Homework Crisis In America

Many students and their parents are frazzled by the amount of homework being piled on in the schools. Yet researchers say that American students have just the right amount of homework.

“Kids today are overwhelmed!” a parent recently wrote in an email to GreatSchools.org “My first-grade son was required to research a significant person from history and write a paper of at least two pages about the person, with a bibliography. How can he be expected to do that by himself? He just started to learn to read and write a couple of months ago. Schools are pushing too hard and expecting too much from kids.”

Diane Garfield, a fifth-grade teacher in San Francisco, concurs. “I believe that we’re stressing children out,” she says.

But hold on, it’s not just the kids who are stressed out. “Teachers nowadays assign these almost college-level projects with requirements that make my mouth fall open with disbelief,” says another frustrated parent. “It’s not just the kids who suffer!”

“How many people take home an average of two hours or more of work that must be completed for the next day?” asks Tonya Noonan Herring, a New Mexico mother of three, an attorney and a former high school English teacher. “Most of us, even attorneys, do not do this. Bottom line: students have too much homework and most of it is not productive or necessary.”

Homework studies

How do educational researchers weigh in on the issue? According to Brian Gill, a senior social scientist at the Rand Corporation, there is no evidence that kids are doing more homework than they did before.

“If you look at high school kids in the late ’90s, they’re not doing substantially more homework than kids did in the ’80s, ’70s, ’60s or the ’40s,” he says. “In fact, the trends through most of this time period are pretty flat. And most high school students in this country don’t do a lot of homework. The median appears to be about four hours a week.”

Education researchers like Gill base their conclusions, in part, on data gathered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

“It doesn’t suggest that most kids are doing a tremendous amount,” says Gill. “That’s not to say there aren’t any kids with too much homework. There surely are some. There’s enormous variation across communities. But it’s not a crisis in that it’s a very small proportion of kids who are spending an enormous amount of time on homework.”

Etta Kralovec, author of The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning, disagrees, saying NAEP data is not a reliable source of information. “Students take the NAEP test and one of the questions they have to fill out is, ‘How much homework did you do last night’ Anybody who knows schools knows that teachers by and large do not give homework the night before a national assessment. It just doesn’t happen. Teachers are very clear with kids that they need to get a good night’s sleep and they need to eat well to prepare for a test.

“So asking a kid how much homework they did the night before a national test and claiming that that data tells us anything about the general run of the mill experience of kids and homework over the school year is, I think, really dishonest.”

Further muddying the waters is a AP/AOL poll that suggests that most Americans feel that their children are getting the right amount of homework. It found that 57% of parents felt that their child was assigned about the right amount of homework, 23% thought there was too little and 19% thought there was too much.

One indisputable fact

One homework fact that educators do agree upon is that the young child today is doing more homework than ever before.

“Parents are correct in saying that they didn’t get homework in the early grades and that their kids do,” says Harris Cooper, professor of psychology and director of the education program at Duke University.

Gill quantifies the change this way: “There has been some increase in homework for the kids in kindergarten, first grade and second grade. But it’s been an increase from zero to 20 minutes a day. So that is something that’s fairly new in the last quarter century.”

The history of homework

In his research, Gill found that homework has always been controversial. “Around the turn of the 20th century, the Ladies’ Home Journal carried on a crusade against homework. They thought that kids were better off spending their time outside playing and looking at clouds. The most spectacular success this movement had was in the state of California, where in 1901 the legislature passed a law abolishing homework in grades K-8. That lasted about 15 years and then was quietly repealed. Then there was a lot of activism against homework again in the 1930s.”

The proponents of homework have remained consistent in their reasons for why homework is a beneficial practice, says Gill. “One, it extends the work in the classroom with additional time on task. Second, it develops habits of independent study. Third, it’s a form of communication between the school and the parents. It gives parents an idea of what their kids are doing in school.”

The anti-homework crowd has also been consistent in their reasons for wanting to abolish or reduce homework.

“The first one is children’s health,” says Gill. “A hundred years ago, you had medical doctors testifying that heavy loads of books were causing children’s spines to be bent.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems. There were also concerns about excessive amounts of stress.

“Although they didn’t use the term ‘stress,'” says Gill. “They worried about ‘nervous breakdowns.'”

