Do teachers assign too much homework? How much is too much?

As school is starting, children’s daily schedules will be booked not only with classroom time, but also with extracurriculars and several hours of completing homework and studying for standardized tests. While a 2003 Brookings Institution study showed that only a small percentage of children experience unmanageable levels of homework, a University of Michigan survey found that the amount of time spent on homework has, nevertheless, increased by nearly 90 minutes since 1981. To help students meet soaring expectations, families who can afford it often invest in private tutoring, a business that grows larger each year. Some argue that a lot of homework encourages students to study independently, while others counter that it causes them to become overly reliant on paid helpers.

Answers

Cindy Goldrich, ADHD Parenting Coach, Teacher Trainer, Author

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Since the population of people I work with are parents of children with ADHD, I would like to address the concerns around homework with that population in mind. Separate from the issues many of these children face with remembering to write down their homework and bring home their materials, for children with ADHD, homework presents them with significant and somewhat unique challenges.

  • They often need more time than their peers to complete the same work.
  • They may be on medication to help them focus during the day. As this medication wears off, they will likely find it challenging to attend to the work and process what they must to learn. For many of these children, taking a booster med after school is impractical (they may not have eaten enough, they may want a break from the feeling of the meds, or they may stay up too late if they take additional medication)
  • The child may just need a break from having done everything they could to keep it together at school and work as hard as they did just to keep up.

During the lower grades, it might be helpful and possible for teachers to modify the amount of homework required of the student (perhaps reducing the number of problems to be answered). Some students do not want this option. Much as adults may try to help them see this as a positive option, the reality is that some children don't want to feel that they are not capable of doing as others do. They also don't want others to know they are held to different standards.

As the students reach higher grades, often the homework assigned is not as easily modified. Some of the work is to help prepare students for the upcoming lessons. Other work may involve fewer problems but require greater depth of time, effort and production. Either way, modifying the required work is not generally possible.

As this important debate continues along regarding the amount of homework that students are assigned, I hope that teachers and administrators consider the impact not just on typical students, but those who are perhaps equally bright, but face additional challenges due to their neurobiology.

Here is an additional article I have written regarding doing homework for students who have ADHD: http://www.ptscoaching.com/articles/what-is-so-difficult-about-doing-homework/

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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This question should be on the lips of all parents and educators. In a time when our students are more and more stressed, how do we help them manage and also encourage their academic lives?

Teachers have many expectations and pressures put on them to ensure student success--and school funding. So I am not sure if we should be asking if teachers are giving too much. Instead, is the system itself demanding too much of our students?

At the college level, I expect students to be self-motivated and understand how to manage their work. I see students who never did homework and I see students stifled by the desire of perfection. There must be a balance or learning--and the student--suffers.

Students, teachers, parents, administrators, and staff need to work together to find a balance for their students. And need to ensure their voices are heard when politicians place too much emphasis on test scores and not enough emphasis on developing lifelong learners with an intrinsic love of knowledge.

Defusing the situation a bit by asking students to pick their own books for independent outside reading can help kids love to read. Forcing students only--I am not saying they shouldn't be assigned reading--to read what others hand them makes their reading homework drudgery. I hear students tell me all of the time that they hate reading. My reply? You just aren't reading the right things. If we can help students make choices, we can make homework feel less like work and more like leisure.

My child is not old enough to be assigned homework, but I am already dreading the day when she has to slog through hours of homework every night instead of spending time with us.

All of us in the system need to consider how to release the pressure valve on our kids, and perhaps assigning less homework is a great start.

Amanda Morris, College Professor, Writer, Advisor, Writing Coach

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So many great responses here! I will chime in as a writing professor. A lot of this debate focuses on reading homework and memorizing facts for tests...but how much writing homework are students given? Based on what I see at the college level, I'm going to suggest that too many students are not getting enough writing homework. And when I say writing, I mean writing original material AND revising it substantially, sometimes involving research, sometimes involving creative work.

