Staff, & Mortimer, 2012 ). While homework may be primarily intended to improve cognitive skills, increase learning, raise grades and heighten achievement, homework time may also contribute to the development of discipline, self-regulation, achievement motivation, time discounting preferences, and delayed gratification ( Bempechat, 2004 ; Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2011 ). Homework may also teach high school students how to acquire information, solve problems, and learn new things, and these lessons stay with them after they leave school. Extracurricular activities constitute a venue for developing social and cooperative skills, making friends, setting goals to be pursued in a vigorous and systematic manner, and acquiring positive adult role models ( Mahoney et al., 2005 ). Each of these processes sets the stage for positive development in adulthood despite challenges.

The negative effect of time with peers in largely unsupervised environments is well established ( McHale et al., 2001 ; Osgood & Anderson, 2004 ; Vandell et al., 2015 ). Structured lives with more routine, organized activities reduce opportunity for deviant behavior and enhance social control ( Cohen & Felson, 1979 ; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990 ; Hirschi, 1969 ). Organized processes constructed and supervised by adults (e.g. homework, extracurricular activities) constrain the violation of social norms, whereas unsupervised evening time with peers may boost the opportunity for delinquency ( Dodge, Dishion, & Lansford, 2007 ). The absence of adult control enables adolescents to pursue peer norms that are often detrimental to long-term development, achievement, and progress. These norms may condone or support deviant behavior, a lack of effort in school, disengagement from conventional activities and contexts, and detachment from positive adult role models.

Our study faces certain limitations. First, our sample is based on a panel of youth in a single Midwest community in the US. While any judgment about the applicability of our findings to other settings is beyond the scope of this study, we encourage similar research in other contexts to explore the external validity of our results. International comparisons may be of particular interest as educational regimes and the transition to the labor market vary systematically and dramatically across societies. Some countries, such as Germany, have tightly regulated school-to-work pathways. Since individuals are channeled into vocational and college preparatory tracks at an early age, and because these trajectories lead directly into work or post-secondary education, discretionary experiences during high school such as the ones studied here (extracurricular activities, peer involvements) may have less impact on developmental and attainment outcomes. Other countries, such as Israel, have mandatory conscription which may present an opportunity for a “fresh start” for some youth with less favorable development during high school. Furthermore, it is important to note that positive development is socio-historically constructed and highly dependent on place and time (see Dannefer, 1984 ; Mortimer & Moen, 2016 ).

Second, use of self-reported hours or evenings spent on each activity raises threats of measurement error. It does not reveal the quality of the activity or how the individual engages with the opportunity structure provided by the use of time ( Hirsch et al., 2011 , Vandell et al., 2015 ). Unfortunately, we lack more detailed information about the features of homework or extracurricular activities that might yield the most beneficial results, and the kinds of peer activities, or characteristics of peers, that may be most harmful. Future studies are needed to address these nuances and to understand the mechanisms through which time use during high school contributes to positive or negative development.

Third, as in most observational studies, we face issues of unobserved heterogeneity. There may be unobserved student characteristics that drive both patterns of time investment in activities and patterns of development. We have tried to address this issue by identifying and controlling a wide range of plausible social background and psychological confounders. Lastly, more research is needed on the interaction of time use with smart phone use and social media (see e.g. Twenge et al., 2018 ). Given the period of our data collection, we were not able to capture this new development.

Despite these limitations, our study confirms previous evidence on the positive effects of homework and extracurricular activities and the potentially negative effects of peers on development in mid-to-late adolescence. We extend this evidence by showing that time use during high school predicts developmental outcomes well beyond the high school years, into early adulthood. Findings indicate that homework should be promoted, especially for adolescents who are not doing as well as their peers upon entry to high school. However, unsupervised time with peers appears to be detrimental to the positive development of all mid-adolescents, irrespective of their initial starting positions.

Supplementary Material

1 Throughout this paper, we do not use the term, effects, to suggest causal relationships given that the study design does not ensure causality. Here effects refer to statistically significant associations that have been adjusted for a wide range of prior and intervening factors.