“In the 1930s, there were lots of graduate students in education schools around the country who were doing experiments that claimed to show that homework had no academic value – that kids who got homework didn’t learn any more than kids who didn’t,” Gill continues. Also, a lot of the opposition to homework, in the first half of the 20th century, was motivated by a notion that it was a leftover from a 19th-century model of schooling, which was based on recitation, memorization and drill. Progressive educators were trying to replace that with something more creative, something more interesting to kids.”

The more-is-better movement

Garfield, the San Francisco fifth-grade teacher, says that when she started teaching 30 years ago, she didn’t give any homework. “Then parents started asking for it,” she says. “I got In junior high and high school there’s so much homework, they need to get prepared.” So I bought that one. I said, ‘OK, they need to be prepared.’ But they don’t need two hours.”

Cooper sees the trend toward more homework as symptomatic of high-achieving parents who want the best for their children. “Part of it, I think, is pressure from the parents with regard to their desire to have their kids be competitive for the best universities in the country. The communities in which homework is being piled on are generally affluent communities.”

Homework guidelines

What’s a parent to do, you ask? Fortunately, there are some sanity-saving homework guidelines.

Cooper points to “The 10-Minute Rule” formulated by the National PTA and the National Education Association, which suggests that kids should be doing about 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level. In other words, 10 minutes for first-graders, 20 for second-graders and so on.

Too much homework vs. the optimal amount

Cooper has found that the correlation between homework and achievement is generally supportive of these guidelines. “We found that for kids in elementary school there was hardly any relationship between how much homework young children did and how well they were doing in school, but in middle school the relationship is positive and increases until the kids were doing between an hour to two hours a night, which is right where the 10-minute rule says it’s going to be optimal.

“After that it didn’t go up anymore. Kids that reported doing more than two hours of homework a night in middle school weren’t doing any better in school than kids who were doing between an hour to two hours.”

Garfield has a very clear homework policy that she distributes to her parents at the beginning of each school year. “I give one subject a night. It’s what we were studying in class or preparation for the next day. It should be done within half an hour at most. I believe that children have many outside activities now and they also need to live fully as children. To have them work for six hours a day at school and then go home and work for hours at night does not seem right. It doesn’t allow them to have a childhood.”

International comparisons

How do American kids fare when compared to students in other countries? Professors Gerald LeTendre and David Baker of Pennsylvania State University conclude in their 2005 book, National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling, that American middle-schoolers do more homework than their peers in Japan, Korea or Taiwan, but less than their peers in Singapore and Hong Kong.

One of the surprising findings of their research was that more homework does not correlate with higher test scores. LeTendre notes: “That really flummoxes people because they say, ‘Doesn’t doing more homework mean getting better scores?’ The answer quite simply is no.”

Homework is a complicated thing

To be effective, homework must be used in a certain way, he says. “Let me give you an example. Most homework in the fourth grade in the U.S. is worksheets. Fill them out, turn them in, maybe the teacher will check them, maybe not. That is a very ineffective use of homework. An effective use of homework would be the teacher sitting down and thinking ‘Elizabeth has trouble with number placement, so I’m going to give her seven problems on number placement.’ Then the next day the teacher sits down with Elizabeth and she says, ‘Was this hard for you? Where did you have difficulty?’ Then she gives Elizabeth either more or less material. As you can imagine, that kind of homework rarely happens.”

Shotgun homework

“What typically happens is people give what we call ‘shotgun homework’: blanket drills, questions and problems from the book. On a national level that’s associated with less well-functioning school systems,” he says. “In a sense, you could sort of think of it as a sign of weaker teachers or less well-prepared teachers. Over time, we see that in elementary and middle schools more and more homework is being given, and that countries around the world are doing this in an attempt to increase their test scores, and that is basically a failing strategy.”

Additional resources


The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning by Etta Kralovec and John Buell, Beacon Press, 2001.

The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents by Harris M. Cooper, Corwin Press, 2001.

Seven Steps to Homework Success: A Family Guide to Solving Common Homework Problems by Sydney Zentall and Sam Goldstein, Specialty Press, 1998.

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What caused the Nullification Crisis?The Protective Tariffs
The 1832 Nullification Crisis was caused by the introduction of a series of protective tariffs. Tariffs are taxes placed on goods imported from foreign countries that firstly enable a nation to raise money from these taxes and secondly protect a nation's goods from cheaper priced foreign items - hence the term protective, or protectionist, tariffs. The 1828 Tariff of Abominations which sparked the Nullification Crisis was the third protective tariff implemented by the government.