As Colleen says in her response, a lot of her students hate reading? Well, I think double goes for me. Almost every student I've taught at two universities in two different states over the past nine years has, to a person, told me in their first-day "get to know ya" in-class interviews that they hate writing. I can count on one hand how many students in that same time frame have said they "love" writing.

In fact, I led a study last year in our university to determine what kind of relationship students had with both reading and writing before entering their first year composition course. Overwhelmingly, the responses were negative. In fact, over 50% of 1,100 respondents admitted that they wrote ZERO research papers in high school and the same amount said they wrote NOTHING during their senior years. Zero? Nothing? This is highly unacceptable.

When it comes to writing, I would argue that students in high school (at least) need to be writing more - and yes, at home. Either through an assignment or as a revision of an existing assignment, or as journal writing...something to get them writing more so that they are better prepared to handle the writing assignments that their professors will assign during that first crucial semester away from home. Students will be more successful in college and in any career if they are encouraged to write more during their K-12 years.

Lois Weiner, Professor, researcher, former high school teacher

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The question we should ask is "what kind?" of homework is being assigned. Is it interesting? Does it connect the subject matter with the student's life outside the classroom so s/he sees the subject's relevance? Does it assume (incorrectly) an adult will be available to help? Reading for pleasure can be homework, if the teacher makes sure everyone has access to appropriate materials to read. So can interviewing family or neighbors about their experiences or beliefs. Most kids are already bored in school. Let's not extend the drudgery. Time at home should be restorative - for kids and parents.

Dylan Ferniany, gifted and talented education administrator and advocate, interested in developing creativity & innovation in teachers and students

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Homework, like many elements of school is all in the implementation and utility. Homework for the sake of homework, or for grade fillers can be detrimental to learning. An example might be a student who is advanced in math, who is given a practice of 20 problems all of which are easy for them. The student may be unmotivated by the homework and get a poor grade on it, even though they have mastered the material.

Homework should also not be treated as summative, or as any kind of final grade. Many students have support at home to help get through tough homework assignments, while other students may not. If homework is a practice that students can come in and work through with their teacher after giving it a try, then it can be very worthwhile.

The strongest use of homework I've seen is when it is well aligned to final assessments but the homework is not graded. Assessments (projects, tests, quizzes) hold a great weight in the class. Students have the choice whether or not to do the work, but the skills are integral to success in the class. That way students who truly get it can move on to more challenging work, and others that need the practice can get it through homework. Hopefully the class is rigorous enough that all students need to complete the practice exercises to be successful in the course.

Amy McElroy, SMU Law School graduate, Writer, Editor, and Parent of Two

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I have two primary concerns about the level of homework assigned to today's students. The first has been addressed, in part, by other experts, above--the quantity and quality of the homework. Is the homework simply busywork to fulfill a certain number of hours of homework per class (for example, multiple choice worksheets)? If not, the teacher needs to be prepared to spend an adequate amount of time grading the work put into homework, whether it be the work product of math problems or written essays.

Second, with the busy extra-curricular schedules and complex home lives of children today, less "next-day" homework and more weekly, every-other day, or scheduled, project-based homework would benefit students in several ways. Not only would students have a greater opportunity to turn assignments in on-time, they would learn valuable time-management skills if they were given the opportunity to plan ahead in their assignments.

Gina Badalaty, Parent of 2 kids with disabilities, Professional Blogger

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My children attend a school where assigning homework is frowned upon but projects are regularly done and required at home. Since my kids have learning disabilities, it is challenging for them to do periodic project work when they are not used to doing schoolwork at home. It also makes it difficult for them to study when they have a quiz or test. They rely heavily on routine and projects and study sessions seem out of the norm for them. While I would normally not want homework, I do request teachers that my girls have some sort of very brief homework to establish a routine and good practices that will serve them in high school and higher education.

Vielka Cecilia Hoy, Founder/Director at Vielka Hoy Consulting, Teacher, and Parent

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In the last seven years, I have had to address this question many times. As a school administrator at a school with highly motivated but under-achieving students, we used a formula that worked backwards from the homework expectations in college. This looked like ninth graders spending about forty-five minutes per night/per subject on review/homework increasing to about two hours per night/per subject in the twelfth grade. Mathematically, this is not possible, so we asked students to think about using the remaining time in class, weekends, and the quality of the time they spent on homework differently.