2 The Latent Class Analysis (LCA) was performed using the Stata package ( Lanza, Dziak, Huang, Wanger, and Collins 2015 ). According to Nylund, Asparouhov, and Muthen (2007) , the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC) and the Bootstrapped Likelihood Ratio Test (BLRT) are good indicators of the number of classes to retain. We chose the number of latent classes corresponding to the lowest BIC. Additionally, high entropy suggests that observations fit well into a defined number of classes. Clark and Muthen (2009) claim that an entropy of 0.8 is considered high entropy. For each of our chosen models, the entropy scores ranged from 0.77 to 0.85. The highest entropy scores for each model corresponded to the lowest BIC. The Log-Likelihood, BIC, and Entropy R-Squared for each LCA specification are reported in Table A4 in the Appendix. A review of all variables included, as well as their operationalizations, are reported in Table A5 of the Appendix.

3 Appendix Table A4 shows the log-likelihood estimates and fit statistics, indicating two latent classes in middle adolescence, two in late adolescence, and three in early adulthood.

4 We acknowledge that stage-appropriate indicators are social constructions that may vary largely across time and space (see Dannefer (1984) ; Mortimer, J. & Moen, P. (2016) )

5 This stage includes three classes: one clearly “favorable” (with higher probability of an advantageous position on each indicator and a prevalence of 46%) and two less “favorable.” The distinguishing feature of one less favorable class is an absence of employment (with a prevalence of 12%); the other is employed, but has other less favorable characteristics (prevalence of 42%). Due to the similarity between the classes with respect to our intended measure of development and to simplify the analysis, we combine the two less favorable classes into a single group. Employment in young adulthood is generally more fluid and unstable than later in the work career, and this is especially the case for those with fewer educational credentials. It is therefore not surprising to find two latent classes, both having less favorable characteristics, which are distinguished mainly by the presence of employment. The more favorable group has stronger educational credentials than either of the less favorable ones. Respondents in this class are also more likely to be economically self-sufficient, to have no physical or mental problems that interfere with daily routines, and (compared to those in the less favorable employed group) to be more satisfied with their work and more optimistic about their career progress.

Contributor Information

Jasper Tjaden, Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, International Organization for Migration.

Dom Rolando, Department of Family, Youth & Community Services, University of Florida-Gainesville.

Jennifer Doty, Department of Family, Youth & Community Services, University of Florida-Gainesville.

Jeylan T. Mortimer, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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Learning Disabilities Association of America

How Much Time Should Be Spent on Homework?

Student doing homework with clock

At the elementary level homework should be brief, at your child’s ability level and involve frequent, voluntary and high interest activities. Young students require high levels of feedback and/or supervision to help them complete assignments correctly. Accurate homework completion is influenced by your child’s ability, the difficulty of the task, and the amount of feedback your child receives. When assigning homework, your child’s teachers may struggle to create a balance at this age between ability, task difficulty and feedback. Unfortunately, there are no simple guiding principles.

We can assure you, however, that your input and feedback on a nightly basis is an essential component in helping your child benefit from the homework experience.

What is the recommended time in elementary school?

In first through third grade, students should receive one to three assignments per week, taking them no more than fifteen to twenty minutes. In fourth through sixth grade, students should receive two to four assignments per week, lasting between fifteen and forty-five minutes. At this age, the primarily goal of homework is to help your child develop the independent work and learning skills that will become critical in the higher grades. In the upper grades, the more time spent on homework the greater the achievement gains.

What is the recommended time in middle and high school?

For students in middle and high school grades there are greater overall benefits from time engaged in practicing and thinking about school work. These benefits do not appear to depend as much upon immediate supervision or feedback as they do for elementary students. In seventh through ninth grade we recommend students receive three to five sets of assignments per week, lasting between forty-five and seventy-five minutes per set. In high school students will receive four to five sets of homework per week, taking them between seventy-five and 150 minutes per set to complete.

As children progress through school, homework and the amount of time engaged in homework increases in importance. Due to the significance of homework at the older age levels, it is not surprising that there is more homework assigned. Furthermore, homework is always assigned in college preparatory classes and assigned at least three quarters of the time in special education and vocational training classes. Thus at any age, homework may indicate our academic expectations of children.

Regardless of the amount of homework assigned, many students unsuccessful or struggling in school spend less rather than more time engaged in homework. It is not surprising that students spending less time completing homework may eventually not achieve as consistently as those who complete their homework.

Does this mean that time devoted to homework is the key component necessary for achievement?

We are not completely certain. Some American educators have concluded that if students in America spent as much time doing homework as students in Asian countries they might perform academically as well. It is tempting to assume such a cause and effect relationship.

However, this relationship appears to be an overly simple conclusion. We know that homework is important as one of several influential factors in school success. However, other variables, including student ability, achievement, motivation and teaching quality influence the time students spend with homework tasks. Many students and their parents have told us they experience less difficulty being motivated and completing homework in classes in which they enjoyed the subject, the instruction, the assignments and the teachers.

