Washington The popular notion that America's students are overburdened with homework is largely a myth -- and, if anything, too many don't do enough homework, according to national research released last week.
On average, daily time spent on homework in the United States increased from 16 minutes in 1981 to slightly more than 19 minutes in 1997, Brookings Institution researchers found, and little appears to have changed since then. Only 34 percent of 282,000 college freshmen surveyed nationwide last year by scholars at UCLA, for example, reported spending more than an hour each weekday on homework during their senior year of high school -- the lowest percentage since the question was first asked in 1987.
"The students whose homework has increased in the past decade are those who previously had no homework and now have a small amount," said Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, which based its research on two decades of time-use studies and surveys of students and parents.
Half of the children surveyed in a University of Michigan study of 8,000 families said they did no homework, according to the Brookings study, and the percentage of 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds who reported doing more than an hour a weeknight declined between 1984 and 1999.
Although U.S. students probably have always complained about homework, many adults have taken up their cause. Some school boards, particularly in the Washington area, have passed homework guidelines in reaction to stories of fifth-graders putting in three hours a night.
A recent book, "The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning," has been a popular topic on talk shows.
But the Brookings researchers say that much of this furor is the result of emotional reactions to erratic teaching practices rather than knowledge of the overall situation.
Brian Gill, a social scientist at the Rand Corp., and Steven Schlossman, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon University, say there has been no period between 1948 and 1999 in which U.S. students did "massive amounts of homework."
In his research, Loveless reported results from the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress showing that only one-third of U.S. students ages 13 or 17 had an hour or more of homework a night in 1999.