But Cooper argues that even students in second grade can benefit from homework as long as it is "simple and short." A good rule of thumb, said Cooper, and one used by many school districts, is 10 minutes per night per grade. So, a Grade 1 gets 10 minutes of homework, Grade 2 gets 20 minutes of homework and so on. The trouble seems to crop up in the elementary grades when kids do too much homework -- defined by some as an hour or more. Studies have shown a negative correlation between math scores and the amount of homework completed. In other words, the more homework the students did, the worse they performed on math tests.
These kinds of studies are often what parents point to when they argue against homework.
It's true that American middle school children log more homework time than even their counterparts in Taiwan, Korea and Japan, according to Professor Gerald LeTendre of Penn State University. The average amount of homework a middle-schooler gets in the United States is 2.5 hours a night.
And there is an important difference between America and its counterparts around the world. "In the U.S. teachers tend to be on a "remedial system," said LeTendre. "They are giving out homework not as a way of getting better but when the teacher senses a student or the class may be having trouble understanding a particular lesson or concept."
Karen Langton has been a teacher in Massachusetts for over 10 years, most recently teaching a high school business course. Her class is taught in blocks of time that run just under an hour.
"In that short span of time it is impossible for students," said Langton, "to practice everything that is taught." Langton maintains that homework is a "necessary reinforcement of what is being taught in the room." And rather than offer a high-stakes test, homework is a "low or no stakes way" to check for a student's understanding of a lesson.
Although the differentiated homework plan has been in place for less than two weeks, Tom Milley said nights at his house have already taken on a very different tenor. The tears and the struggles are gone. Spencer brings home his math book most nights and Milley said he looks at his son's work books and "if he understands it I say, hey, great, go out and play."