The Right Amount of Homework Help

Question: How much homework help is too much? Sometimes I think that I (parent) am getting a grade for a homework assignment, especially projects. -- Too Much Work

Answer: Wow! This certainly is a topic with a lot of room for disagreement. Believe it or not, recent research tends to show that helping children with homework typically does not improve their standardized test scores. In fact, once children enter middle school, the data published in "The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children's Education" shows that parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down.

Parenting columnist John Rosemond, who has spent years researching homework issues, points out that the more responsible the parent is for children's homework, the less responsible the child. He feels that helping children with homework leads to some acquiring a helplessness syndrome. Thus the more parents help, the more incompetent the child begins to feel, and the more helpless (and in need of help) the child begins to act.

There is another ugly problem that can occur when parents offer homework help. The parent simply may not know how a subject, especially math, is being taught.

Of course, some homework help is of a positive nature. Young children often need guidance in learning how to handle homework. And older students can profit from parental proofing of assignments provided they limit themselves to pointing out errors. And when children are struggling with a topic, there is nothing wrong with suggesting ways to master it or even giving an explanation. However, when children are truly struggling in school day after day, outside help is advisable.

We are well aware that some projects are so complicated that it seems impossible for children to handle them by themselves. In this case, parents should simply ask the teacher how children are expected to do them.

The guideline that we support for homework is the sooner that children can handle it by themselves, the better.