To put it simply, not good. Not good at all. And in fact, getting worse.
A recent article in The Economist explains:
It is easy to be cynical about school-test results, particularly when you are grading the performance of something as complex as a country's education system. Undaunted, every three years the Programme for International Sudent Assessment (PISA), which is run by the OECD club of mainly rich countries, tests more than half a million 15-year-olds in three subjects- math, readin and science- to giva a snapshot of national school policies. The latest results were published on December 6th and again show stellar achievement in East Asia. Singaporean pupils are roughly three years ahead of American ones in math. Some argure that differences in national scores are a result of parenting and innate culture, and therefore that policy makers can do little to improe pupils' performance.
Culture matters, but it is not as if success in PISA is the preserve of East Asia. Estonia scores highly enough to beat the rest of Europe and achieves similar results to Japan.
PISA teaches what does not work. Spending more money, for example, is associated with higher scores, but only in poorer countries. Among those that already spend more than $50,000 per pupil throughout their time in school, money alone brings no improvement. Private schools are no exception, at least when it comes to PISA.
The exercise also tells you what does work, and its most important insight is that what matters most is what happens in the classroom. The successful children are those who are exposed to good teaching more often. Having pupils turn up is a start. In poor countries this often means expanding access for girls. In richer countries it means cutting dropout rates and truancy; Italian pupils do poorly partly because more than half of them skip school at least once a fortnight. Having teachers turn up also helps. One reason why Buenos Aires saw the biggest rise in PISA scores of any area is because the city curbed teachers’ strikes by offering them a deal: it would treat teachers as professionals if they behaved as such. The city improved training and pay. Teachers agreed that merit, not their unions, would determine promotion. Improving the quality of teaching is harder. Who becomes a teacher makes a difference. Australia’s decline in PISA coincides with a fall in the exam results of teacher-training applicants. And what teachers learn about the job is at least as important. Evidence-based methods of instruction, practice, coaching from experienced teachers and feedback are all part of making good teachers.
Poor students tend to do less well in PISA. But the effects of poverty can be overcome. The influence of family background on test scores fell by more in America than in any other OECD country over the past decade. This partly reflects the growth of excellent autonomous but publicly funded charter schools in big cities. Successive presidents’ efforts to hold schools accountable have had some impact, too. In Estonia nearly half the poorest children achieve results that would place them in the top quarter across the OECD. A reason for this is a lack of selection by ability. Many of the top-performing school systems delay the start of formal education until the age of six or seven, focusing instead on play-based education. But they then make students learn academic subjects until about 16. Even in Singapore, where pupils can opt earlier for a vocational track, schools insist on academic rigour as well as practical work.
Concentrate there at the back
Like spoilt children who have failed an exam, some policymakers claim the PISA tests are unfair. Certainly, PISA does not capture all of what matters in education. It offers clues rather than guarantees of what works. It is the fair, rigorous and useful work of technocrats. Yet politicians who ignore it are turning their back on powerful truths.
I was recently asked this question by a reporter doing a nationally syndicated story on childhood education standards and practices. Admittedly this is quite a broad question, with many considerations (age/grade of student, achievment level of student, type of school, etc.).
However, really homework should be based upon quality rather than quantity. Too many sub par teachers, following outdated curricula are in a way "outsourcing" the education process directly to the students, and ultimately to the parents as well, since parental involvement is a key factor in a students rate of success. A lot of teachers utilize their only actual face time with students (i.e. class room time) to broadly touch on subject matter, then assign prodigious amounts of home work that is in essence saying, "here is a little bit of information about a lot of things, now go and learn it yourself". This is not always the fault of the teacher. In many states, recently adopted common core curricula dictates the breadth of information to be covered, by subject and by grade, and this does not always allow for teachers to engage students individually, based upon their various needs. Teachers end up teaching to the standards, not to the class.
Ideally, homework should allow students to further explore specific subject matter and expand upon the foundations of in-class lessons and discussions. In addition, an effective homework load should teach them self reliance, organizational skills, critical thinking, preparedness, and the ability to recognize the importance of meeting deadlines. But in reality, too often homework results in the opposite: reliance on parents, siblings or tutors; disorganization and feeling overwhelmed; lack of focused thinking; unpreparedness and anxiety; missed deadlines and falling behind. Whether or not a student's end result of homework is the former or the latter depends heavily upon the passion, skill and effectiveness of the individual teacher that assigns it.
So it is difficult to put an amount of time as being just enough, or too much, when analyzing homework loads. If one goes by historic assumptions, then the rule of thumb is roughly 1/2 hour of homework per subject, per night. However that is not the way any modern educator would answer this question. Effective homework assignments should emphasize and reinforce the classroom teachings and discussions, and encourage (not discourage!) further exploration of the subject matter. When homework fails to do that, no matter how much or how little the amount, then it is too much.
At FutureSoBrite we believe that every child deserves a bright future, and that education makes all things possible. We believe great education doesn't just happen in school, it also happens at home. We are educators and parents who believe lessons learned at home are the foundations for lessons learned in life. Because teachers teach the class, but parents teach the child.