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Recent Research On Homework

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.

References

Related Links

  • 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.

Homework may be the greatest extinguisher of curiosity ever invented
- Alfie Kohen, author of The Homework Myth

Sweeping our country is a new trend, which I love: No homework! Many parents are singing the praises of these policies, which remove the nightly nagging of “Have you done your homework?” Plus it frees up time where parents can genuinely connect with their child whether over dinner, or gardening in the backyard without the stress of impending schoolwork. Of course, the no homework program isn’t for every principal although I really think in early elementary school there’s no downside and research even reveals that, too!

Studies show

In 2006, Harris Cooper shared his meta-analytic study, which found homework in elementary school (K-5th grade) does not contribute to academic achievement. Said differently: Homework has become just busy work in the United States, and children aren’t learning anything additional from it. And let’s be honest, at one point a child’s homework becomes a parents homework and even I’m regularly guilty of pulling my calculator out to double check my child’s work. But Cooper’s study isn’t black and white: There were modest gains for middle and high school students, so it looks like the developmental window of early childhood is the place where homework isn’t necessarily beneficial.

Recently, Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of Marion County in FL, which has 42,000 students made national news because she not only is banning homework, but is replacing it with 20 minutes of reading per night. Studies clearly show that young students gain from reading nightly, being read to and picking books of interest to them. Mark Trifilio, principal of the Orchard School in VT, eliminated HW last year and suggested replacing it with nightly reading, playing outdoors or even eating with your family. He reports students haven’t fallen behind, but now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions” (The Washington Post, Feb 26, 2017).

The subtext of a “no homework” policy in elementary schools is saying: We trust our teachers, we trust the curriculum, and we trust our students to pay attention as well as learn during the day. No homework for kindergarten through fifth grade doesn’t erase learning, but helps students tolerate an often long day better and encourages them to pursue their unique interests after-school from reading and writing to taking photographs. Abbey, age nine, is one of my child client’s without homework and she’s created a website to share her “nature photos through her eyes.”

Counterintuitive classrooms

Western societies often think “more is better” but when it comes to homework the exact opposite may be true for young and perhaps even older children. A study conducted at Stanford University in 2013 showed the amped up stress and physical ailments high school students face especially when spending too much time on their homework. So perhaps a “no homework” policy early-on can position students to find balance in their lives, which can serve them later on. I especially love replacing homework with reading because I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of reading with a child, and how books open a child’s mind to new worlds whether it’s Hogwarts or the Ice Age. And after all isn’t the point of childhood to have fun and learn in a multitude of ways?

By Maureen Healy

Maureen Healy writes and speaks widely on the subjects of children’s emotional health, education and parenting. She also continues to work directly with children and their parents globally. To learn more about her books, sessions or programs: www.growinghappykids.com or @mdhealy

Resources

The Washington Post – July 17, 2017
Why this superintendent is banning homework – and asking kids to read

The Washington Post - February 26, 2017
What happened when one school banned homework – and asked kids to read and play instead

Healthline – April 11, 2017
Is too much homework bad for kids’ health?

CBS News – Sept 26, 2016
Growing number of elementary schools now homework free

The Battle Over Homework by Harris Cooper (2007)