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Homework: No Proven Benefits
Why homework is a pointless and outdated habit.
This is an excerpt from Alfie Kohn's recently published book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. For one teacher's response to this excerpt, read In Defense of Homework: Is there Such a Thing as Too Much? .
It may surprise you, as it did me, to learn that no study has ever demonstrated any academic benefit to assigning homework before children are in high school. In fact, even in high school, the association between homework and achievement is weak -- and the data don't show that homework is responsible for higher achievement. (Correlation doesn't imply causation.)
Finally, there isn't a shred of evidence to support the folk wisdom that homework provides nonacademic benefits at any age -- for example, that it builds character, promotes self-discipline, or teaches good work habits. We're all familiar with the downside of homework: the frustration and exhaustion, the family conflict, time lost for other activities, and possible diminution of children's interest in learning. But the stubborn belief that all of this must be worth it, that the gain must outweigh the pain, relies on faith rather than evidence.
So why does homework continue to be assigned and accepted? Possible reasons include a lack of respect for research, a lack of respect for children (implicit in a determination to keep them busy after school), a lack of understanding about the nature of learning (implicit in the emphasis on practicing skills and the assertion that homework "reinforces" school lessons), or the top-down pressures to teach more stuff faster in order to pump up test scores so we can chant "We're number one!"
All of these explanations are plausible, but I think there's also something else responsible for our continuing to feed children this latter-day cod-liver oil. We don't ask challenging questions about homework because we don't ask challenging questions about most things. Too many of us sound like Robert Frost's neighbor, the man who "will not go behind his father's saying." Too many of us, when pressed about some habit or belief we've adopted, are apt to reply, "Well, that's just the way I was raised" -- as if it were impossible to critically examine the values one was taught. Too many of us, including some who work in the field of education, seem to have lost our capacity to be outraged by the outrageous; when handed foolish and destructive mandates, we respond by asking for guidance on how best to carry them out.
Passivity is a habit acquired early. From our first days in school we are carefully instructed in what has been called the "hidden curriculum": how to do what one is told and stay out of trouble. There are rewards, both tangible and symbolic, for those who behave properly and penalties for those who don't. As students, we're trained to sit still, listen to what the teacher says, run our highlighters across whatever words in the book we'll be required to commit to memory. Pretty soon, we become less likely to ask (or even wonder) whether what we're being taught really makes sense. We just want to know whether it's going to be on the test.
When we find ourselves unhappy with some practice or policy, we're encouraged to focus on incidental aspects of what's going on, to ask questions about the details of implementation -- how something will get done, or by whom, or on what schedule -- but not whether it should be done at all. The more that we attend to secondary concerns, the more the primary issues -- the overarching structures and underlying premises -- are strengthened. We're led to avoid the radical questions -- and I use that adjective in its original sense: Radical comes from the Latin word for "root." It's partly because we spend our time worrying about the tendrils that the weed continues to grow. Noam Chomsky put it this way: "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum -- even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate."
Parents have already been conditioned to accept most of what is done to their children at school, for example, and so their critical energies are confined to the periphery. Sometimes I entertain myself by speculating about how ingrained this pattern really is. If a school administrator were to announce that, starting next week, students will be made to stand outside in the rain and memorize the phone book, I suspect we parents would promptly speak up . . . to ask whether the Yellow Pages will be included. Or perhaps we'd want to know how much of their grade this activity will count for. One of the more outspoken moms might even demand to know whether her child will be permitted to wear a raincoat.
Our education system, meanwhile, is busily avoiding important topics in its own right. For every question that's asked in this field, there are other, more vital questions that are never raised. Educators weigh different techniques of "behavior management" but rarely examine the imperative to focus on behavior -- that is, observable actions -- rather than on reasons and needs and the children who have them. Teachers think about what classroom rules they ought to introduce but are unlikely to ask why they're doing so unilaterally, why students aren't participating in such decisions. It's probably not a coincidence that most schools of education require prospective teachers to take a course called Methods, but there is no course called Goals.
And so we return to the question of homework. Parents anxiously grill teachers about their policies on this topic, but they mostly ask about the details of the assignments their children will be made to do. If homework is a given, it's certainly understandable that one would want to make sure it's being done "correctly." But this begs the question of whether, and why, it should be a given. The willingness not to ask provides another explanation for how a practice can persist even if it hurts more than helps.
For their part, teachers regularly witness how many children are made miserable by homework and how many resist doing it. Some respond with sympathy and respect. Others reach for bribes and threats to compel students to turn in the assignments; indeed, they may insist these inducements are necessary: "If the kids weren't being graded, they'd never do it!" Even if true, this is less an argument for grades and other coercive tactics than an invitation to reconsider the value of those assignments. Or so one might think. However, teachers had to do homework when they were students, and they've likely been expected to give it at every school where they've worked. The idea that homework must be assigned is the premise, not the conclusion -- and it's a premise that's rarely examined by educators.
Unlike parents and teachers, scholars are a step removed from the classroom and therefore have the luxury of pursuing potentially uncomfortable areas of investigation. But few do. Instead, they are more likely to ask, "How much time should students spend on homework?" or "Which strategies will succeed in improving homework completion rates?," which is simply assumed to be desirable.
Policy groups, too, are more likely to act as cheerleaders than as thoughtful critics. The major document on the subject issued jointly by the National PTA and the National Education Association, for example, concedes that children often complain about homework, but never considers the possibility that their complaints may be justified. Parents are exhorted to "show your children that you think homework is important" -- regardless of whether it is, or even whether one really believes this is true -- and to praise them for compliance.
Health professionals, meanwhile, have begun raising concerns about the weight of children's backpacks and then recommending . . . exercises to strengthen their backs! This was also the tack taken by People magazine: An article about families struggling to cope with excessive homework was accompanied by a sidebar that offered some "ways to minimize the strain on young backs" -- for example, "pick a [back]pack with padded shoulder straps."
