Friday, March 29, 2013

More on yesterday's blog

I received a response from my comment yesterday on a mother's blog and decided to add some follow-up thoughts. Here they are:

I understand what you are saying. One of the major points in my model, which differs from what other homework critics are saying, is that homework, by its very nature usurps power from the parents. As you make clear, it is your opinion, as a parent, that, despite the time spent on protests, the overall impact is good for your child. I honor that and think you should have the power and authority to follow your beliefs. One basic truism about being a parent is that we all approach it from our own point of view and do the best we can. We love our children, and it is that love, not just the specific decisions we make, that proves central to them growing up and thriving.
When I look at my experience with my children (I have three who are all grown up), I can say with certainty that my thinking evolved out of those experiences. Had I only had two children, I would have never directed my practice, as a psychologist, to the study of homework. I would have accepted the fundamental rightness of homework and set a tone in my home that one should respect authority and do what one was told (even if I sometimes doubted a particular assignment).
With my third child, it was different. The homework battles were unrelenting and the source of the problem was a difference between his being an obviously bright child and his difficulties managing work at home. My wife and I joined the school in its efforts to get him to do his work. Over time, we began to see the situation in a different light, and realized that he needed homework relief, in the form of true by-the-clock time boundaries, if he were to succeed. The school was variable in its willingness to defer to our point of view. In every case, he excelled (not just grade wise but in true learning) when we had authority to make our own decisions at home, did very poorly when the school would not bend on what they insisted he do.
It was because of this that I wrote The Homework Trap. It is really the book I wish I had to use as a basis for making my point. As much as I was respected for being "Dr. Goldberg," as a parent, I was seen as an ordinary parent (which is the way it should be). It would have helped to have my own Dr. Goldberg, over my shoulder, supporting what I was saying.
But in the end, the most harmful part was that the school could make homework decisions that superseded my authority as a parent.
So when you say in your response that you feel what you are doing is good for your child, my response is "great, go for it." In the end, I consider the most important change that needs to occur with homework policy is to vest, with parents, full authority over what happens in the home. If you find, as your child grows up, that your position is what he needs; you, as his parent, should have the full right to continue as you see fit. My concern is that you may hit a point where you see things in a different way. Perhaps, your child will incorporate the habits and skills you want him to develop and that is fine. Perhaps, he won't. Then I ask, who will make the decision about what is required of him in your home: you or the school? In my mind, final decision-making should always be yours.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mother blogs about homework

Here are my thoughts for a mother who recently blogged about homework.

At the start of this piece, you made a comment about homework being "necessary." This really depends on what you mean by the word necessary -- necessary to learn or necessary to pass. The sad truth is that research gives very little support for the notion that homework helps in learning. The problem for most parents is that homework is factored in the grading system so heavily that it becomes necessary to do it to pass the course.

If we think about it, we realize that homework is given an extremely high weight for the time it is supposed to take. The child can earn a zero for work not handed in, He may score 60 on a test he failed, yet the zero has a 2 1/2 times greater, negative effect on the grade than the failing test had. And the homework score may get factored in 20 or 25 percent even though it should, theoretically take less than 10 percent of the child's total school/home educational day.

When you talk about having your 9 year old child do 30 minute blocks of work, I would say that a 9 year old should not be doing more than 30 minutes work in total. So my recommendation to you is to limit yourself and your child to one such block. Bring the work session to a close, once the 30 minutes are over, and live with the results. Your child will probably do more in that time bound 30 minutes than he will do with the current arrangement.

This obviously puts you in a position of having to deal with the school around the work that has not been done, but you are dealing with them now, while homework dominates your home.

Good luck. For more on this model, check out

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Another Good Homework Advice Article and Where it is Flawed

I came across an article on Fighting the Homework Battles with Kids,, that gives some common, standard, and good advice. The article quotes two sources, a book by Neil McNerney, “Homework, a Parental Guide to Helping Out Without Freaking Out,” and a book by Fran Walfish, “The Self-Aware Parent.” The article speaks to the value of having a positive dialogue with your child, recognizing that things change with advancing age, making sure that homework is about the child, not about you, insuring that the child has access to a comfortable space in which to do the work and has the necessary supplies readily at hand. Who could disagree with those recommendations?

