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Too much homework? Not for most kids

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WASHINGTON — Too much homework? Sorry, kids, the adults aren't buying it.

Most parents say their children get the right amount of homework, and most teachers agree, according to an AP-AOL Learning Services Poll.

Even among the parents and teachers who say the load assigned these days is out of whack, more say it's too light — not too heavy.

In Palmdale, Calif., Dwight Daugherty, 52, says his two sons barely take home any homework from high school. "Kids," he says, "aren't being as well educated as I was."

Parents seem rather content, though, with the demands that homework places on their own time.

In the poll, 64 percent of parents said they have little trouble finding time to help with homework, and 57 percent said they spend the right amount of time helping out.

And for those parents who haven't dipped into an algebra or chemistry book in a while? No worries — 70 percent say the homework they see is not too difficult for them to help with.

Teachers, however, are skeptical about the support children get at home. Almost nine in 10 said parents don't set aside enough time to help.

Elaine Carter, a 46-year-old mom in South Jordan, Utah, works part time and has five children in school. The family reads each morning, a house rule.

But still, Carter says: "I'm sure I don't spend enough time on homework with my kids."

By subject, math is the one that kids need the most help with, parents and teachers agree.

When Cindy Gilpin's two children bring home math in Burlington, Mass., she tries to help, but she has a back-up plan for them: "Go find your father."

As homework aids go, the Internet gets high marks, parents and teachers said in the AP-AOL Poll. More than 80 percent of both groups rated Internet resources as good or very good.

The survey also found:

Less educated parents spend more time helping kids with take-home assignments.

The most affluent parents spend the least time helping their kids with homework.

Women spend an average 46 minutes a day helping with homework. Men spend 35 minutes.

Black parents spend more time than Hispanics or whites on homework help.

Public school students spend less time on homework than kids in other schools.

So how much homework is too much? That's the question that elicits emotion, the one that sends parents to their school board asking why weary kids must lug home huge book bags.

In the poll, only 19 percent of parents said their kids get too much homework.

Not so for Stephen Orlando, 48, an engineer in Canal Fulton, Ohio. He says his 11th-grade daughter does four hours of homework a night. When 10 p.m. rolls around, he and his wife tell her: "You're done, that's enough."

Such personal stories are real. But apparently they are not the national reality.

Parents polled said their children spend an average of 90 minutes a night on homework. The workload grows as the students do — 78 minutes of homework a night in elementary school, 99 minutes in middle school and 105 in high school.

Even those numbers might be lofty. Could be that parents don't really know how much time kids spend on homework when the bedroom door shuts. Consider what the students say.

Most children aged 9, 13 and 17 years say they spend less than an hour a night on homework, according to a long-term federal study. That load has held steady, if not dropped, over the past 20 years. Plenty of students say they are not assigned any homework at all.

And the United States doesn't exactly overburden its students. The nation is right in the middle of the pack of industrialized nations when it comes to the homework load for 15-year-olds.

The way John Gainer sees it, keeping the homework light helps his students learn.

Gainer is a high school English and journalism teacher in Maben, Miss., where most of his students are poor and have no access to the Internet at home. So he schedules time for kids to do research and get feedback at school, a place where he knows they can concentrate.