A poll conducted for the Associated Press earlier this year found that about 57 percent of parents felt their child was assigned about the right amount of homework. Another 23 percent thought it was too little, 19 percent thought it was too much.
Educators should be thrilled by these numbers. Pleasing a majority of parents regarding homework and having equal numbers of dissenters shouting "too much!" and "too little!" is about as good as they can hope for.
But opinions cannot tell us whether homework works; only research can, which is why my colleagues and I have conducted a combined analysis of dozens of homework studies to examine whether homework is beneficial and what amount of homework is appropriate for our children.
The homework question is best answered by comparing students who are assigned homework with students assigned no homework but who are similar in other ways. The results of such studies suggest that homework can improve students' scores on the class tests that come at the end of a topic. Students assigned homework in 2nd grade did better on math, 3rd and 4th graders did better on English skills and vocabulary, 5th graders on social studies, 9th through 12th graders on American history, and 12th graders on Shakespeare.
Less authoritative are 12 studies that link the amount of homework to achievement, but control for lots of other factors that might influence this connection. These types of studies, often based on national samples of students, also find a positive link between time on homework and achievement.
Yet other studies simply correlate homework and achievement with no attempt to control for student differences. In 35 such studies, about 77 percent find the link between homework and achievement is positive. Most interesting, though, is these results suggest little or no relationship between homework and achievement for elementary school students.
Why might that be? Younger children have less developed study habits and are less able to tune out distractions at home. Studies also suggest that young students who are struggling in school take more time to complete homework assignments simply because these assignments are more difficult for them.
So, how much homework should students do? The National PTA and the NEA have a parent guide called "Helping Your Child Get the Most Out of Homework." It states, "Most educators agree that for children in grades K-2, homework is more effective when it does not exceed 10-20 minutes each day; older children, in grades 3-6, can handle 30-60 minutes a day; in junior and senior high, the amount of homework will vary by subject…." Many school district policies state that high school students should expect about 30 minutes of homework for each academic course they take, a bit more for honors or advanced placement courses.
These recommendations are consistent with the conclusions reached by our analysis. Practice assignments do improve scores on class tests at all grade levels. A little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits. Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes a night. For high school students, the positive line continues to climb until between 90 minutes and 2½ hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.
Beyond achievement, proponents of homework argue that it can have many other beneficial effects. They claim it can help students develop good study habits so they are ready to grow as their cognitive capacities mature. It can help students recognize that learning can occur at home as well as at school. Homework can foster independent learning and responsible character traits. And it can give parents an opportunity to see what's going on at school and let them express positive attitudes toward achievement.
Opponents of homework counter that it can also have negative effects. They argue it can lead to boredom with schoolwork, since all activities remain interesting only for so long. Homework can deny students access to leisure activities that also teach important life skills. Parents can get too involved in homework -- pressuring their child and confusing him by using different instructional techniques than the teacher.
My feeling is that homework policies should prescribe amounts of homework consistent with the research evidence, but which also give individual schools and teachers some flexibility to take into account the unique needs and circumstances of their students and families. In general, teachers should avoid either extreme.
NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education
Found In: teaching strategies
Some researchers are urging schools to take a fresh look at homework and its potential for engaging students and improving student performance. The key, they say, is to take into account grade-specific and developmental factors when determining the amount and kind of homework.
So, what's appropriate? What benefits can be expected? What makes for good homework policies? 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. Homework overload is the exception rather than the norm; however, according to research from the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation (see the Brown Center 2003 below). Their researchers analyzed data from a variety of sources and concluded that the majority of U.S. students spend less than an hour a day on homework, regardless of grade level, and this has held true for most of the past 50 years. In the last 20 years, homework has increased only in the lower grade levels, and this increase is associated with neutral (and sometimes negative) effects on student achievement.
How Much Is Appropriate?
The National PTA recommendations fall in line with general guidelines suggested by researcher Harris Cooper: 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth). High school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take (see Review of Educational Research, 2006).
What are the benefits?
Homework usually falls into one of three categories: practice, preparation, or extension. The purpose usually varies by grade. Individualized assignments that tap into students' existing skills or interests can be motivating. At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child's learning. At the secondary school level, student homework is associated with greater academic achievement. (Review of Educational Research, 2006)
What’s good policy?
Experts advise schools or districts to include teachers, parents, and students in any effort to set homework policies. Policies should address the purposes of homework; amount and frequency; school and teacher responsibilities; student responsibilities; and, the role of parents or others who assist students with homework.
- A Nation At Rest: The American Way of Homework ( PDF, 439 KB, 19 pgs.)
Summary and comments from authors) - Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(3) (2003, Fall). Gill, B. P., & Schlossman, S. L.
- Helping Your Child with Homework ( PDF, 378 KB, 25 pgs.)
U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Research Spotlight on Best Practices in Education
A list of NEA Spotlights on best practices.
- NEA Reports & Statistics
Research reports reviewing data on educational issues and policy papers concerning NEA members, educators, and the public school community.