Having returned to the classroom and teaching AP and honors courses in recent years, this question came up again as families became concerned about the lack of family time or the inability of students to spend time participating in extra-curricular activities. As a teacher, I found it difficult to cover all of the material without some practice at home, and I always feel that the larger lesson of learning to prioritize is essential.

But I also recognize (especially with my own son) that there are ways to review, teach students the soft skill of prioritizing, cover all of the material in the curriculum, and maintain family support. I use quite a bit of technology, including the Google Classroom to flip the classroom, provide extended and rolling due dates, and schedule work days as part of class time.

I do believe the benefits of homework are important to keep so there is such thing as quality homework. But we've advanced enough with pedagogy and other tools to make the quantity of time spent doing the homework less daunting. For anyone concerned about this issue at their own schools, I invite you to think more creatively about how all needs can be met and have that conversation with your school administrators and teachers.

Tedra Osell, PhD, Parent of 2e teen, former homeschooler and college professor, SENG Model Parent Group Facilitator

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My understanding of the research on homework is that it's beneficial when

  • looking at academic achievement in the form of test scores;
  • assigned in secondary school;
  • students actually do it.

All three of those positives come with major qualifiers. Regarding academic achievement, test scores are not the same thing as final grades or whether a student actually retains what they've learned, let alone develops an interest or passion in it. Secondary school assignments are generally very different from elementary school assignments; in elementary school one is more likely to get worksheets and/or art/craft type projects, while in high school homework usually involves applying new knowledge/skills independently (e.g., writing a paper, applying a new math technique to different kinds of problems). And of course, older students are far better able to complete most homework on their own, because they're more likely to have developed the necessary organizational abilities and self-discipline to do so.

All of which means, in my opinion, that a lot of the homework schools are assigning in this age of standardized testing is not necessarily beneficial. It may not be particularly harmful, though, if the child seems basically happy and if getting the homework done can be accomplished with a little gentle prompting and parental support--providing a space for the homework to be done and a regular pattern, for instance letting the child have a snack or an hour of outside play before setting down to do homework while you cook dinner.

If that kind of support doesn't seem to be enough, or if the amount or kind of homework being assigned is causing a student--or, in the case of younger children, the entire family--distress, then that is a red flag that should be attended to. If homework is making your child cry, causing arguments at home, making a child anxious, or taking up a child's entire evening, then you should definitely talk to the teacher. Be as specific as you can about what problems your child is having: are they worried about making mistakes, do they refuse to show their work, do they get constantly distracted, does the homework seem to be taking too long? Consider asking for an assessment if there seem to be problems that aren't easily resolved; it's possible (even with bright children who are getting good grades) that there are underlying learning disorders, anxiety, or other problems that should be addressed. And always remember that what you want most of all is for your child to find learning interesting and engaging: if school and learning are a struggle or a burden for a child, you--and the school--should be concerned.

Ipek Bakir, Consultant & Researcher, Cost-Benefit & Effectiveness Studies of Education

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We should also consider the opportunity cost of “homework time.” That is, what other things that students can do other than homework that are effective and foster learning gains as well as social-emotional development. Denis Pope from Stanford University has studied “homework time” for sometime and has found that time spent on assignments may have a detrimental impact on kids lives outside of school if kids are spending more than optimal amount of time on their assignments. Homework time can in fact hinder students’ relationship with family, friends and their engagement in extra-curricular activities. There are diminishing returns associated with time spent on homework; while it may be beneficial for a student to spend about two hours each night on homework, any more can diminish positive learning returns and even be counterproductive.

Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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After 15 years in the HS classroom, I'm still trying to figure out my homework philosophy. Several years ago, my principal asked me to serve on a district "Homework Committee" comprised of K-12 teachers, counselors, parents and administrators. This committee was a response to a concern that a group of parents voiced to a school board member, and it is a concern echoed in several responses here: should teachers collaborate more on the assignments that they give to the same group of students?