The People article reminds us that the popular press does occasionally -- cyclically -- take note of how much homework children have to do, and how varied and virulent are its effects. But such inquiries are rarely penetrating and their conclusions almost never rock the boat. Time magazine published a cover essay in 2003 entitled "The Homework Ate My Family." It opened with affecting and even alarming stories of homework's harms. Several pages later, however, it closed with a finger-wagging declaration that "both parents and students must be willing to embrace the 'work' component of homework -- to recognize the quiet satisfaction that comes from practice and drill." Likewise, an essay on the Family Education Network's Web site: "Yes, homework is sometimes dull, or too easy, or too difficult. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be taken seriously." (One wonders what would have to be true before we'd be justified in not taking something seriously.)
Nor, apparently, are these questions seen as appropriate by most medical and mental health professionals. When a child resists doing homework -- or complying with other demands -- their job is to get the child back on track. Very rarely is there any inquiry into the value of the homework or the reasonableness of the demands.
Sometimes parents are invited to talk to teachers about homework -- providing that their concerns are "appropriate." The same is true of formal opportunities for offering feedback. A list of sample survey questions offered to principals by the central office in one Colorado school district is typical. Parents were asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the following statements: "My child understands how to do his/her homework"; "Teachers at this school give me useful suggestions about how to help my child with schoolwork"; "Homework assignments allow me to see what my student is being taught and how he/she is learning"; and "The amount of homework my child receives is (choose one): too much/just right/too little."
The most striking feature of such a list is what isn't on it. Such a questionnaire seems to have been designed to illustrate Chomsky's point about encouraging lively discussion within a narrow spectrum of acceptable opinion, the better to reinforce the key presuppositions of the system. Parents' feedback is earnestly sought -- on these questions only. So, too, for the popular articles that criticize homework, or the parents who speak out: The focus is generally limited to how much is being assigned. I'm sympathetic to this concern, but I'm more struck by how it misses much of what matters. We sometimes forget that not everything that's destructive when done to excess is innocuous when done in moderation. Sometimes the problem is with what's being done, or at least the way it's being done, rather than just with how much of it is being done.
The more we are invited to think in Goldilocks terms (too much, too little, or just right?), the less likely we become to step back and ask the questions that count: What reason is there to think that any quantity of the kind of homework our kids are getting is really worth doing? What evidence exists to show that daily homework, regardless of its nature, is necessary for children to become better thinkers? Why did the students have no chance to participate in deciding which of their assignments ought to be taken home?
And: What if there was no homework at all?
Does Homework Help Improve Grades?
29 November 2022
8 minutes to read
- 01. The Homework Study Abstract
- 02. What's the Point of Homework?
- 03. Homework Through the Ages
- 04. Is There Any Benefit to Doing Homework?
It's axiomatic. Kids go to school and then, go home and do homework. They turn their homework in the next day. If it's a longer assignment, they hand it in by the due date. Is anybody really happy about that?
Students aren't. They've already ' done their time' in the classroom for the day; why should they continue classroom activity outside of school? Teachers aren't. They teach when school's in session so the only time left to grade homework is on their own time. Put that way, it seems that the practice conflicts with labour laws. Perhaps parents are the only party happy with homework. After all, they too have been led to believe that much work is the only path to success. Meet the scientists proving them wrong:
- Adam Maltese, Assistant Professor of Science Education at Indiana University
- Robert H. Tai, Associate Professor of Science Education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education
- Fan Xitao, Dean of Education at the University of Macau
Their groundbreaking work has provoked a shift in attitude about homework. Their findings have prompted the French government to proclaim a homework ban ! Spoiler: it's not yet come to pass but other countries are striding in that direction.
Here at Superprof, we’ve been keeping a close eye on doing homework. We're tuned in to the ongoing debate surrounding the topic of homework and how beneficial the practice really is to learning outcomes . Read on to discover what we've found so far.
The Homework Study Abstract
Did you know that not a single academic study has ever been able to prove a positive correlation between academic success and homework? Me neither. All the way back in 2012, the Huffington Post reported on a then-new study. This work added more weight to the growing body of evidence about homework benefits. It concluded that homework has little or no effect on academic success.
The researchers listed in this article's introduction conducted that study. It surveyed more than 18,000 high-school maths and science students. The objective was to investigate the relationship between homework and academic performance. Specifically, whether more time spent on homework shows a net-positive effect on overall learning and grades.
They asked thousands of students one question: How much time do you spend on homework?’. The study found a very modest correlation between the amount of homework students said they did and their scores on standardised tests . It further disclosed that there was no relationship whatsoever between time spent on homework and course grades. Most shockingly, the study revealed "no substantive difference in grades between students who complete homework and those who do not.”
One of the paper's co-authors, Robert Tai said: “In today’s current educational environment, with all the activities taking up children’s time both in school and out of school, the purpose of each homework assignment must be clear and targeted. With homework, more is not better.”
So if homework is increasingly proven to be a waste of time, perhaps government bodies are right to consider ditching the practice. Incorporating homework back into the classroom where learning outcomes are best demonstrated could work to improve grades. After all, parents who homeschool their learners generally don't assign additional work after the formal learning time ends.
But perhaps only time will tell. If the responses to the study question are to be believed, it would mean class time could stretch to include 100 to 180 extra 50-minute class periods per year. Granted, it's more time in school. But then, it leaves our kids more time to explore other interests and develop in other ways after school.
What's the Point of Homework?
Let's apply a bit of critical thinking to the homework question. The point of school is to learn. Learning is measured through academic performance. Formal performance assessments - exams, are graded. Those grades reflect only marginal improvement for students who (state they) regularly complete their home assignments. That can hardly even be called a correlation.
