A Completely Ridiculous Amount of Homework for a Fifth-Grader

Tell me if this sounds normal for fifth grade:

  • An average of 2-1/2 hours of homework and study each day–often including Saturdays and Sundays;
  • Anywhere from 5-7 tests and quizzes per week.

At first, I thought this was just a way to get the students back into the school year after summer. But we are approaching the end of December and this relentless schedule has persisted undiminished. Indeed, it seems that nothing can alter this regiment. Discussions with the teacher at parent-teacher conferences don’t seem to make a difference. A meeting with the principal has not yet resulted in any notable changes.

As I see it, there are four problems with this much work for a fifth grader:

  1. It does not encourage learning, but instead teaches them to know what they need to pass the test. The Little Man gets very good grades for his hard work, but I’m not sure that, if tested a week later on the same material, he would do as well. He’s learning to pass a test, not learning to learn.
  2. It breeds competition for time. With so many tests and quizzes each week, and a limited supply of time, each test competes with the other for study time. That means making deliberate decisions about what to study and what to ignore. This adds stress to someone who wants to do well on everything, but can’t because there just isn’t the time to keep up.
  3. It is disheartening to the students to get to the end of a week of hard work, only to realize that they still have to study over the weekend for the tests early the following week. It’s an unforgiving schedule that makes the students feel as if they are never quite caught up.
  4. It creates havoc with work-life balance. Our kids have to start their homework as soon as they get some from school and have a snack. With all of the work and study required for fifth grade, the Little Man gets started around 3:30 pm and is rushing to wrap-up by 6 pm, and often is continuing to study while we are eating dinner.

Granted it was a long time ago, but I don’t recall having nearly this much homework and study in fifth grade. Indeed, I don’t recall having this much homework and study in high school, until I got to my senior year, when AP physics homework took a long time. I’ve read of a rough standard of 10 minutes per grade, which means 50 minutes of homework/study for fifth graders. Our fifth grader is averaging three times that much each day. With a school day that is already over seven hours long, this additional work gives him nearly a 10-hour day.

The value of homework has been questioned in K-5, and indeed, some schools around here don’t assign homework in those grades. I have no opposition to homework, and fifty minutes sounds perfectly reasonable to me. But with so many tests and quizzes competing with one another for study time on top of the homework, it seems almost certain the the law of diminishing returns is at play. Student might do well on a test, but how much are they really learning?

The silver lining to this, I suppose, is that it prepares these kids for the real world. Homework is a part of life in many jobs. Learning to find a balance between work and home life is a valuable skill. It just seems to me that fifth grade is too early to be learning this skill so abruptly.

Kelly jokes that she has a second, part-time job, doing nothing but helping our fifth grader study. I’ve been at a slow burn for what seems like months now, seeing how hard the Little Man has to work each day. What really gets me is when I leave the house around 3:30 pm or so, and arrive back home two hours later only to find the Little Man and Kelly still studying and working on his homework.

Perhaps I’m just thrown because the amount of homework increased very steadily through forth grade–and then jumped dramatically this year. Still, it seems to me that the amount of work and studying the Little Man has is a completely ridiculous amount of homework for a fifth-grader.

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