As those who follow my writings know, I am a psychologist, familiar with principles of behavior, and I am the father of three grown children, two of whom managed the homework system well. I can tell you, with confidence, that regardless of how much I adhered to these principles, they would not have worked with my youngest child. There is no way in which good, common advice will work for the child who is homework-trapped. In my estimation, somewhere between ten and twenty-five percent of all children fit in that category. Here’s the problem.

First, parents differ in who they are. As it is, I’ve been successful through the course of my life (a master’s in mathematics, a doctorate in psychology, and four books to my name), yet, I am fairly disorganized and free-spirited by nature. So is my wife, and our children have benefitted (and perhaps in some ways suffered) from being raised by parents like us. The fact that two of our children had no major difficulties with school (and its homework policies) simply highlights the fact that parents are different, and being who we are, is not a roadblock to successfully growing up. The notion that parents can solve homework problems by simply following the lifestyle advice that others give is not true. There are all sorts of ways of living and those ways of living apply to how we parent as well. Solutions to homework noncompliance must take into account who those parents are.

Second, the fundamental reason why my homework-trapped child, and why the homework-trapped children I see through the course of my practice, had difficulties is educational, not behavioral. The behavioral difficulties evolve as an adaptation to the learning (or sometimes under-the-radar learning) problems that may not qualify as a full-blown learning disability, but nevertheless, impact homework completion.

Third, teachers are not trained in the theory, practice, and research of homework. It is absolutely shocking that we give people, who are well trained to teach but not well trained to give homework, so much power and authority over what goes on in the home.

Fourth, the solutions to in-home problems never come from outsiders placing parents in positions with high degrees of responsibility but low levels of authority. This is what happens to the parents of homework trapped children and it is certainly what happened to my wife and me. We were recognized as extremely competent parents with our older two children because they did well in school, but would then get challenged constantly for the difficulties we had with our homework trapped child. The different had nothing do to do with our parenting, but everything to do with his learning. And his learning problems were not great. They appeared in his reading and writing speed, and he had some difficulties paying attention. He learned well in class. Homework took forever if he even knew what he was supposed to do.

This created a serious case of the “tail wagging the dog,” since the homework (a practice that is not taught in schools of education) was allowed to interfere with the education of an otherwise friendly, bright, and reasonably well motivated child.

Good parents are always open to new ideas so tips like the ones found in today’s featured article are worth giving consideration. But you won’t find solutions unless you accurately consider what the problem truly is, and in most cases, kids who can do their homework will do their homework, even if they have a few bad days.

To rectify this problem, it is critical to reconsider the underlying notion of homework, and the shocking reality that we vest so much authority into people who, despite their skills as teachers, are dangerously overvaluing a practice that has limited value and for which their training is slight.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One school's homework policy

I came across this article, written by a school psychologist from a school district that appears to have a better than average homework policy. It provides options for parents whose children are having difficulties with their homework and those options include creating time-based requirements, a concept I have frequently advocated. I am curious about two concepts in this policy. It talks about accommodations and modifications that parents can ask for. It highlights that these provisions can be enacted for children with special needs. It's not clear if we are talking about kids with formally documented special needs or special needs as they have been identified by the parent. As the readers of this blog know, I have concerns about the under-the-radar learning problems, difficulties with working memory and processing speed, that may not reach the level of a true learning disability but are, nevertheless, significant when it comes to homework completion.

There is one other line which makes me cringe, and that is where the policy states that "It’s your job as a parent ..." I have some problem with the notion of schools defining for parents their jobs. I think the parents' primary job is to raise their children the best they can. It is certainly their job, and their legal responsibility, to send their children to school. Most parents will accept as their jobs the need to guide and support the child in the various components of their lives. But the notion of an external entity, the school, defining a parents' responsibilities, is riling. I also think that, although the tone of this article gives parents more options, and the right to choose between options, than I've seem elsewhere, I am concerned that the policy has not more forcefully addressed the notion that schools have a way of vesting "authority" over the home in the school and "responsibility" over the child's behavior with the parent. I think schools need to understand and operate on the notion that kids need parents to have high levels of authority in addition to the great responsibilities they take on in having kids.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An AP Student Comments on Time

Here's a comment by an AP student on how much time homework takes.  A lot of the homework debate appears directed to high performing students. I think we need to consider homework and its affects on average and struggling students. Here is the comment I wrote to what he said.