Passionate educators insist that homework builds a bridge between school and home. But does it, really? And is parental involvement beneficial? Here again, evidence is stacking up. Studies show that parental involvement actually reduces learners' academic success. That's only in part because parents do the work. Another reason points to parents not fully understanding modern educational initiatives.
And then, there's busy work . Let's say that a primary school group just studied a significant historical epoch or science fact. They're assigned project work; maybe building or drawing a model of that event or writing their thoughts about what they just learned in science. These activities are related to the topic but don't necessarily reinforce learned knowledge.
This takes us to another point. Those who advocate for homework believe those exercises repeat concepts introduced in class. Repetition leads to consolidation (of knowledge), as the theory goes. We all know that's true for physical activity; everyone knows about muscle memory. But is it the same for intellectual work?
We'd argue not. For homework to be true repetition, it would have to be done in the same conditions as the original work. In other words, in the classroom. Students, particularly the younger ones may not be aware that they code-switch between school and home. That means they let go of their learner persona and adopt their child persona. It's a completely different psychological state.
Learners in a Montessori setting have less of an issue switching between the school and home environments. Traditional schools have a completely different setup than Montessori schools. They are far more structured and competitive than the more relaxed Montessori setting. And traditional schools mainly follow a teacher-led instruction model. By contrast, Montessori education revolves around the student-led model.
Homework Through the Ages
It's safe to say that, for as long as there have been schools, there has been homework. These extracurricular assignments' origins are hard to pin down. However, we can say, with a measure of authority, that all the internet pages claiming an evil teacher created the concept are (most likely) wrong. Roberto Nevelis (probably) wasn't angry at lazy students. He didn't intend to punish them by giving them extra work.
On the other hand, it would be easy to imagine Plato or Confucius assigning their disciples a few moral dilemmas to ponder on their own. But the first recorded instance of homework assignment doesn't reach back that far. Pliny the Younger asked his students to practise speaking at home. As he taught oration, it makes sense that his assignments would be verbal rather than written. And his point was clear. The more students practised speaking, the more fluent they would become.
Strangely enough, the type of homework we know today originated from a political manoeuvre. Horace Mann , a German politician, insisted that students must continue working to learn at home. It was a power move meant to prove that the state had absolute authority over every citizen, regardless of their age.
This power play didn't make students any more talented or gifted in learning . However, it did make other nations jealous and, maybe, a bit fearful. Soon, homework spread across Europe. As for Horace Mann, he imported the concept to US schools.
At first, American educators were ecstatic about homework. It didn't take long for that tide to turn, though. A couple of decades after assigning homework became a thing, the practice suffered massive backlash. It was banned in some states. Women's magazines and prominent newspapers published letters from the medical community describing how detrimental homework was to children.
How much of that might have been because, in those days, children were expected to earn their keep? Whether working around the homestead or out hawking newspapers, families counted on little ones' earnings. If they were doing homework, they could hardly report for duty. We'll never know for sure but the next big homework battle invoked child labour laws. That gives us a rather substantial clue to the sentiments of the time.
In 1930, a now-defunct group called the American Child Health Association insisted that homework is a form of child labour. Thus, those assignments were against the law and should be discontinued. Note that the Great Depression was unravelling American life at that time. Buying school supplies was likely out of the question.
The US has flip-flopped on homework ever since Mr Mann brought it over. From the Depression Era to the mid-50s, homework was supposed to be a personal exploration. When US lawmakers learned that Soviet students were in class practically, homework was back on the table. In the 80s, academics realised American students were falling far behind global educational standards. The practice intensified until the early aughts, when it again fell out of favour.
Is There Any Benefit to Doing Homework?
A growing body of work proves that homework does not substantially contribute to better grades. It does not necessarily reinforce what was learned in the classroom and does not exactly constitute a model for repetition as consolidation . It stresses students out and may cause turmoil at home. And both teachers and students have to labour beyond regular 'working' hours to deal with homework.
Even homework's origins appear odious! They're so bad, in fact, that in 1930, the US declared that homework, after a full school day, extends study hours beyond the amount of time child labour laws allowed kids to work! Even China, a country notorious for its educational push, is now pushing back against kids spending their childhoods in learning modes. Can homework be redeemed?
Not fully, but these assignments have their good points. For one, it helps learners understand time management . All the fables ever written can't teach kids about the evils of procrastinating quite like having to cram for an exam does. Learning how to manage their schedules prepares them for the adult world, where just about every second of their time will be regimented.
Speaking of time... We all know how taking work home lets people finish it without the boss breathing down their necks. They might have a nice beverage and a snack while they go over some reports or analyses. Students with homework are offered the same deal. They can take their time reviewing what they learned in class. They might search the internet for more information on the topic. They might even go beyond their assignment to read up on materials to be covered in the next lesson.
Homework potentially sets students on the path to discovery. Outside of the classroom, they're free to roam any intellectual field that piques their interest. It's not uncommon for a homework assignment to serve as a springboard into such explorations. In fact, studying numeral systems prompted my mate to ask his dad, a software engineer, about coding .
And, finally, homework teaches discipline. If you want to get good at something, you have to do it over and over again. More importantly, you have to commit to that repetition . Granted, students may not be wild about mastering academics but the process of doing homework itself, even under mandate, instils discipline.
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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.
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what is the point of homework
I don’t understand why your article says “Did you know that not a single academic study has ever been able to prove a positive correlation between academic success and homework?” There have been plenty of studies that prove homework helps academic success. Here’s the one right here https://www.forbes.com/sites/nataliewexler/2019/01/03/why-homework-doesnt-seem-to-boost-learning-and-how-it-could/?sh=47a6a0c968ab And another by Duke University https://today.duke.edu/2006/09/homework_oped.html If you’re going to say things as if they’re factual you need to back it up by where you’re getting your facts.
Agreed, another study here… “The evidence shows that the impact of homework, on average, is five months’ additional progress.” MacBeath and Turner (1990)
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This post has been updated as of December 2017.
