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December 17, 2014

Work smarter, not harder

Scrooge McDuck was fond of telling his nephews to work smarter, not harder. I immediately reflected back to this quote from my DuckTales watching days when I saw the latest data on how much time U.S. teenagers spend on homework compared to their peers in other countries. Some might expect the U.S. to be among the world leaders in homework while others might expect our teenagers to lag behind their peers in most other countries. Which group you fall into likely depends on your family’s income level since as The Atlantic points out students from higher-income families spend 1.6 more hours per week on homework than students from the other end of the family income scale.

On-average, however, U.S. teenagers spend a little more time on homework than their peers around the world — 6.1 hours per week on home compared to about 5 hours a week for the typical teenager around the globe. Yet, these averages hide the fact that the amount of homework varies significantly from country to country. What may surprise some is that the time spent on homework has almost no correlation to where countries rank on international assessments. For example, while teenagers in high performing Shanghai-China and Singapore were also at the top of the list for most homework per week (13.1), teenagers in the high performing countries of Finland and South Korea had the least amount of homework (2.8 and 2.9 hours per week respectively). Even in Japan students only spend 3.8 hours per week on homework, nearly two and half hours per week less than students in the U.S., yet Japan outperforms the U.S.

In isolation the homework data isn’t very useful at identifying any problems in our schools. But, when taken together with the fact that U.S. teachers teach more hours than teachers in other countries along with knowing that our students spend more time in school than students in most other countries the problem clearly is not a lack of hard work. As our Making Time videos points out, it is not about how much time students spend learning, it is how effectively that time is used and the data strongly indicates that time can be used more efficiently. How to do that is not exactly clear at this point, but the first step would be to examine how those countries that spend less time on learning and still outperform the U.S. to gain insights into some best practices as to how to use time more efficiently here in the U.S. The data is clear, for the U.S. to be among the world leaders in student achievement our schools need to work smarter, not harder.  – Jim Hull

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