The issue of time depends greatly on what we mean by time: The time the assignment “should” take or the time the assignments actually takes. The issue this AP student presents is somewhat different from the issue that affects the average student. Homework is a fact of life going back to elementary school and most AP students have had success with it all along. AP classes are intended to be similar to classes taken in college. In college, a full time course load may involve 16 credits. If the student spends two hours doing homework for every credit hour of lecture time, that’s 48 hours per week, a reasonable workload for a college student. So it may be difficult to develop time criteria that make sense for students who take these advanced classes but are going to school more than 6 hours a day.

The issue I focus on is the less advanced student who has been struggling with homework from the beginning. Time, measured by the assignment, does not allow for the fact that kids work at different paces. So that student who is normally bright, and college bound, but not the budding AP student, normally takes more time to get the assignment done. And some students take so long, that they cannot get it all done. The ongoing penalties and teacher-parent pressures they receive actually turns them off to school, rather than foster their education.

I call these kids homework-trapped, and the only solution for them is to create true time-bound limits to the work they do. I discuss this more in my book: The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers and on my website:

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 


Monday, March 18, 2013

Student speaks out in favor of homework

I read a comment by a sophomore in high school sharing his feeling that the homework he gets is manageable and fair. Here's the link to what he says. I wrote a comment but, as it turns out, my comment is to long for what is allowed, so I'm providing my comment here. Please follow the link to what he says and then return to this blog for my response.

Dave. It sounds like you are doing a good job, focusing on your work while sustaining a full life. I’m sure you are right in your impressions about your fellow students and their complaints. But your comments miss a very significant point that I would not expect you to see (I never saw it when I was your age), and that is that, for some kids, homework does great damage to them. Typically, the damage precedes your age and grade, taking place when those children are in elementary and middle school. By high school, things are different. If a student has reached high school and is able to select advanced courses like you have, despite his complaints, he’s still moving forward toward lifetime success. It is the child who has experienced ongoing homework pressures, with longstanding negativity, and very little success who is getting damaged by the system in place. That student rarely shows up in the classes you select and most likely spends time in different social groups. The young person feel ostracized by the school. He feels excluded from school activities. His parents have joined his teachers in getting on his case, with nothing gained for all that has gone on.

These children are “homework-trapped.” The trap is caused by a system that interferes with the parents in managing the home. It involves assignments that take that child too long to complete, with the problem typically rooted in weaknesses in the areas of working memory and processing speed (reading and handwriting).

Depending on how we define this state of being homework-trapped, the problem affects anywhere between 10 and 25% of all kids.

When I was young, there was a boy who lived two houses away from me. While I read a book, worked on a brainteaser, or did my homework, he would spend type working on his bike, which eventually turned into working on his motorcycle, and when he reached the age, working on his car. At the time, I could not see how academic requirements send home by the school might interfere with his learning through what he considered fun. As an adult, a psychologist, and a parent, it is much clearer to me that the system of homework plays out differently for different children.

I do not mean to diminish your accomplishments or underplay the importance of the good habits you have formed. In fact, I’m not sure why, at your age, you should even worry about the things that I say here. But, I am concerned that adults, parents and teachers will misconstrue your experience as a reason to overlook the experience other students have, the ones who do not take honors courses in high school, and are sure to get turned off to school. These are often bright children who have been hearing for years, “you’re so bright, you’d do so well if you just tried harder.” It’s not a matter of effort. It’s a matter of giving them some homework relief.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 



Saturday, March 16, 2013

Child abuse in a school

This article talks about staff at a school failing to report a teacher who abused a child. I decided to use the article as a starting point to raise the question of homework as child abuse. Here is a link to the article.

Here is the comment I left to the article.