It’s not uncommon to hear students, parents, and even some teachers always complaining about homework. Why, then, is homework an inescapable part of the student experience? Worksheets, busy work, and reading assignments continue to be a mainstay of students’ evenings.
Whether from habit or comparison with out-of-class work time in other nations, our students are getting homework and, according to some of them, a LOT of it. Educators and policy makers must ask themselves—does assigning homework pay off?
Is there evidence that homework benefits students younger than high school?
The Scholastic article Is Homework Bad? references Alfie Kohn’s book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing , in which he says, “There is no evidence to demonstrate that homework benefits students below high school age.”
The article goes on to note that those who oppose homework focus on the drawbacks of significant time spent on homework, identifying one major negative as homework’s intrusion into family time. They also point out that opponents believe schools have decided homework is necessary and thus assign it simply to assign some kind of homework, not because doing the work meets specifically-identified student needs.
“Busy work” does not help students learn
Students and parents appear to carry similar critiques of homework, specifically regarding assignments identified as busy work—long sheets of repetitive math problems, word searches, or reading logs seemingly designed to make children dislike books.
When asked how homework can negatively affect children, Nancy Kalish, author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It , says that many homework assignments are “simply busy work” that makes learning “a chore rather than a positive, constructive experience.”
Commenters on the piece, both parents and students, tended to agree. One student shared that on occasion they spent more time on homework than at school, while another commenter pointed out that, “We don’t give slow-working children a longer school day, but we consistently give them a longer homework day.”
Without feedback, homework is ineffective
The efficacy of the homework identified by Kalish has been studied by policy researchers as well. Gerald LeTendre, of Penn State’s Education Policy Studies department points out that the shotgun approach to homework, when students all receive the same photocopied assignment which is then checked as complete rather than discussed individually with the student, is “not very effective.” He goes on to say that, “If there’s no feedback and no monitoring, the homework is probably not effective.”
Researchers from the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia had similar findings in their study, “ When Is Homework Worth The Time ?” According to UVAToday, these researchers reported no “substantive difference” in the grades of students related to homework completion.
As researcher Adam Maltese noted, “Our results hint that maybe homework is not being used as well as it could be.” The report further suggested that while not all homework is bad, the type and quality of assignments and their differentiation to specific learners appears to be an important point of future research.
If homework is assigned, it should heighten understanding of the subject
The Curry School of Education report did find a positive association between standardized test performance and time spent on homework, but standardized test performance shouldn’t be the end goal of assignments—a heightened understanding and capability with the content material should.
As such, it is important that if/when teachers assign homework assignments, it is done thoughtfully and carefully—and respectful of the maximum times suggested by the National Education Association, about 10 minutes per night starting in the first grade, with an additional 10 minutes per year after.
Continue reading — The Homework Debate: How Homework Benefits Students
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.
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Is Homework Necessary? Education Inequity and Its Impact on Students
Schools are getting rid of homework from Essex, Mass., to Los Angeles, Calif. Although the no-homework trend may sound alarming, especially to parents dreaming of their child’s acceptance to Harvard, Stanford or Yale, there is mounting evidence that eliminating homework in grade school may actually have great benefits , especially with regard to educational equity.
In fact, while the push to eliminate homework may come as a surprise to many adults, the debate is not new . Parents and educators have been talking about this subject for the last century, so that the educational pendulum continues to swing back and forth between the need for homework and the need to eliminate homework.
The Problem with Homework: It Highlights Inequalities
How much homework is too much homework, when does homework actually help, negative effects of homework for students, how teachers can help.
One of the most pressing talking points around homework is how it disproportionately affects students from less affluent families. The American Psychological Association (APA) explained:
“Kids from wealthier homes are more likely to have resources such as computers, internet connections, dedicated areas to do schoolwork and parents who tend to be more educated and more available to help them with tricky assignments. Kids from disadvantaged homes are more likely to work at afterschool jobs, or to be home without supervision in the evenings while their parents work multiple jobs.”
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While students growing up in more affluent areas are likely playing sports, participating in other recreational activities after school, or receiving additional tutoring, children in disadvantaged areas are more likely headed to work after school, taking care of siblings while their parents work or dealing with an unstable home life. Adding homework into the mix is one more thing to deal with — and if the student is struggling, the task of completing homework can be too much to consider at the end of an already long school day.
While all students may groan at the mention of homework, it may be more than just a nuisance for poor and disadvantaged children, instead becoming another burden to carry and contend with.
Beyond the logistical issues, homework can negatively impact physical health and stress — and once again this may be a more significant problem among economically disadvantaged youth who typically already have a higher stress level than peers from more financially stable families .
Yet, today, it is not just the disadvantaged who suffer from the stressors that homework inflicts. A 2014 CNN article, “Is Homework Making Your Child Sick?” , covered the issue of extreme pressure placed on children of the affluent. The article looked at the results of a study surveying more than 4,300 students from 10 high-performing public and private high schools in upper-middle-class California communities.
“Their findings were troubling: Research showed that excessive homework is associated with high stress levels, physical health problems and lack of balance in children’s lives; 56% of the students in the study cited homework as a primary stressor in their lives,” according to the CNN story. “That children growing up in poverty are at-risk for a number of ailments is both intuitive and well-supported by research. More difficult to believe is the growing consensus that children on the other end of the spectrum, children raised in affluence, may also be at risk.”
When it comes to health and stress it is clear that excessive homework, for children at both ends of the spectrum, can be damaging. Which begs the question, how much homework is too much?
The National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association recommend that students spend 10 minutes per grade level per night on homework . That means that first graders should spend 10 minutes on homework, second graders 20 minutes and so on. But a study published by The American Journal of Family Therapy found that students are getting much more than that.