The benefits from homework are the greatest for students completing the most homework and doing so correctly. Thus, students who devote time to homework are probably on a path to improved achievement. This path also includes higher quality instruction, greater achievement motivation and better skill levels.

Authors: Dr. Sam Goldstein and Dr. Sydney Zentall

average amount of time spent on homework in high school

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  • Countries Who Spend the Most Time Doing Homework

Homework levels across the world vary greatly by country.

Homework is an important aspect of the education system and is often dreaded by the majority of students all over the world. Although many teachers and educational scholars believe homework improves education performance, many critics and students disagree and believe there is no correlation between homework and improving test scores.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental organization. With headquarters in Paris, the organization was formed for the purpose of stimulating global trade and economic progress among member states. In 2009, the OECD conducted a detailed study to establish the number of hours allocated for doing homework by students around the world and conducted the research in 38 member countries. The test subjects for the study were 15 year old high school students in countries that used PISA exams in their education systems. The results showed that in Shanghai, China the students had the highest number of hours of homework with 13.8 hours per week. Russia followed, where students had an average of 9.7 hours of homework per week. Finland had the least amount of homework hours with 2.8 hours per week, followed closely by South Korea with 2.9 hours. Among all the countries tested, the average homework time was 4.9 hours per week.

Interpretation of the data

Although students from Finland spent the least amount of hours on their homework per week, they performed relatively well on tests which discredits the notion of correlation between the number of hours spent on homework with exam performance. Shanghai teenagers who spent the highest number of hours doing their homework also produced excellent performances in the school tests, while students from some regions such as Macao, Japan, and Singapore increased the score by 17 points per additional hour of homework. The data showed a close relation between the economic backgrounds of students and the number of hours they invested in their homework. Students from affluent backgrounds spent fewer hours doing homework when compared to their less privileged counterparts, most likely due to access to private tutors and homeschooling. In some countries such as Singapore, students from wealthy families invested more time doing their homework than less privileged students and received better results in exams.

Decline in number of hours

Subsequent studies conducted by the OECD in 2012 showed a decrease in the average number hours per week spent by students. Slovakia displayed a drop of four hours per week while Russia declined three hours per week. A few countries including the United States showed no change. The dramatic decline of hours spent doing homework has been attributed to teenager’s increased use of the internet and social media platforms.

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Student Study Time Matters

Vicki nelson.

average amount of time spent on homework in high school

Most college students want to do well, but they don’t always know what is required to do well. Finding and spending quality study time is one of the first and most important skills that your student can master, but it's rarely as simple as it sounds.

If a student is struggling in class, one of the first questions I ask is, “How much time do you spend studying?”

Although it’s not the only element, time spent studying is one of the basics, so it’s a good place to start. Once we examine time, we can move on to other factors such as how, where, what and when students are studying, but we start with time .

If your student is struggling , help them explore how much time they are spending on schoolwork.

How Much Is Enough?

Very often, a student’s answer to how much time they spend hitting the books doesn’t match the expectation that most professors have for college students. There’s a disconnect about “how much is enough?”

Most college classes meet for a number of “credit hours” – typically 3 or 4. The general rule of thumb (and the definition of credit hour adopted by the Department of Education) is that students should spend approximately 2–3 hours on outside-of-class work for each credit hour or hour spent in the classroom.

Therefore, a student taking five 3-credit classes spends 15 hours each week in class and should be spending 30 hours on work outside of class , or 45 hours/week total.

When we talk about this, I can see on students’ faces that for most of them this isn’t even close to their reality!

According to one survey conducted by the National Survey of Student Engagement, most college students spend an average of 10–13 hours/week studying, or less than 2 hours/day and less than half of what is expected. Only about 11% of students spend more than 25 hours/week on schoolwork.

Why Such a Disconnect?

Warning: math ahead!

It may be that students fail to do the math – or fail to flip the equation.

College expectations are significantly different from the actual time that most high school students spend on outside-of-school work, but the total picture may not be that far off. In order to help students understand, we crunch some more numbers.

Most high school students spend approximately 6 hours/day or 30 hours/week in school. In a 180 day school year, students spend approximately 1,080 hours in school. Some surveys suggest that the average amount of time that most high school students spend on homework is 4–5 hours/week. That’s approximately 1 hour/day or 180 hours/year. So that puts the average time spent on class and homework combined at 1,260 hours/school year.