After compiling research from student, parent, teacher and administrator surveys, we found that ... everybody was doing a pretty good job. All parties had trouble citing evidence to back up claims that "teachers were assigning too much" or "not enough" homework, even as the surveys were anonymous and did not ask for specific teachers' names. I think this is where the cultural component (also echoed in these responses) does count. People feel overworked, overstressed, and exhausted, and perhaps most of us want more benefits from less output?

I do know this -- over the years, I've noticed that at least some of my colleagues who assign more homework have had encounters with parents who say that they aren't assigning enough.

Yamini Pathak, Freelance Writer & Parent

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As a parent of 2 kids in elementary school, I believe that homework is important to reinforce material studied in class and to promote independent study habits. However, when teachers of different subjects assign homework (especially at the elementary school level) it would be great if they did so in consultation with each other so that students are not overwhelmed on any given day. During the past year, my fourth grader has received up to 6 different assignments to be completed on some evenings, making it impossible for him to catch a break and play outdoors after school. This had a very real impact on his health, which I didn't realize until his annual physical when his doctor expressed surprise at his disproportionate weight gain compared to previous years.

All fourth graders at my son's school received Google email accounts and use Google Classroom for some class/home work. I have helped him keep track of homework using a printed calender but if the curriculum also included teaching students how to use the google calender to manage and prioritize their assignments, it would greatly benefit them.

Our school district recently instituted 4 homework free days during the school year and appointed a homework subcommittee so I am hoping that the district will consider a more balanced approach on the subject.

Cindy Terebush, CPC, CYPFC, Certified Youth, Parent, Family Coach, Early Education & Parenting Consultant, Writer and Speaker

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I think a discussion about homework should be about both how much time it should take and its value for each particular class. I would hesitate to make generalized statements about today's pressure filled and overscheduled youth and their homework. I am going to approach this question with my parenting hat on alongside my educator hat. As a parent, I have had the variety of experiences. Sometimes, my boys' homework was important review and practice to help them reinforce and remember new skills. I have, however, had the experience that homework was new material and was daunting for them to complete without a lot of assistance. That became tricky when the topics they were learning were being taught in a way that my husband and I did not learn ourselves (ie new methods of math). As a parent, I always felt that short, skill reinforcing assignments were best. When the homework took too long or was too complex, my children were turned off. It gave learning a bad wrap.
As an educator, I am a firm believer in capturing the curiosity of students and helping them to extend their own thinking. Deeper learning does not take place in one 45 minute class or in one day. It takes time to process, reflect and add to knowledge. I'm not sure this is entirely possible outside the confines of the school hours because there are so may demands on their time. The world has changed and students have schedules that sometimes rival the schedules of adults. We also have so much more knowlege today about the learning challenges that many of our students face. We now know that some students need more time to complete tasks, more time for physical movement and time when they can feel like they don't need to cope and strategize and can just be kids. I think we have to accept that our assignments need to have great value, preserve a love of learning, respect every type of learner and, at the same time, be realistic for today's world. This is not an easy question....

Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School

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Having been a teacher and administrator on both the middle and high school level, I think the time spent on homework as well as the amount of homework should vary on a couple of factors. First and foremost, homework should not be a drill and kill assignment. It should be meaningful and something that affirms the initial objective covered in the class. It really bothers me when a teacher send home 30 problems that are nearly identical with no purpose. Students are more inclined to work on 5-6 problems or questions that are detailed and real world based.

Homework time should also vary based upon the complexity. For example, the time to finish up an assignment that is project based or research centered, should take additional time where as if a student is merely editing or checking for understanding, then the time spent on homework should be significantly less.

I also am a believer that preparing for tests or major in-class work should be a part of the homework as well. This will help strengthen and reinforce weaker concepts to the children but should be conducted in a way that is not rote learning but laser focused, meaningful and student-centered.