While 10 minutes per day doesn’t sound like much, that quickly adds up to an hour per night by sixth grade. The National Center for Education Statistics found that high school students get an average of 6.8 hours of homework per week, a figure that is much too high according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It is also to be noted that this figure does not take into consideration the needs of underprivileged student populations.
In a study conducted by the OECD it was found that “after around four hours of homework per week, the additional time invested in homework has a negligible impact on performance .” That means that by asking our children to put in an hour or more per day of dedicated homework time, we are not only not helping them, but — according to the aforementioned studies — we are hurting them, both physically and emotionally.
What’s more is that homework is, as the name implies, to be completed at home, after a full day of learning that is typically six to seven hours long with breaks and lunch included. However, a study by the APA on how people develop expertise found that elite musicians, scientists and athletes do their most productive work for about only four hours per day. Similarly, companies like Tower Paddle Boards are experimenting with a five-hour workday, under the assumption that people are not able to be truly productive for much longer than that. CEO Stephan Aarstol told CNBC that he believes most Americans only get about two to three hours of work done in an eight-hour day.
In the scope of world history, homework is a fairly new construct in the U.S. Students of all ages have been receiving work to complete at home for centuries, but it was educational reformer Horace Mann who first brought the concept to America from Prussia.
Since then, homework’s popularity has ebbed and flowed in the court of public opinion. In the 1930s, it was considered child labor (as, ironically, it compromised children’s ability to do chores at home). Then, in the 1950s, implementing mandatory homework was hailed as a way to ensure America’s youth were always one step ahead of Soviet children during the Cold War. Homework was formally mandated as a tool for boosting educational quality in 1986 by the U.S. Department of Education, and has remained in common practice ever since.
School work assigned and completed outside of school hours is not without its benefits. Numerous studies have shown that regular homework has a hand in improving student performance and connecting students to their learning. When reviewing these studies, take them with a grain of salt; there are strong arguments for both sides, and only you will know which solution is best for your students or school.
Homework improves student achievement.
- Source: The High School Journal, “ When is Homework Worth the Time?: Evaluating the Association between Homework and Achievement in High School Science and Math ,” 2012.
- Source: IZA.org, “ Does High School Homework Increase Academic Achievement? ,” 2014. **Note: Study sample comprised only high school boys.
Homework helps reinforce classroom learning.
- Source: “ Debunk This: People Remember 10 Percent of What They Read ,” 2015.
Homework helps students develop good study habits and life skills.
- Sources: The Repository @ St. Cloud State, “ Types of Homework and Their Effect on Student Achievement ,” 2017; Journal of Advanced Academics, “ Developing Self-Regulation Skills: The Important Role of Homework ,” 2011.
- Source: Journal of Advanced Academics, “ Developing Self-Regulation Skills: The Important Role of Homework ,” 2011.
Homework allows parents to be involved with their children’s learning.
- Parents can see what their children are learning and working on in school every day.
- Parents can participate in their children’s learning by guiding them through homework assignments and reinforcing positive study and research habits.
- Homework observation and participation can help parents understand their children’s academic strengths and weaknesses, and even identify possible learning difficulties.
- Source: Phys.org, “ Sociologist Upends Notions about Parental Help with Homework ,” 2018.
While some amount of homework may help students connect to their learning and enhance their in-class performance, too much homework can have damaging effects.
Students with too much homework have elevated stress levels.
- Source: USA Today, “ Is It Time to Get Rid of Homework? Mental Health Experts Weigh In ,” 2021.
- Source: Stanford University, “ Stanford Research Shows Pitfalls of Homework ,” 2014.
Students with too much homework may be tempted to cheat.
- Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education, “ High-Tech Cheating Abounds, and Professors Bear Some Blame ,” 2010.
- Source: The American Journal of Family Therapy, “ Homework and Family Stress: With Consideration of Parents’ Self Confidence, Educational Level, and Cultural Background ,” 2015.
Homework highlights digital inequity.
- Sources: NEAToday.org, “ The Homework Gap: The ‘Cruelest Part of the Digital Divide’ ,” 2016; CNET.com, “ The Digital Divide Has Left Millions of School Kids Behind ,” 2021.
- Source: Investopedia, “ Digital Divide ,” 2022; International Journal of Education and Social Science, “ Getting the Homework Done: Social Class and Parents’ Relationship to Homework ,” 2015.
- Source: World Economic Forum, “ COVID-19 exposed the digital divide. Here’s how we can close it ,” 2021.
Homework does not help younger students.
- Source: Review of Educational Research, “ Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Researcher, 1987-2003 ,” 2006.
To help students find the right balance and succeed, teachers and educators must start the homework conversation, both internally at their school and with parents. But in order to successfully advocate on behalf of students, teachers must be well educated on the subject, fully understanding the research and the outcomes that can be achieved by eliminating or reducing the homework burden. There is a plethora of research and writing on the subject for those interested in self-study.
For teachers looking for a more in-depth approach or for educators with a keen interest in educational equity, formal education may be the best route. If this latter option sounds appealing, there are now many reputable schools offering online master of education degree programs to help educators balance the demands of work and family life while furthering their education in the quest to help others.
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Does Homework Really Help Students Learn?
A conversation with a Wheelock researcher, a BU student, and a fourth-grade teacher
“Quality homework is engaging and relevant to kids’ lives,” says Wheelock’s Janine Bempechat. “It gives them autonomy and engages them in the community and with their families. In some subjects, like math, worksheets can be very helpful. It has to do with the value of practicing over and over.” Photo by iStock/Glenn Cook Photography
Do your homework.
If only it were that simple.
Educators have debated the merits of homework since the late 19th century. In recent years, amid concerns of some parents and teachers that children are being stressed out by too much homework, things have only gotten more fraught.