Now let’s look at college: Most semesters are approximately 15 weeks long. That student with 15 credits (5 classes) spends 225 hours in class and, with the formula above, should be spending 450 hours studying. That’s 675 hours/semester or 1,350 for the year. That’s a bit more than the 1,260 in high school, but only 90 hours, or an average of 3 hours more/week.

The problem is not necessarily the number of hours, it's that many students haven’t flipped the equation and recognized the time expected outside of class.

In high school, students’ 6-hour school day was not under their control but they did much of their work during that time. That hour-or-so a day of homework was an add-on. (Some students definitely spend more than 1 hour/day, but we’re looking at averages.)

In college, students spend a small number of hours in class (approximately 15/week) and are expected to complete almost all their reading, writing and studying outside of class. The expectation doesn’t require significantly more hours; the hours are simply allocated differently – and require discipline to make sure they happen. What students sometimes see as “free time” is really just time that they are responsible for scheduling themselves.

Help Your Student Adjust to College Academics >

How to Fit It All In?

Once we look at these numbers, the question that students often ask is, “How am I supposed to fit that into my week? There aren’t enough hours!”

Again: more math.

I remind students that there are 168 hours in a week. If a student spends 45 hours on class and studying, that leaves 123 hours. If the student sleeps 8 hours per night (few do!), that’s another 56 hours which leaves 67 hours, or at least 9.5 hours/day for work or play.

Many colleges recommend that full-time students should work no more than 20 hours/week at a job if they want to do well in their classes and this calculation shows why.

Making It Work

Many students may not spend 30 or more hours/week studying, but understanding what is expected may motivate them to put in some additional study time. That takes planning, organizing and discipline. Students need to be aware of obstacles and distractions (social media, partying, working too many hours) that may interfere with their ability to find balance.

What Can My Student Do?

Here are a few things your student can try.

  • Start by keeping a time journal for a few days or a week . Keep a log and record what you are doing each hour as you go through your day. At the end of the week, observe how you have spent your time. How much time did you actually spend studying? Socializing? Sleeping? Texting? On social media? At a job? Find the “time stealers.”
  • Prioritize studying. Don’t hope that you’ll find the time. Schedule your study time each day – make it an appointment with yourself and stick to it.
  • Limit phone time. This isn’t easy. In fact, many students find it almost impossible to turn off their phones even for a short time. It may take some practice but putting the phone away during designated study time can make a big difference in how efficient and focused you can be.
  • Spend time with friends who study . It’s easier to put in the time when the people around you are doing the same thing. Find an accountability partner who will help you stay on track.
  • If you have a job, ask if there is any flexibility with shifts or responsibilities. Ask whether you can schedule fewer shifts at prime study times like exam periods or when a big paper or project is due. You might also look for an on-campus job that will allow some study time while on the job. Sometimes working at a computer lab, library, information or check-in desk will provide down time. If so, be sure to use it wisely.
  • Work on strengthening your time management skills. Block out study times and stick to the plan. Plan ahead for long-term assignments and schedule bite-sized pieces. Don’t underestimate how much time big assignments will take.

Being a full-time student is a full-time job. Start by looking at the numbers with your student and then encourage them to create strategies that will keep them on task.

With understanding and practice, your student can plan for and spend the time needed to succeed in college.

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average amount of time spent on homework in high school

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Transition to College

  • Rhythm of the First Semester
  • Tips from a Student on Making It Through the First Year
  • Who Is Your First‑Year Student?
  • Campus Resources: Your Cheat Sheet
  • Handling Roommate Issues

average amount of time spent on homework in high school

  • Study Time Matters
  • The Importance of Professors and Advisors
  • Should My Student Withdraw from a Difficult Course?

Part 3 Health & Well-Being

  • Essential Health Conversations
  • A Mental Health Game Plan for College Students and Families
  • Assertiveness is the Secret Sauce
  • Is Your Student at Risk for an Eating Disorder?

Part 4 Life Outside the Classroom

  • Learning to Manage Money
  • 5 Ways to Begin Career Prep in the First Year
  • The Value of Outside Opportunities

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average amount of time spent on homework in high school


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  2. How Much Time Should Be Spent on Homework Based on Grade?

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  3. Infographic: Time spent on homework

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  4. Average Amount Of Time High School Students Spend On Homework

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  5. Average Amount Of Time High School Students Spend On Homework

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  21. In the Media

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  23. Student Study Time Matters

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