A Closer Look at Homework

15
Oct

A Closer Look at Homework

Teacher with studentAny parent with a school-age child is well acquainted with the trials and tribulations of homework.  They can range from small irritations, like keeping track of what each child need to complete after school each day; to major issues, such as managing a child who melts down everyday after school at the thought of having to engage in one more minute of schoolwork.  Managing homework assignments, especially for young children, often puts more responsibility on the parent than the child.  Parents are instructed to make sure they are checking backpacks, reviewing assignments with the child, signing planners and assignments, and more.  If all of this actually demonstrated increased skills in students, one could argue that these efforts are worthwhile.  However, one may be surprised to discover that there is little research evidence to support the practice of assigning nightly homework to students.  If that is the case, then surely children and parents could find more valuable uses of their time!

With all the talk of “evidence based practice” in education these days, it’s time to carefully examine the issue of homework.  While homework has been a long-standing practice in most schools, there are many reasons to call into question whether completing homework provides any benefits to students.  As with any topic, research can be found to support and refute the practice of assigning homework to students.  When all of the studies are taken into account, however, there appears to be much more compelling evidence against assigning homework than in support of it.  Consider the following information:

  • An analysis of research on homework outcomes (Cooper et al. 2006) found no correlation between the amount of time elementary students spent on homework and achievement.  There was only a moderate correlation between time spent on homework and achievement at the middle school level.  This was a follow-up to a previous study that found no evidence to support the idea that any amount of homework has a positive impact on the academic performance of elementary age students (Cooper, 1989).  In fact, negative correlations have indicated that more homework has been associated with worse achievement (Cooper, 2001).
  • A study comparing countries around the world in relation to homework practices (Baker & Letendre, 2005) found that junior high school students who scored highest in math tests come from countries where less homework is assigned.  The lowest-scoring students come from countries where large amounts of homework are assigned.
  • There is no research to support the idea that homework does anything to promote non-academic benefits such as time management, organizational skills, or good work habits.
  • A national study (Hofferth and Sandberg, 2001) found that the proportion of young elementary students (ages 6-8) given homework has climbed steadily since the 1980’s, and that the weekly time spent on homework has more than doubled.
  • In studies where some positive effect of homework has been found (Barber, 1986), the effects are quite small and may or may not be directly connected to the homework completed.

For something that is imposed on virtually every school age child in this country, there is very little positive that can be said for the practice of assigning and completing homework.  Homework infringes on the time students could spend on other meaningful activities such as playing, engaging in extra-curricular activities, pursuing creative interests, and spending time with their families.  Yet most people assume this is a reasonable infringement because homework must surely provide some benefits.  When we examine the research and find that the benefits are minimal, if not nonexistent, it should cause us to stop and ask why we tolerate this practice in the first place.

Homework appears to be an unnecessary activity that does not improve academic or non-academic functioning for students.  Those students who already understand and show proficiency with the material taught during the school day do not need to do additional practice on those skills at home.  Students who do not grasp the material taught during the school day do not benefit from time spent at home practicing things they do not understand.  Based on the current scant evidence in support of homework, it seems that we should prioritize students’ time outside of school very differently.  If one wants to assign homework, then perhaps it should be along the lines of activities such as reading a book for pleasure, exercising, spending time outdoors, playing games with the family, participating in a sporting event, taking music lessons, shopping with parents, engaging in chores around the house, and anything else that allows for the development of students’ minds, bodies, hearts, and souls.  Surely we should not continue to implement a practice that is not clearly supported by the research.  After all, that wouldn’t be “evidence based”, now would it?

References

Baker, D.P. & Letendre, G.K. (2005). National Differences, Global Similarities: World Cultureand the Future of Schooling. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Barber, B. (1986). Homework does not belong on the agenda for educational reform. Educational Leadership, May 1986: 55-57.

Cooper, H. (1989). Synthesis of research on homework. Educational Leadership, November 1989: 85-91.

Cooper, H., Jackson, K., Nye, B., & Lindsay, J.J. (2001). A model of homework’s influence on the performance evaluation of elementary school students. Journal of Experimental Education, 69: 181-199.

Cooper, H., Robinson, J.C., & Patall, E.A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research. Review of Educational Research, 36: 369-378.

Hofferth, S.L. & Sandberg, J.F. (2001). How American children spend their time. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63: 295-308.

Recommended Reading

The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn

The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish

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