“Homework is complicated,” says developmental psychologist Janine Bempechat, a Wheelock College of Education & Human Development clinical professor. The author of the essay “ The Case for (Quality) Homework—Why It Improves Learning and How Parents Can Help ” in the winter 2019 issue of Education Next , Bempechat has studied how the debate about homework is influencing teacher preparation, parent and student beliefs about learning, and school policies.
She worries especially about socioeconomically disadvantaged students from low-performing schools who, according to research by Bempechat and others, get little or no homework.
BU Today sat down with Bempechat and Erin Bruce (Wheelock’17,’18), a new fourth-grade teacher at a suburban Boston school, and future teacher freshman Emma Ardizzone (Wheelock) to talk about what quality homework looks like, how it can help children learn, and how schools can equip teachers to design it, evaluate it, and facilitate parents’ role in it.
BU Today: Parents and educators who are against homework in elementary school say there is no research definitively linking it to academic performance for kids in the early grades. You’ve said that they’re missing the point.
Bempechat : I think teachers assign homework in elementary school as a way to help kids develop skills they’ll need when they’re older—to begin to instill a sense of responsibility and to learn planning and organizational skills. That’s what I think is the greatest value of homework—in cultivating beliefs about learning and skills associated with academic success. If we greatly reduce or eliminate homework in elementary school, we deprive kids and parents of opportunities to instill these important learning habits and skills.
We do know that beginning in late middle school, and continuing through high school, there is a strong and positive correlation between homework completion and academic success.
That’s what I think is the greatest value of homework—in cultivating beliefs about learning and skills associated with academic success.
You talk about the importance of quality homework. What is that?
Quality homework is engaging and relevant to kids’ lives. It gives them autonomy and engages them in the community and with their families. In some subjects, like math, worksheets can be very helpful. It has to do with the value of practicing over and over.
What are your concerns about homework and low-income children?
The argument that some people make—that homework “punishes the poor” because lower-income parents may not be as well-equipped as affluent parents to help their children with homework—is very troubling to me. There are no parents who don’t care about their children’s learning. Parents don’t actually have to help with homework completion in order for kids to do well. They can help in other ways—by helping children organize a study space, providing snacks, being there as a support, helping children work in groups with siblings or friends.
Isn’t the discussion about getting rid of homework happening mostly in affluent communities?
Yes, and the stories we hear of kids being stressed out from too much homework—four or five hours of homework a night—are real. That’s problematic for physical and mental health and overall well-being. But the research shows that higher-income students get a lot more homework than lower-income kids.
Teachers may not have as high expectations for lower-income children. Schools should bear responsibility for providing supports for kids to be able to get their homework done—after-school clubs, community support, peer group support. It does kids a disservice when our expectations are lower for them.
The conversation around homework is to some extent a social class and social justice issue. If we eliminate homework for all children because affluent children have too much, we’re really doing a disservice to low-income children. They need the challenge, and every student can rise to the challenge with enough supports in place.
What did you learn by studying how education schools are preparing future teachers to handle homework?
My colleague, Margarita Jimenez-Silva, at the University of California, Davis, School of Education, and I interviewed faculty members at education schools, as well as supervising teachers, to find out how students are being prepared. And it seemed that they weren’t. There didn’t seem to be any readings on the research, or conversations on what high-quality homework is and how to design it.
Erin, what kind of training did you get in handling homework?
Bruce : I had phenomenal professors at Wheelock, but homework just didn’t come up. I did lots of student teaching. I’ve been in classrooms where the teachers didn’t assign any homework, and I’ve been in rooms where they assigned hours of homework a night. But I never even considered homework as something that was my decision. I just thought it was something I’d pull out of a book and it’d be done.
I started giving homework on the first night of school this year. My first assignment was to go home and draw a picture of the room where you do your homework. I want to know if it’s at a table and if there are chairs around it and if mom’s cooking dinner while you’re doing homework.
The second night I asked them to talk to a grown-up about how are you going to be able to get your homework done during the week. The kids really enjoyed it. There’s a running joke that I’m teaching life skills.
Friday nights, I read all my kids’ responses to me on their homework from the week and it’s wonderful. They pour their hearts out. It’s like we’re having a conversation on my couch Friday night.
It matters to know that the teacher cares about you and that what you think matters to the teacher. Homework is a vehicle to connect home and school…for parents to know teachers are welcoming to them and their families.
Bempechat : I can’t imagine that most new teachers would have the intuition Erin had in designing homework the way she did.
Ardizzone : Conversations with kids about homework, feeling you’re being listened to—that’s such a big part of wanting to do homework….I grew up in Westchester County. It was a pretty demanding school district. My junior year English teacher—I loved her—she would give us feedback, have meetings with all of us. She’d say, “If you have any questions, if you have anything you want to talk about, you can talk to me, here are my office hours.” It felt like she actually cared.
Bempechat : It matters to know that the teacher cares about you and that what you think matters to the teacher. Homework is a vehicle to connect home and school…for parents to know teachers are welcoming to them and their families.
Ardizzone : But can’t it lead to parents being overbearing and too involved in their children’s lives as students?
Bempechat : There’s good help and there’s bad help. The bad help is what you’re describing—when parents hover inappropriately, when they micromanage, when they see their children confused and struggling and tell them what to do.
Good help is when parents recognize there’s a struggle going on and instead ask informative questions: “Where do you think you went wrong?” They give hints, or pointers, rather than saying, “You missed this,” or “You didn’t read that.”
Bruce : I hope something comes of this. I hope BU or Wheelock can think of some way to make this a more pressing issue. As a first-year teacher, it was not something I even thought about on the first day of school—until a kid raised his hand and said, “Do we have homework?” It would have been wonderful if I’d had a plan from day one.
