Hayley Eaton was always an academic achiever. Like many American teens, college was uppermost in her mind, as well as that of her parents and guidance counselors. She signed up for all the available AP and honors courses at her high school and performed well, says Vicki Abeles, a mother, activist, and filmmaker who directed the documentary “Race to Nowhere.” She didn’t flinch when homework meant getting five or six hours of sleep a night before “waking up and repeating the cycle all over again.” Haley used to joke, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” One afternoon while driving home from high school, Haley nodded asleep and crashed into a tree, totaling her car. She escaped with minor cuts and bruises but the experience caused her to rethink her concept of success. “I’m grateful,” she says. In reprioritizing she found her life goal. Today she’s pursuing a master’s in education so she can help create school reform — away from “endless homework and inadequate high stakes testing” and toward “healthy priorities for young people’s physical and mental health.”

Are American students like Haley spending too much of their lives at their desks? And is putting in that grueling second shift of homework paying off in the long-term?

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staff and wire services reports