I know that this article focuses on a particular teacher abusing a particular student, but I would like to expand the discussion from this identifiable act of child abuse, to a more subtle and ongoing way in which schools abuse students. And that is through homework. In general, homework takes authority out of the parents' hands and places it with the school. Further, it gives a wide range of teachers, with different personalities and different points of view, the authority to dictate behaviors in the home. There are many kids who are losing out on sleep and needed recreation because they are required to keep working for hours after school is done. There are also some particular students who have under-the-radar learning problems and cannot possibly complete homework in a reasonable amount of time. Making them complete the work or get poor grades is actually a form of child abuse. Here is a link to a blog piece I wrote on homework as child abuse.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Teaching Teachers about Homework

On Saturday, I presented my model, The Homework Trap, at the Voorhees Public Library. I thought it was my most well-received speech so far. It certainly came across better than my last one, where I had a teacher in the audience who was dead-set on emphasizing the fact that her second graders should be doing their homework, and if they don’t, they would have to stay in for recess and lunch. Apparently, one student who had forgotten to do his work one time stayed in for recess one time and from then on, got his work done. She held onto this model despite the fact that she, predictably, has another student for whom her approach simply meant ostracizing the child over and over again.

As I typically do, I looked at my presentation and changed it slightly. Early in the speech, I asked the audience to ponder five statements of Homework: Fact of Fiction.  They were:

1.       Homework is a teaching tool that is well supported by research and tradition.

2.      Homework has intangible value.

3.      Teachers are well trained in the practice of giving homework

4.      Homework is accepted throughout the world

5.      Homework is harmless.

I tried to answer these questions as honestly, and unbiasedly as possible, referring to the positions of homework advocates as well as homework critics. As those who have followed my writings know, my main point is that homework is harmful, at least to homework-trapped children and their families, so my last question segued well into what I typically say.

I’m sharing this because I strongly believe that “being right,” is not as important as being effective, and that a primary frustration for parents who oppose homework is that they feel powerless over the system. I recall a friend who told me about his efforts to get his son homework relief (a boy who, by the way, excelled in college despite the fact that he had difficulties with homework as a youth). He came to school with mounds of information documenting the problems with homework. He ran into an unmovable wall. Being right did not help his son.

I think teachers, like most people, get their backs up when parents and other non-teachers (like me) tell them they are wrong, and that a major piece in effecting change is to highlight the sense that we are on the same side. You don’t get there by categorically challenging an individual’s deeply ingrained beliefs, particularly when they relate to the person’s professional field.

I don’t know that I’ve offered the perfect “facts or fictions” that parents can use to turn people around, and it may be that the long term solution lies in convincing others to devote teacher development days to training in the theory, research and practice of giving homework. It can be a tough sell to get teachers to think of homework as an area for continuing study. Several months ago, I mentioned the fact that I had read a question posed the Scholastic Teacher Facebook page asking teachers what they would consider their ideal teacher development day program. My comment was close to the 200th given and I noted that, although I’m not a teacher, I was struck by the fact that among nearly 200 comments, not one teacher suggested homework as a topic for further development.

Considering all the conversations I’ve had with teachers over the years, it seems to me that the most convincing point I ever make is when I point out to teachers that they were never taught to give homework. Before I make this point, a typical reaction I hear from teachers is that I am wrong. Once they realize that they are being mandated to do something they were never taught to do, it creates cognitive dissonance and a shift in the way they think about the topic.

As a parent, you’re in an odd position trying to teach teachers about their field. Yet, teachers are in an odd position being required to do something they actually know very little about. I think progress in the homework debate will come from honoring the fact that teachers want to be good teachers, that they believe in education, and that they have been unfairly deprived of training in giving homework.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 



Friday, March 8, 2013

Child Abuse

A few days ago, I indicated that I was going to begin to comment on homework as a form of child abuse. I shared my thoughts on my blog, and I added child abuse to my Google alerts to see what articles might be in the news where I could comment and include homework in my comments. So far, I haven't found anything worth commenting on, largely because the articles coming back report only on severe cases child abuse, so I'll comment on this lack of content with which to comment.

There are two lessons that I think are worth mentioning. One has to do with child abuse in general. The other has to do with my thoughts that homework is abusive to some children.

In addition to my work with homework, one of my major activities as a clinical psychologist has been to provide evaluations in child protection cases, not for the child protection agency but for the public defender, against child protection authorities. I chose that side largely because it is my observation, following years of increased efforts to protect children, that children, in my opinion, are not one bit safer today than they were in the past. This is an important fact that has gone unnoticed in our efforts to make sure every child is safe. The reason for this is that, in our expansion of child protection efforts, we don't tend to get better at catching and preventing the heinous cases. Rather, we expand the definition of child abuse into areas of flawed parenting, but okay parenting nevertheless. Every time a heart-wrenching case hits the papers, we notch up our efforts, second-guess the authorities, and commit ourselves to tightening our efforts. In the end, nothing really changes for children at risk of being seriously harmed, while troubled and stressed-out families get scrutinized more.

