What is apparent is that if I assign too much homework, they either don't do it or don't do it well. They try to crunch it all into increasingly smaller time slots. They try to figure out the relative importance of math homework as compared to other classes, in particular, what are the personal consequences for not completing my assigned homework as compared to the next teacher's class.
I just do not believe that creating a negative environment around homework in general, or math in particular, serves anybody well.
I am not a believer of compliance led schooling. And compliance is what I see so often in our current school model.
So, I have significantly reduced the amount of homework I assign to my students and I explicitly name my expectations to my students throughout the year. I want my students to do homework 4 days a week, Monday through Thursday. I do not believe in weekend homework, but I give them the space to do some of it then if their week gets crazy and out of hand for them. The only thing I ask of my students is that they get a signature from their parents if they are unable to complete the homework: either because they are incredibly busy or terribly ill. I refuse to be a policeman about these rules and I let the families decide how to apply them.
I do insist, when I notice it, that my student SPACE their homework over 4 different days. The spaced practice is an important component of learning over time.
As for a given homework assignment: my hope is that they spend less than 30 minutes a night: preferably 15-20 of concentrated effort to complete it. Since individuals work at different paces and allow different distractions to take over at times, I cannot strictly enforce that. Once again, I am not an enforcer: I am an educator. Part of my role is to provide guidance toward "how to learn" as they work in math. Ultimately, they are responsible for assimilating my advice and making sense of it.
Here is a sample Math Week Sheet for my 7th Grade (homework and lessons from Connected Math)
How do you organize your homework?