By Chris Greene
In a recent Panther Press survey of 100 students from all four classes, 91% agreed that Paul VI is a “homework factory”. This is unsurprising, as students also reported doing an average of four hours of homework per night. Some students even revealed averages of up to seven hours of homework per night, while others admitted to pulling the occasional all-nighter. This data raises the question of whether or not PVI students are doing too much homework. Perhaps the heavy workload is more harmful than beneficial.
New data from Stanford University shows that more than two hours of homework per night can cause negative side effects (such as stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, weight loss, weight gain, stomach pains, lack of social skills, headaches, and depression) that outweigh potential benefits with regards to learning. Two hours of homework or less, however, improves learning without compromising students’ psychological health. Thus, the Stanford study—which recommends a maximum of two hours of homework per night—conflicts with the entry regarding homework in the Paul VI Student Handbook (page 15), which states students should perform “at least two (2) hours per school day, in addition to what is done during free periods in school.”
The greatest fear associated with too much homework is that students will be unable to receive the necessary amount of sleep in order to promote healthy brain function and learning itself. Doctors recommend that teens receive 8-10 hours of sleep per night. PVI students, however, reported an average of just 5.3 hours of sleep per weeknight, with only 2% meeting the doctors’ recommendation of 8-10 hours. Panther Press found that students’ lack of sleep is directly linked to their heavy homework load. If a student wakes up at 6 a.m., stays in school until 3 p.m., attends an athletic practice or club meeting until 5 p.m., and finally arrives home and eats dinner by 7 p.m., the earliest he or she can possibly finish homework on a typical weeknight is 11 p.m. Already they will be unable to receive the recommended amount of sleep and will not have had a moment to relax or pursue other interests.
When interviewed, students at Paul VI had strong opinions on the homework issue. According to one junior, “I used to look forward to coming home at the end of the day, but now I dread it, because I know I’ll be doing nothing but homework, at least if I plan on sleeping at night.” A senior also pointed out an issue with her present workload: “It’s hard to really invest yourself in any one subject, because the others take up all your time. I just do the minimum to survive and get good grades.” She was then asked if she believed there was a correlation between the amount of homework given in a class and the amount of knowledge learned. After a few thoughtful moments, she responded, “No. I pretty much just forget everything.”
The students’ testimonies support the fear of researchers such as Alfie Kohn who believe that schools trying to promote “rigor” and “higher standards” through persistent homework and testing are actually harming students’ intellectual growth. Rather than cultivating critical thinking, high schools often only evaluate students’ short-term memory and test taking skills. Furthermore, the relentless grind of the school year undermines young adults’ natural desire to learn and discourages studies outside of school.
Even though these findings are distressing, there is still hope for improvement. After all, schools are not inherently unpleasant. Rather, since young adults are natural learners, the converse is true. Students want to learn! Just as importantly, teachers want to teach. Thus, students and teachers must come together in order to devise a plan that will reduce stress on students while improving the quality of their education. There is plenty of common ground to build on in order to create a school that both satisfies the curriculum and allows students plenty of time to pursue other interests and apply what they learn in school to the real world. However, the exact course of action that must be taken remains uncertain.
Perhaps a shift to block scheduling, the model local public school districts follow, would allow students to accomplish more in class, receive less homework, and become more prepared for a college environment. Perhaps emphasis should be placed on authentic assessments such as essays and projects, as Kohn suggests, rather than repetitive exercises and testing. Another possible way to prevent overworking students is to implement a weekly maximum homework cap. Though Paul VI currently only has a minimum homework requirement, top high schools around the country—including Gunn High School, located in the Palo Alto school district, home to Silicon Valley—have begun implementing maximum homework caps. For example, Gunn High School’s handbook (22-24) states students should receive no more than 7-10 hours of homework per school week, which includes studying for tests. Gunn also forbids homework from being assigned over winter break and states that weekend homework should never exceed the amount regularly assigned for one weekday.
Numerous studies show that more homework does not necessarily equal more learning. Rather, homework loads over two hours decrease students’ ability and desire to learn. Thus, the time has come for this “homework factory” to downsize by looking for new and innovative ways to engage students in learning without overloading their physical and psychological capacities.