Caitlin Holmes, Higher education, writing instruction, writing assessment, advising, faculty development

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As a faculty member at a university, I'll chime in regarding what professors may expect as the cumulative product of K-12 education. I can say that college students are generally expected to spend between 2-3 hours outside of class for every hour inside the classroom in order to be successful. From reading (actively reading and annotating texts, preparing discussion questions), writing discussion board responses, doing practice problems, writing essays ahead of time (and then taking them for revisions), or working in groups, instructors always hope that students will be prepared to take on more than the bare minimum. Homework may not necessarily be "explicit," such as "go do problems 1-45." It may mean taking a look at the syllabus to prepare for readings that are coming or writing assignments that require long-term development.

If we look at the general credit-hour enrollment of a student (let's say, 16 credit hours of in-class time), then multiply that by 2.5 hours of work per credit hour outside of class, then students are expected to work about 40 hours a week outside of their direct class time. This is the equivalent, of course, of a full-time job!

Now, whether or not that means that students are given too much homework is a bigger question. Maintaining this level of workload can definitely be stressful. While many faculty would say, "hey! It's college! It's supposed to be hard and have lots of homework," keep in mind that each semester should be a balance of rigorous core courses and a few courses that are a bit less difficult. It can be useful to plan out your college courses with the help of an advisor to avoid work fatigue. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the workload required for a particular course, consider having a conversation with the instructor about how to study smarter - not harder. Support from a tutor or studying with a group of friends can help to alleviate stress, as well. It can also be useful to stop by learning services to see if there are workshops to help study skills, and most programs can help direct students to possible evaluation for learning disorders or counseling to help with stress.

The question of too much homework is a difficult one given the variabilities discussed by the wonderful authors above. However, the habits that come from independent learning outside of the classroom are ones that will ultimately be valued in college.

Vanessa Domine, University professor, teacher, author & parent.

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The answer to the question, "Do teachers assign too much homework?" depends upon who is asking/answering the question. Teachers might think they don't assign enough, given their mandates to raise student achievement. Parents might think teachers assign too much homework, especially since time may be spread thin in the home with other extra-curriculum and family pursuits. And sometimes it is vice versa, depending upon the child.

Ultimately, the assigning of homework is the stewardship of the teacher and depends upon his/her curricular goals as well as the vicissitudes of the school day and school year. As mentioned in another post, the Flipped Classroom is one way to think of homework as preparatory to more meaningful and engaged classroom learning. As a teacher educator, I give digital knuckle bumps to teachers who are exploring those frontiers on how to make homework more meaningful and supportive of student achievement (See an incisive piece by Nancy Self titled "Designing Effective Homework" ).

As a parent, however, I see far too many homework assignments at the high school level that come home without sufficient scaffolding or time allotted to direct instruction to set up the task. Homework should not be used in place of classroom instruction. In these cases, it's not necessarily the quantity, but the quality and purpose of homework that needs rethinking. Additionally, homework assignments can and should leverage existing adolescent challenges that need strengthening—such as individual responsibility, social media usage and deepening of relationships within the family and community structures. Avoid helicopter parenting, however. (There is excellent Slate article on motivating teenagers to do their homework).

My elementary school-aged children lament the continuous and dreaded homework-as-worksheet. While I understand the need for repetition, as a parent I often observe the lack of creativity and differentiation in the assignment of homework. Although I am their biggest cheerleader and refrain from criticizing their homework and/or teachers, I am concerned that this type of homework practice contributes to a diminishing of my children's love for learning and their enthusiasm for schooling. Parents interested in a insightful yet scathing critique of homework should check out Alfie Kohn's "The Homework Myth". They can get a taste of his ideas here.

Regardless of the quantity of homework assigned, it should never be portrayed (by teachers, principals, or families) as a punishment or something to "get out of" for good behavior (Homework "Passes" are ultimately self-defeating). Rather, our collective energies should be spent (re)envisioning the quality of homework to cultivate in our children a sense of achievement and a desire to learn more. I encourage all interested and passionate families to participate in their local Home and School Association or Parent Teacher Association to initiate change in their schools.