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Sara Rimer A journalist for more than three decades, Sara Rimer worked at the Miami Herald , Washington Post and, for 26 years, the New York Times , where she was the New England bureau chief, and a national reporter covering education, aging, immigration, and other social justice issues. Her stories on the death penalty’s inequities were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision outlawing the execution of people with intellectual disabilities. Her journalism honors include Columbia University’s Meyer Berger award for in-depth human interest reporting. She holds a BA degree in American Studies from the University of Michigan. Profile
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There are 81 comments on Does Homework Really Help Students Learn?
Insightful! The values about homework in elementary schools are well aligned with my intuition as a parent.
when i finish my work i do my homework and i sometimes forget what to do because i did not get enough sleep
same omg it does not help me it is stressful and if I have it in more than one class I hate it.
Same I think my parent wants to help me but, she doesn’t care if I get bad grades so I just try my best and my grades are great.
I think that last question about Good help from parents is not know to all parents, we do as our parents did or how we best think it can be done, so maybe coaching parents or giving them resources on how to help with homework would be very beneficial for the parent on how to help and for the teacher to have consistency and improve homework results, and of course for the child. I do see how homework helps reaffirm the knowledge obtained in the classroom, I also have the ability to see progress and it is a time I share with my kids
The answer to the headline question is a no-brainer – a more pressing problem is why there is a difference in how students from different cultures succeed. Perfect example is the student population at BU – why is there a majority population of Asian students and only about 3% black students at BU? In fact at some universities there are law suits by Asians to stop discrimination and quotas against admitting Asian students because the real truth is that as a group they are demonstrating better qualifications for admittance, while at the same time there are quotas and reduced requirements for black students to boost their portion of the student population because as a group they do more poorly in meeting admissions standards – and it is not about the Benjamins. The real problem is that in our PC society no one has the gazuntas to explore this issue as it may reveal that all people are not created equal after all. Or is it just environmental cultural differences??????
I get you have a concern about the issue but that is not even what the point of this article is about. If you have an issue please take this to the site we have and only post your opinion about the actual topic
This is not at all what the article is talking about.
This literally has nothing to do with the article brought up. You should really take your opinions somewhere else before you speak about something that doesn’t make sense.
we have the same name
so they have the same name what of it?
lol you tell her
What does that have to do with homework, that is not what the article talks about AT ALL.
Yes, I think homework plays an important role in the development of student life. Through homework, students have to face challenges on a daily basis and they try to solve them quickly.I am an intense online tutor at 24x7homeworkhelp and I give homework to my students at that level in which they handle it easily.
More than two-thirds of students said they used alcohol and drugs, primarily marijuana, to cope with stress.
You know what’s funny? I got this assignment to write an argument for homework about homework and this article was really helpful and understandable, and I also agree with this article’s point of view.
I also got the same task as you! I was looking for some good resources and I found this! I really found this article useful and easy to understand, just like you! ^^
i think that homework is the best thing that a child can have on the school because it help them with their thinking and memory.
I am a child myself and i think homework is a terrific pass time because i can’t play video games during the week. It also helps me set goals.
Homework is not harmful ,but it will if there is too much
I feel like, from a minors point of view that we shouldn’t get homework. Not only is the homework stressful, but it takes us away from relaxing and being social. For example, me and my friends was supposed to hang at the mall last week but we had to postpone it since we all had some sort of work to do. Our minds shouldn’t be focused on finishing an assignment that in realty, doesn’t matter. I completely understand that we should have homework. I have to write a paper on the unimportance of homework so thanks.
homework isn’t that bad
Are you a student? if not then i don’t really think you know how much and how severe todays homework really is
i am a student and i do not enjoy homework because i practice my sport 4 out of the five days we have school for 4 hours and that’s not even counting the commute time or the fact i still have to shower and eat dinner when i get home. its draining!
i totally agree with you. these people are such boomers
why just why
they do make a really good point, i think that there should be a limit though. hours and hours of homework can be really stressful, and the extra work isn’t making a difference to our learning, but i do believe homework should be optional and extra credit. that would make it for students to not have the leaning stress of a assignment and if you have a low grade you you can catch up.
Studies show that homework improves student achievement in terms of improved grades, test results, and the likelihood to attend college. Research published in the High School Journal indicates that students who spent between 31 and 90 minutes each day on homework “scored about 40 points higher on the SAT-Mathematics subtest than their peers, who reported spending no time on homework each day, on average.” On both standardized tests and grades, students in classes that were assigned homework outperformed 69% of students who didn’t have homework. A majority of studies on homework’s impact – 64% in one meta-study and 72% in another – showed that take home assignments were effective at improving academic achievement. Research by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) concluded that increased homework led to better GPAs and higher probability of college attendance for high school boys. In fact, boys who attended college did more than three hours of additional homework per week in high school.
So how are your measuring student achievement? That’s the real question. The argument that doing homework is simply a tool for teaching responsibility isn’t enough for me. We can teach responsibility in a number of ways. Also the poor argument that parents don’t need to help with homework, and that students can do it on their own, is wishful thinking at best. It completely ignores neurodiverse students. Students in poverty aren’t magically going to find a space to do homework, a friend’s or siblings to help them do it, and snacks to eat. I feel like the author of this piece has never set foot in a classroom of students.
THIS. This article is pathetic coming from a university. So intellectually dishonest, refusing to address the havoc of capitalism and poverty plays on academic success in life. How can they in one sentence use poor kids in an argument and never once address that poor children have access to damn near 0 of the resources affluent kids have? Draw me a picture and let’s talk about feelings lmao what a joke is that gonna put food in their belly so they can have the calories to burn in order to use their brain to study? What about quiet their 7 other siblings that they share a single bedroom with for hours? Is it gonna force the single mom to magically be at home and at work at the same time to cook food while you study and be there to throw an encouraging word?
Also the “parents don’t need to be a parent and be able to guide their kid at all academically they just need to exist in the next room” is wild. Its one thing if a parent straight up is not equipped but to say kids can just figured it out is…. wow coming from an educator What’s next the teacher doesn’t need to teach cause the kid can just follow the packet and figure it out?
