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The Great Homework Debate: Is Homework Helpful or Harmful to Students?

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❶Bringing together all such trials into the kind of meta-analysis often attempted with respect to drugs is a difficult task, but it so happens that one respected investigator has done so.

Consequences for high school students

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A Massachusetts elementary school has announced a no-homework pilot program for the coming school year, lengthening the school day by two hours to provide more in-class instruction. We want them to go to soccer practice or football practice, and we want them to go to bed. A New York City public elementary school implemented a similar policy last year, eliminating traditional homework assignments in favor of family time. The change was quickly met with outrage from some parents, though it earned support from other education leaders.

The most comprehensive research on homework to date comes from a meta-analysis by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, who found evidence of a positive correlation between homework and student achievement, meaning students who did homework performed better in school. The correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades, for whom there was a weak relationship between homework and performance. His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills.

On the other hand, some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. At the end of his analysis, Cooper recommended further study of such potential effects of homework. Bringing together all such trials into the kind of meta-analysis often attempted with respect to drugs is a difficult task, but it so happens that one respected investigator has done so.

Harris Cooper, a close student of the subject, reports that "The conclusions of past reviewers of homework research show extraordinary variability Even in regard to specific areas of application such as within different subject areas, grades or student ability levels, the reviews often directly contradict one another. Just as tellingly, virtually no one so far has attempted to ascertain the side effects of homework.

Our own ethnographic research shows that extensive homework assignments have played a major role in school dropouts. In interviews with high school dropouts as part of a study for the Maine Department of Education, we asked students if there was a moment when they knew they were going to drop out of school. Their tales told the story of incomplete homework, of parent-child conflict exacerbated by homework demands that seem to grow as fast as the time parents have available shrinks.

Schools can do a better job, but punishing regimes for the children are not the way to go. The place for our children to be doing independent work is the setting designed for such work, the schools themselves.

Teachers or other adults with appropriate skills and experience should be paid to assist our children in independent projects that would advance their learning. Free time plays a key role in fostering both creativity and emotional development, factors just as basic to long term success as an academic gains.

In an era that reputedly values testing but that has done so little to test some of its most basic practices, we believe our approach is worth a serious trial.

Kind of common sense. Figuring out what the best homework is takes some time and a little bit of research on the part of both parents and of teachers. According to LeTendre, it is crucial for parents and teachers to be on the same page. That would be my first recommendation for parents," he says. Ask the teacher to clarify the goals for this homework. Ask what the expectations are for the parents, and then be up-front with the teacher about what effect this has on the family.

Try to negotiate something that works for everyone. Unfortunately—at least from the perspective of your eleven-year-old—there will still likely be some amount of homework involved.

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That study, published in The Journal of Experimental Education, suggested that any more than two hours of homework per night is counterproductive. However, students who participated in the study reported doing slightly more than three hours of homework each night, on average.

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In support of the view of homework as helpful, many educators stress that specifically aligning homework to the learning task is part of the strategy for building understanding. The website Focus on Effectiveness cites several studies showing that in elementary school, homework helps build learning and study habits (Cooper, ; Cooper, Lindsay, Nye, & Greathouse, ; Gorges & Elliot, ).

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Even when homework is helpful, there can be too much of a good thing. "There is a limit to how much kids can benefit from home study," Cooper says. He agrees with an oft-cited rule of thumb that students should do no more than 10 minutes a night per grade level — from about 10 minutes in first grade up to a maximum of about two hours in high school. Teachers give homework to help some students improve their grade and to pass that class. Getting homework can be helpful or harmful. Homework can be harmful. Getting too much homework can stress you out and con fuse you about what your supposed to do. Homework helps you study but at the same time you have to focus on the other work you do in other classes.

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Research doesn't have all the answers, but a review of some existing data yields some helpful observations and guidance. How Much Homework Do Students Do? Survey data and anecdotal evidence show that some students spend hours nightly doing homework. For decades, the homework standard has been a “minute rule,” which recommends a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Second graders, for example, should do about 20 minutes of homework each night. High school seniors should complete about two hours of homework each night.