Michael Schoch, Answers questions on Noodle

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This is a great question and I hope more people weigh in on it. Of course, this is also a question with a lot of subjective boundaries, considering that each individual school, class, teacher, student and family contributes to whether a given amount of homework feels bearable or not.

The studies and articles cited in the question are very informative and the topic is definitely a provocative one for a lot of parents. I thought I'd research the subject and contribute a few other articles to read and consider when weighing this question.

This article on Noodle, reposted from care.com, gives a great summary of parent concerns and teacher rationale. It even touches on the role of tutoring in the homework debate.

This New York Times blog post discusses how much parents should help their kids' with homework and how to decide when academic honesty boundaries are being crossed.

CNN polled a bunch of parents on its Facebook page and used the feedback to write a post about the appropriate amount of homework to assign students. The responses and conclusions were, predictably, varied. This post also includes studies conducted in 2006 and 2012 on the relationship between quantity of homework and student performance metrics.

Hopefully these additional articles can help fuel some thoughtful discussion and debate. It's certainly an important question and one that's not likely to have a simple answer. Thanks for asking it!

Brittney Miller, Graduate student instructor, gifted education instructor

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I agree with a lot of the responses here. Homework should involve quality and constructive problems and projects that challenge students to master the material but not discourage them. In some subjects, it is easy to assign a lot of the same kinds of problems because some teachers think repetition is how students learn, but I don't necessarily think this produces the best results for many students. I think it's important for parents to be aware of the what kind of homework their children are bringing home so they can communicate and discuss the material with their kids while spending quality family time with them.

Maryann Aita, Writer and Expert Tutor

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I would certainly agree that the quality of homework is much more important than the quantity of it, but I would also say that homework needs to be more tailored to the individual. Ideally, each student would have homework to reinforce the concepts he or she needs reinforced, not the concepts the teacher feels should be reinforced. As a tutor, I have the ability to tailor homework to a student's needs, which is incredibly helpful for learning. Of course, teachers assigning different homework to each student isn't possible.

I would argue that there should be more "optional" homework. For instance, instead of assigning pages of math problems, teachers could assign a range of problems and students can stop when they feel they've grasped the concept. Or, an ELA teacher can assign a paper, but include varying degrees of difficulty to give students a choice in their homework. Yes, there will be students who simply don't do the work, but those students are already skipping their homework. I really believe that if you give students more freedom, many of them will rise to it. Having confidence in your students can make a world of difference. And you may be surprised how many students want to challenge themselves.

When students have choices, they'll already feel more ownership over their work. Degrees of homework can also keep struggling students from getting overly frustrated and excelling students feeling challenged enough. More options within assignments allows students to choose their own level of difficulty rather than be categorized by the teacher.

I also agree with the idea that teachers should be working collaboratively when assigning homework -- not just to give students more manageable amounts of homework, but to give homework assignments that make connections between subjects. Blending subject matter, whether by writing essays about scientific concepts or exploring the history of math and how it affected cultural developments, is also an excellent way to help students with an aversion to one subject to become more comfortable.

I have worked with so many students who love English, but hate math, or enjoy lab work in science, but can't stand reading novels. Assigning homework that combines subjects not only cuts down on homework time, it adds context.

Overall, I would urge less time spent on homework and more student ownership of their assignments.

Anonymous, Homework in Schools

Homework appears like a smart thought, only a smidgen of investigating what was found out in class and noting a couple of inquiries to feel more good with the material. Practically speaking, it's totally extraordinary. write my essay cheap uk

Matthew Clemens, Physics and Math Teacher, Parent, and Tutor

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This is a tough question because each subject matter differs. I teach AP Physics and I ask my students to do a lot of work outside of the classroom to ensure that they are able to learn all of the concepts the College Board assesses. I offer time after school to help students so they do not need to seek help beyond the school walls, but I know that making it after school can be a challenge for those who work or participate in sports and other activities. As the question asks, tutoring can be an option, but that should be more for understanding challenging concepts, not to help with a child who is overburdened with homework. Concerned parents should consider reaching out to the teacher to see if there is anything they can suggest to support your student.

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