Well then get a tutor right? Oh wait you are poor only affluent kids can afford a tutor for their hours of homework a day were they on average have none of the worries a poor child does. Does this address that poor children are more likely to also suffer abuse and mental illness? Like mentioned what about kids that can’t learn or comprehend the forced standardized way? Just let em fail? These children regularly are not in “special education”(some of those are a joke in their own and full of neglect and abuse) programs cause most aren’t even acknowledged as having disabilities or disorders.
But yes all and all those pesky poor kids just aren’t being worked hard enough lol pretty sure poor children’s existence just in childhood is more work, stress, and responsibility alone than an affluent child’s entire life cycle. Love they never once talked about the quality of education in the classroom being so bad between the poor and affluent it can qualify as segregation, just basically blamed poor people for being lazy, good job capitalism for failing us once again!
why the hell?
you should feel bad for saying this, this article can be helpful for people who has to write a essay about it
This is more of a political rant than it is about homework
I know a teacher who has told his students their homework is to find something they are interested in, pursue it and then come share what they learn. The student responses are quite compelling. One girl taught herself German so she could talk to her grandfather. One boy did a research project on Nelson Mandela because the teacher had mentioned him in class. Another boy, a both on the autism spectrum, fixed his family’s computer. The list goes on. This is fourth grade. I think students are highly motivated to learn, when we step aside and encourage them.
The whole point of homework is to give the students a chance to use the material that they have been presented with in class. If they never have the opportunity to use that information, and discover that it is actually useful, it will be in one ear and out the other. As a science teacher, it is critical that the students are challenged to use the material they have been presented with, which gives them the opportunity to actually think about it rather than regurgitate “facts”. Well designed homework forces the student to think conceptually, as opposed to regurgitation, which is never a pretty sight
Wonderful discussion. and yes, homework helps in learning and building skills in students.
not true it just causes kids to stress
Homework can be both beneficial and unuseful, if you will. There are students who are gifted in all subjects in school and ones with disabilities. Why should the students who are gifted get the lucky break, whereas the people who have disabilities suffer? The people who were born with this “gift” go through school with ease whereas people with disabilities struggle with the work given to them. I speak from experience because I am one of those students: the ones with disabilities. Homework doesn’t benefit “us”, it only tears us down and put us in an abyss of confusion and stress and hopelessness because we can’t learn as fast as others. Or we can’t handle the amount of work given whereas the gifted students go through it with ease. It just brings us down and makes us feel lost; because no mater what, it feels like we are destined to fail. It feels like we weren’t “cut out” for success.
homework does help
here is the thing though, if a child is shoved in the face with a whole ton of homework that isn’t really even considered homework it is assignments, it’s not helpful. the teacher should make homework more of a fun learning experience rather than something that is dreaded
This article was wonderful, I am going to ask my teachers about extra, or at all giving homework.
I agree. Especially when you have homework before an exam. Which is distasteful as you’ll need that time to study. It doesn’t make any sense, nor does us doing homework really matters as It’s just facts thrown at us.
Homework is too severe and is just too much for students, schools need to decrease the amount of homework. When teachers assign homework they forget that the students have other classes that give them the same amount of homework each day. Students need to work on social skills and life skills.
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.
Homework is helpful because homework helps us by teaching us how to learn a specific topic.
As a student myself, I can say that I have almost never gotten the full 9 hours of recommended sleep time, because of homework. (Now I’m writing an essay on it in the middle of the night D=)
I am a 10 year old kid doing a report about “Is homework good or bad” for homework before i was going to do homework is bad but the sources from this site changed my mind!
Homeowkr is god for stusenrs
I agree with hunter because homework can be so stressful especially with this whole covid thing no one has time for homework and every one just wants to get back to there normal lives it is especially stressful when you go on a 2 week vaca 3 weeks into the new school year and and then less then a week after you come back from the vaca you are out for over a month because of covid and you have no way to get the assignment done and turned in
As great as homework is said to be in the is article, I feel like the viewpoint of the students was left out. Every where I go on the internet researching about this topic it almost always has interviews from teachers, professors, and the like. However isn’t that a little biased? Of course teachers are going to be for homework, they’re not the ones that have to stay up past midnight completing the homework from not just one class, but all of them. I just feel like this site is one-sided and you should include what the students of today think of spending four hours every night completing 6-8 classes worth of work.
Are we talking about homework or practice? Those are two very different things and can result in different outcomes.
Homework is a graded assignment. I do not know of research showing the benefits of graded assignments going home.
Practice; however, can be extremely beneficial, especially if there is some sort of feedback (not a grade but feedback). That feedback can come from the teacher, another student or even an automated grading program.
As a former band director, I assigned daily practice. I never once thought it would be appropriate for me to require the students to turn in a recording of their practice for me to grade. Instead, I had in-class assignments/assessments that were graded and directly related to the practice assigned.
I would really like to read articles on “homework” that truly distinguish between the two.
oof i feel bad good luck!
thank you guys for the artical because I have to finish an assingment. yes i did cite it but just thanks
thx for the article guys.
Homework is good
I think homework is helpful AND harmful. Sometimes u can’t get sleep bc of homework but it helps u practice for school too so idk.
I agree with this Article. And does anyone know when this was published. I would like to know.
It was published FEb 19, 2019.
Studies have shown that homework improved student achievement in terms of improved grades, test results, and the likelihood to attend college.
i think homework can help kids but at the same time not help kids
This article is so out of touch with majority of homes it would be laughable if it wasn’t so incredibly sad.
There is no value to homework all it does is add stress to already stressed homes. Parents or adults magically having the time or energy to shepherd kids through homework is dome sort of 1950’s fantasy.
What lala land do these teachers live in?
Homework gives noting to the kid
Homework is Bad
homework is bad.
why do kids even have homework?
Comments are closed.
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