● The Tariff of 1816 placed a 20-25% tax on all foreign goods
● The Tariff of 1824 was the second protective tariff that raised duties still higher. There was 35% duty on imported iron, wool, cotton, and hemp.
● The Tariff of 1828 (the Tariff of Abominations) was the third protective tariff and taxes increased to nearly 50%

Nullification Crisis for kids: South Carolina Exposition
The South saw these protective tariffs as severely damaging to their economy. The Southern states contended that their livelihoods were being harmed firstly by having to pay higher prices on goods the South did not produce, and secondly because increased taxes on British imports made it difficult for Britain to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. The South Carolina legislature asked Vice President John C. Calhoun to prepare a report on the tariff situation. His 35,000 word draft, written anonymously, would become his "Exposition and Protest" otherwise known as the South Carolina Exposition that contended the tariffs were unconstitutional based on a Doctrine (principle) of Nullification. John C. Calhoun believed the 1828 Tariff of Abominations would bring "poverty and utter desolation to the South."

Nullification Crisis for kids: The Definition of Nullification
What is Nullification? What does Nullification mean? Definition of Nullification: The word 'Nullification' refers to the act of nullifying, canceling or making something (like a tariff law) null and void. The principle of Nullification is the term used to encompass the states' rights doctrine in that:

● A state can refuse to recognize, or to enforce, a federal law passed by the United States Congress

Nullification is used as a reason to override, or counteract the effect or force of something. John C. Calhoun used the Doctrine of Nullification in his 1828 South Carolina Exposition protesting against the laws passed in respect of protective tariffs (taxes) and moved the nation into the Nullification Crisis.

Nullification Crisis for kids: Doctrine of Nullification
John C. Calhoun's South Carolina Exposition was therefore a Doctrine of nullification. The Doctrine of  Nullification explained the concept that a state has the right to reject federal law. The Doctrine of Nullification was  first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in their 1798 and 1799 Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. The assertions made in the Doctrine of Nullification were based on the beliefs that:

● The Constitution was a compact (contract or formal agreement) between the states
● A state could determine whether any act of Congress was constitutional or not
● Any state could refuse to permit an Act of Congress to be enforced within its limits.

The Doctrine of Nullification expressed the belief that the Constitution protected all economies in the union. Article 1, Section 8. Clause 1 of the Constitution states that "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States."

Nullification Crisis for kids: Tariffs declared Unconstitutional
The Nullification Crisis was further prompted by Calhoun. In his South Carolina Exposition John C. Calhoun expressed the arguments that the 1828 Tariff of Abominations was unconstitutional because:

● It favored manufacturing over agriculture and commerce
● Tariff power could only be used to generate revenue, not to provide protection from foreign competition for U.S. industries
● The protective system was unjust and unequal in operation
● The people of a state, or several states, had the power to veto (forbid, refuse, reject) any act of the federal government which violated the Constitution. The power of veto was the essence of the Doctrine of Nullification.

Nullification Crisis for kids: Robert Hayne and Daniel Webster
John C. Calhoun was Vice-President, and presided over the debates of the Senate, the ideas expressed in his South Carolina Exposition document were therefore first publicly conveyed by Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina. There were many heated debates in congress regarding the principle of Nullification, the Constitution and the differences between the North and the South. One response to the principle of Nullification came in January 1830 from Daniel Webster of Massachusetts in one of the most brilliant speeches ever delivered in Congress. Daniel Webster declared in his speech that the Constitution was:

 "...the people's constitution, the people's government; made by the people and answerable to the people. The people have declared that this constitution ... shall be the supreme law." The Supreme Court of the United States alone could declare a national law to be unconstitutional; no state could do that. Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable."

Nullification Crisis: Tariff of 1832
Attempts were made to avert the brewing Nullification Crisis by referring the matter of tariffs to the Committee of Manufactures, chaired by John Quincy Adams, whose function was to draft tariff bills. The Tariff of 1832 was passed on July 14, 1832 to reduce the tariff rates in an attempt to resolve the conflict created by the passage of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations. The Tariff of 1832 reduced the tariff and returned to the 35% rate of the Tariff of 1824. The Tariff of 1832 failed to pacify the protestors in the South and resulted in the Nullification Crisis.