In many ways, what happens to families that get caught under the child protection net is not dissimilar from what happens to families who are homework trapped. Both are getting micromanaged by state agencies (child protection authorities in one case and school officials in the other), and this alters the ways in which loving parents spontaneously care for their children. And in each case, the efforts do not lead to tangible improvements in the child's life. Historically, children are getting abused as much as they ever were, before we poured large amounts of resources into protecting them from their parents, and homework-trapped children are not learning any better than they were before all this pressure came to bear. In fact, homework-trapped children get turned off to school to the detriment of their education, compromising their futures as well.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Teacher Evolves in Outlook on Homework

Here is a blog post by a teacher who has evolved in his thinking about homework. He should be applauded for thinking things through and reviewing past beliefs. But let's consider the impact that he and all teachers have as they develop their thoughts along the way. Anyway, here is the link to what he says.  And here is what I posted as a response to his blog:

I agree with much of what you say, but I'd like to step back and address the meta-question of the power to give homework, not just the homework itself. Society is set up at the current time so that 30 or more people, the teachers a student will encounter of the course of his or her school career, have the relatively unchecked power to make decisions about what will take place in the student's home. Teachers will vary in what they believe, and teachers will evolve in developing their personal points of view, just as the author of this article has. Yet, in the process, those teachers have the authority to override the decisions the individual parents may make, because they can give extreme penalties for work that is not done. This is true despite the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, no teacher has a course called "homework" when trained to be a teacher, and there are a dearth of resources through which teachers can learn about homework. Further, hardly any teachers, when surveyed about their continuing education needs, cite homework as an area where they want to learn more. So even though a teacher like the one who wrote this post may develop insights into homework over the course of a career, teachers as a whole are vested with too much power to make binding decisions about behavioral expectations for children in their homes. This is a core problem, and one I address on my website,

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Homework, vegetables and child abuse

Several years ago, I learned, while having lunch with a co-worker, that he never ate vegetables. He went on to explain that, as a child, he could not leave the table until he finished his meal. He sat there defiantly for hours on end refusing to eat until his parents relented and let him go. I understand this is a childhood memory and one that might not accurate in each and every detail. Was this a nightly event? Was he really at the table for hours, or did it just feel like hours to him? Did he ever eat his vegetables? Was he scolded, harangued, or possibly beaten as well? I don’t know, and the context of our conversation did not call for a full exposition of his vegetable-battling years.

But there are some points that are worth making. The memory was painful. The vegetable did not get eaten. His parents may have been inflexible. The life lesson was not learned.

Was this abuse? Was it only abuse if the beating I hypothesized was added to the mix? Was it poor parenting? Was it the type of parental misjudgment that called for an outside intervention? For all I know, you may be reading this and thinking: they should have beaten him – then he would have eaten his vegetables. Or maybe you’re thinking, good for them, they did not back down.

Whatever personal take you have on this incident, I’m asking you to take that response and expand it to the notion of “eating your homework,” – well, not exactly eating it, but doing it, or sitting at the table until you do it, or spending hours every night, forced to stay at the table even if nothing gets done because someone (actually the teacher) has determined that this work must be done. And if it’s not, the consequence will be very low grades.

I think this happens frequently to homework trapped children. It goes beyond the more publicized question of whether homework is effective and whether children, today, are given more than they should. Kids should eat their vegetables – some do and some don’t. Perhaps, kids should do their homework, but in the end, some will and some won’t. Sitting for hours over a plate of undone homework will do no more to foster education than it caused my coworker to become a vegetable-loving grown man.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 


Monday, March 4, 2013

Homework and Child Abuse

“Hello. You’ve reached the Department of Children and Families’ Child Abuse Hotline. How can I help you?”

“I want to report a case of child abuse. My son is required to do too much homework?”
What do you think? Reportable under the law?
To address this question, I looked for definitions of child abuse and found this description used by Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families: “Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect.” Most do not apply, but some of it does.
According to the State of Connecticut,

“Emotional abuse or maltreatment is the result of cruel or unconscionable acts and/or statements made, threatened to be made, or allowed to be made by the person responsible for the child's care that have a direct effect on the child.”

