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American Schoolchildren Do More Homework

American schoolchildren are spending more time after school on homework compared to their global peers.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an organization of several dozen high-income economies, looked at the homework trends for participants in the global PISA tests that are used to compared educational outcomes in reading and mathematics in different countries.

While American 15-year-olds are often believed to have fewer educational demands made of them than their global peers, they appear to be harder working, spending an average of six hours a week hitting the books. That’s noticeably higher than the global average of about 5 hours a week, and puts the U.S. ahead of similar countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia.

Countries spending more time on homework than the U.S. include Russia (about 10 hours a week), Italy (9 hours), and Ireland (8 hours). Countries that assign very little homework include Finland, South Korea, and Brazil, which all average less than four hours per week of homework.

The U.S.’s relatively high homework rate is primarily due to declines in the rest of the world. In 2003, the country’s 6-hour average was almost exactly in line with a global average of 5.9 hours. In the intervening decade, however, the world started studying an hour less per week while the U.S. remained the same.

Despite their increased work after school, America continues to produce underwhelming results on the PISA tests; it remains well below-average in math and close to the OECD average in reading. The OECD suggests that this is unsurprising, noting that there is little evidence for increased gains in learning once a child passes four hours of homework per week.

Notably, the U.S. also has one of the largest gaps in homework volume between wealthier and poorer students. The wealthiest quartile of the American student population averaged eight hours of homework per week, while the poorest quartile averaged only five. That three-hour gap is about twice of the world average.

The OECD suggests that such a large gap may play a role in the sizable academic, and later economic, disparities that exist in the U.S. population, as higher-income students  in the U.S. are leveraging higher homework burdens in order to get ahead in life. Improving outcomes for poorer U.S. students may start with simply giving them more work to do.

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