Nullification Crisis for kids: South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification
The Nullification Crisis erupted when the South Carolina legislature passed an Ordinance of Nullification on November 24, 1832. The Ordinance of Nullification declared the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void within the state borders of South Carolina. The strength of feeling of South Carolina is expressed in the Ordinance of Nullification:

"...we are determined to maintain this, our Ordinance and Declaration, at every hazard, do further Declare that we will not submit to the application of force, on the part of the Federal Government, to reduce this State to obedience..."

What's more the Ordinance of Nullification threatened to secede if the federal government attempted to collect the tariff duties:

"...to coerce the State, shut up her ports, destroy or harass her commerce, or to enforce the acts hereby declared null and void
...as inconsistent with the longer continuance of South Carolina in the Union
...and will forthwith proceed to organize a separate Government..."

Nullification Crisis for kids: Jackson issues the Nullification Proclamation
The Nullification Crisis exploded. President Andrew Jackson was furious that the Tariff of 1832 had been "Nullified" by South Carolina. Jackson issued a warning that he was prepared to enforce the law. It was called the Nullification Proclamation. On December 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued Nullification Proclamation to the people of South Carolina disputing a states' right to nullify a federal law. President Jackson sent ships and soldiers to Charleston and ordered the collector of that port to collect the duties indicated in the protection tariffs. The Nullification Crisis had moved to a dangerous level.

Nullification Crisis: John C. Calhoun Resigns
The Nullification Crisis had been well and truly ignited. On Dec 28, 1832 John C. Calhoun became the first vice president in U.S. history to resign the office as a result of the Nullification Crisis. John C. Calhoun resigned in protest against Jackson's continuing support of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations and then publicly admitted authorship of the South Carolina Exposition during the Nullification Crisis.

Nullification Crisis: The 1833 Force Bill
The Nullification Crisis raged on. President Jackson asked Congress to give him greater power and on March 2, 1833 the Force Bill was passed.The 1833 Force Bill authorized the use of military force against any state that resisted the tariff acts and rejected the Nullification Doctrine - the concept of individual states' rights to nullify federal law or to secede from the Union.South Carolina was about to nullify the Force Bill as well, but simultaneously, a Compromise Tariff was passed by Congress, that defused the Nullification crisis.

Nullification Crisis: The Compromise Tariff
John C. Calhoun, having resigned as Vice President, had taken the position of a South Carolina Senator, led the fight against the Force Bill. However, aware of the gravity of the Nullification Crisis, Calhoun cooperated with Henry Clay to drive a Compromise Tariff through Congress. The introduction of protective tariffs had played a vital part in the economic plan for the nation advocated in  'Henry Clay's American System'. The Compromise Tariff proposed by Henry Clay was passed by Congress in March 1833 and gradually lowered the tariff rates over the next 10 years until, in 1842, they would be as low as they were by the Tariff Act of 1816. The Compromise Tariff ended the Nullification Crisis.

The End of the Nullification Crisis
The Nullification Crisis finally ended when the South Carolina state convention reassembled and formally rescinded the Ordinance of Nullification  nullifying the tariff acts.

The Significance of the Nullification Crisis
The significance of the Nullification Crisis was as follows:

● The Nullification Crisis was the first time in which the sectional interests of the North and the South had truly came into conflict
● The Nullification Crisis highlighted the states’ rights movement
● The end of the Nullification crisis signified the beginning of a new era. On May 1, 1833 President Jackson wrote, "the tariff was only a pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the negro, or slavery question."
● The Abolitionist Movement was established in 1833
● The conflicts between the North and South beginning with the Nullification Crisis would ultimately lead to the American Civil war (1861-1865)
● South Carolina eventually became First State to Secede from the Union on December 20th, 1860 followed by the establishment of the Confederate States of America
● This event was one of the Causes of the Civil War

Protective Tariffs
For additional facts and a timeline refer to Protectionism and Tariffs.

Nullification Crisis for kids - President Andrew Jackson Video
The article on the Nullification Crisis provides an overview of one of the Important issues of his presidential term in office. The following Andrew Jackson video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 7th American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837.

Nullification Crisis

● Interesting Facts about Nullification Crisis for kids and schools
● Key events Nullification Crisis for kids
● The Nullification Crisis, a Important event in US history
● Andrew Jackson Presidency from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837
● Fast, fun, interesting timeline about Important events
● The Nullification Crisis and President Andrew Jackson
● Nullification Crisis for schools, homework, kids and children

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