These statements constitute abuse when they affect, “… the child's psychological, cognitive, emotional and/or social well-being and functioning…”
As a clinical psychologist, I have met countless parents who fight with their children over homework every night. Many of these kids have under-the-radar learning problems that keep them from finishing their work in a reasonable amount of time. They hear constant negativity as they move up the grades with demands that keep expanding beyond what they can do. The school asks the parents to join them in an effort to make their children comply (essentially, to gang up on their kids). The children rebel and are met with humiliation. They are forced to stay late for after school and weekend detentions. They often get excluded from afterschool activities and eventually get separated from the peer groups they truly need.
The State of Connecticut says that:

“Emotional abuse or maltreatment may result from [boldened for emphasis]:

  • repeated negative acts or statements directed at the child
  • exposure to repeated violent, brutal, or intimidating acts or statements among members of the household
  • cruel or unusual actions used in the attempt to gain submission, enforce maximum control, or to modify the child's behavior
  • rejection of the child.”
How does this differ from the experience kids have who are homework trapped and pressed to work on? Please tell me what you think.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers. 


Friday, March 1, 2013

Recommended article on homework debate

District Administration has an article “Homework or Not? That is the (Research)Question.” The article does a good job covering the homework debate, including homework news from around the world. It appears balanced in its approach. In the In Favor of Homework section, the article points to the work of Harris Cooper, who indicates that “Of 35 studies that simply correlated homework and achievement, with no attempt to control for student differences, about 77 percent also found a positive link between time on homework and achievement.” He refers to other studies that control for other factors, such as socioeconomic status, and those also found a positive link. With regard to elementary school students, Cooper notes that there is no link whatsoever between homework and success.

In reviewing these studies, there are two things we should be kept in mind. First, we need to understand what it means for a study to be correlational. Second, we need to understand what we mean by time.

Correlational studies show an association between two factors. In this case, the association is between homework doing and success. The fact that there is an association does not tell us whether homework completion breeds success or academic success breeds homework completion. In my writings, I have often focused on the myth of motivation, and pointed out that we do well at things we like to do, and we develop interest things where we have success. To say that the homework noncompliant student is unmotivated is nonsensical without addressing the question about how proficient that student is in doing homework. If the student has difficulties in working memory or processing speed, completing homework is a much more daunting task than it is for the student who comes home knowing what he needs to do and having the skill to do it quickly. The student who gets good scores and gets his homework done, may be completing the homework because he can, and he can complete it because he is already proficient at the topics involved.

The second issue is time. The correlational studies Professor Cooper refers talk about homework time, but are they truly talking about time or are they talking about the volume of homework assigned? Professor Cooper has noted at other times in his writings, that there are diminishing returns when homework is excessive. There is just so much time in a day and so much we can expect that students will do. So we need to ask ourselves, are those students, who are performing and learning well, doing so because they put more time into their homework, or is it because they are proficient enough to complete the additional assignments in reasonable amounts of time?

Most school districts have some sort of homework policy and many include a time based standard. Ten minutes per night per grade is the number that frequently gets bandied around. But ten minutes for a high school student (say 100 minutes for a tenth grader) is being divvied between five different teachers, all of whom may be guesstimating that their share is an approximate 20 minutes. We don’t really know how much time that assignment takes the individual student to complete. We don’t know how proficient that student is at organizing and prioritizing assignments to fit them in the 100 minute nightly container. And we don’t know that the poor performing student did not really put in 100 minutes since the only thing we look at is what the student has turned in.

In my experience, the student who does poorly generally puts in the required 100 minutes in September, but comes back with negative grades. A common strategy for that student is to get good grades for a couple of his teachers, but do nothing for the others. The student lacks the skill to balance the different incoming assignments, and we expect that student to somehow figure out how to do that without guidance or instruction. The student starts out feeling motivated, puts the time in, gets pressured by the teachers for whom he does not work, and then stops doing any work at all.

If we truly capped the assignments at 100 minutes for that tenth grader, helped him prioritize his work, possibly even gave him a small study hall during the day to organize work and get some of it done, and had a system in which teachers were told that they had to back off on some of their assignments, we might find different research results.

For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.