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Teachers, Stay the Course: New Research Finds Today's Students Not Overburdened

For all of us teachers who have heard students continually gripe about how school is too hard, take heart! According to TIME, research by the Brookings Institution has found that students, despite regular parental outrage, do not have more homework than thirty years ago, undermining today's common imagery of the pupil with the overburdened backpack and hours of nightly homework. Sure, standardized testing may be out of control, but coursework is far from being too rigorous.

As a teacher, I think it's important for parents, students, and other teachers to know the real score when it comes to the work faced by our pupils. With so much focus on testing we often ignore the day-to-day curricula, making it easy to discount its importance. With so much focus on testing we can start to ignore the importance of note-taking and homework. We focus on teaching to the test more than developing students' self-discipline and ability to work independently and creatively.

Expecting students to do some homework or write papers at home and study at home is not unrealistic. Allowing students and parents to minimize the out-of-classroom obligations of students, particularly at the secondary level, sets them up for intense struggles in college and beyond. College professors and bosses will expect students and employees to be able to work on self-directed tasks and study, research, and innovate independently if need be. These skills are taught more through the completion of homework and at-home studying than in the classroom where peers and teachers can offer quick and easy assistance.

I do not assign homework in my Economics classes, including my Advanced Placement classes, but do require a fair amount of studying outside of the classroom for tests and quizzes. My students griped and moaned when I began to wean them off of comprehensive test reviews at the end of the first semester to prepare them for the AP tests in May, having grown overly accustomed to generous reviews where I spoon-fed them expected test answers. I told them that they needed to learn to study, really study, and not simply rely on test review sheets generated in class the day before the test.

Of course, they hit me with the complaint of how overburdened they were and how it was unreasonable to expect them to have to go through their notes to glean information. "Sorry, kids, but that's the college way," I said, regaling them with tales of my own college study experiences and those of acquaintances who had chosen not to study. I have yet to find a student whom I have overburdened with studying.

Despite students' whining, my fellow teachers and I have yet to see a teen who is truly overburdened with schoolwork. Though they talk an intense game, listening closer to their chit-chat reveals a truer story: Their evenings, even after their part-time jobs, are filled with Facebook, texting, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, and television. If anything, these youth, and their parents, are simply highly motivated to craft woeful narratives of being worn down by the rigors of high school.

So, teachers, stand firm! Do not yield to their demands for leniency. If we want our pupils to be successful at the post-secondary level we need to force them to acquire those skills which are only achieved by performing self-directed work outside the classroom. In a word, homework.

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