When I toured a public elementary school last spring, one question in particular seemed to make the principal squirm. Do the kindergartners get homework, I asked? Yes, he replied, explaining that it can help to solidify concepts—but he quickly conceded that some parents weren’t at all happy about it.
The debate over elementary school homework is not new, but the tirades against it just keep coming. This fall, the Atlantic published a story titled “When Homework Is Useless”; you might have also seen the Texas second-grade teacher’s no-homework policy that went viral on Facebook around the same time. “Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performances,” the teacher wrote to class parents.
OK, but I had questions. If the issue really is this black-and-white, why do elementary school teachers still assign homework? How much homework are elementary kids getting, how much is too much, and how is “too much” even determined? What should parents do if they want to put an end to it?
What I discovered, after lots of digging, is a more complex issue than you’d expect. Young students are indeed getting more homework than they used to. But what’s not clear is exactly how this heavier workload is affecting their well-being. Homework has only been evaluated through the myopic lens of how it influences academic performance (spoiler: in elementary school, it doesn’t seem to). And while researchers have all sorts of ideas about how it might affect kids more generally, these possibilities haven’t been tested rigorously. The upshot, then, is that we really don’t know what homework in elementary school is doing to our kids—but there’s reason to think it can do more harm than good, particularly among disadvantaged students.
First, let’s take a close look at the science on how homework affects school performance. By far the most comprehensive analysis was published in 2006 by Duke University neuroscientist and social psychologist Harris Cooper, author of The Battle Over Homework, and his colleagues. Combing through previous studies, they compared whether homework itself, as well as the amount of homework kids did, correlates with academic achievement (grades as well as scores on standardized tests), finding that for elementary school kids, there is no significant relationship between the two. In other words, elementary kids who do homework fare no better in school than kids who do not. (Their analysis did, however, find that homework in middle school and high school correlates with higher achievement but that there is a threshold in middle school: Achievement does not continue to increase when kids do more than an hour of homework each night.)
For kids from low-income families, especially, homework can be a source of stress.
Cooper doesn’t interpret the elementary school findings to mean that homework at this age is useless. For one thing, he says, we can’t make causal conclusions based on correlational studies, because things like homework and achievement can easily be influenced by other variables, such as student characteristics. If a kid is really struggling in school, he might spend twice as long on his homework compared with other students yet get worse grades. No one would interpret this to mean that the increased time he is spending on homework is causing him to get worse grades, because both outcomes are driven by whatever is giving him academic trouble. Likewise, a really motivated student may be more likely to finish all of his homework and get higher grades, but we wouldn’t say the homework caused him to get better grades if his motivation was the main driver. Correlations can give us hints about causal relationships (or in this case, a lack of causal relationship), but they don’t prove them.
(It’s worth mentioning that Cooper’s analysis also included a few small interventional studies that tracked outcomes between kids who had been randomly assigned to receive homework each night and those who had not; these studies did suggest that homework provides benefits, but these studies, Cooper and his colleagues noted, “were all flawed in some way that compromised their ability to draw strong causal inference.”)
There are, of course, many other ways that homework could affect a young child—in both good ways and bad. Cooper points out that regular, brief homework assignments might help young kids learn better time management and self-regulation skills, which could help them down the line. Regular homework also lets parents see what their kids are working on and how well they’re doing, which could tip them off to academic problems or disabilities. “For a 6-year-old to bring home 10 minutes of homework is almost nothing, but it does get them to sit down and think about it, talk to Mom and Dad, and so on,” Cooper says.
On the other hand, homework can also be a source of stress and family tension. For kids from low-income families, especially, homework can be tough because kids may not have a quiet place to work, high-speed internet (or computers for that matter), or parents who are available or knowledgeable enough to help. A 2015 study surveyed parents in Providence, Rhode Island, and found that the less comfortable parents were with their kids’ homework material, the more stress the homework caused at home. “I’ve talked to parents—a lot of parents, actually—who feel very burdened by the fact that kids have to do homework at night, and the parents feel responsible for getting it done, and that starts to dominate the home life,” says Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early-childhood education specialist at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the author of Taking Back Childhood.
Homework could also take kids away from other enriching activities like music, sports, free play, or family time. “It’s sort of an opportunity cost issue,” says Etta Kralovec, a teacher educator at the University of Arizona South and the co-author of The End of Homework. “I’m a fifth-grader, and I either can go play with my friend or hang out with my grandmother—or I can go home and do a worksheet for math. Those are the kinds of choices that kids have to make.” One eighth-grader told me that when he was in sixth grade, he had so much homework he couldn’t participate in the sports or music classes he wanted to. Cooper points out, however, that homework could also take the place of television or video games, which might be a good thing (but is yet another complicated topic).
Then there’s the argument that as elementary school has become more rigorous in recent years—a result, many say, of No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top Fund, both of which made schools much more accountable for low test scores—the last thing overworked, exhausted young students need is more work when they get home. “We’re seeing rates of school phobia and unhappiness and angst about school among young children at higher rates than ever before,” says Carol Burris, a former high school principal who is now the executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education. “I think that giving them a break after 3 o’clock in the afternoon is an awfully good idea.”
But the crux of the problem is that, while all of these points are potentially legitimate, no one has studied how homework affects children’s well-being in general—all we’ve got are those achievement findings, which don’t tell us much of anything for elementary school. How likely is it that regular homework will help first-graders manage their time? Will it do so to a degree that offsets the added family stress or the loss of much-loved soccer practice? Is 20 minutes of homework OK, but 30 minutes too much? This research hasn’t been done, so we don’t know.
The other big question—also tough to answer—is how much homework elementary school kids are actually getting. There are some highly publicized estimates of average homework time derived from a standardized test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given annually to most American students. It includes the following question for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old test takers: “How much time did you spend on homework yesterday?” Compared over time, the answers suggest that 9-year-olds have more homework today than they used to, but not by a ton. Yet many researchers question the validity of these answers, because, they say, students aren’t typically given much homework the night before a standardized test anyway. And the data from this questionnaire—along with the data from a 2007 MetLife survey of third- to 12th-graders that is also frequently quoted as evidence that homework levels remain flat—don’t tell us what’s happening with young elementary school kids.
But in the 2015 study in Providence I mentioned earlier, researchers did attempt to answer this question. They had 1,173 parents fill out a homework-related survey at pediatricians’ offices and found that the homework burden in early grades is quite high: Kindergarten and first-grade students do about three times as much homework as is recommended by the “10-minute rule.” What’s the 10-minute rule, you ask? It’s a standard, adopted by most public schools around the country (more on this later), recommending that students spend roughly 10 times their grade level in minutes on homework each night—so first-graders should be spending 10 minutes on homework and fifth-graders 50. (By this rule, kindergarteners shouldn’t be getting any homework.) Considering these numbers in combination with their findings on how homework can increase family stress, the researchers concluded, “the disproportionate homework load for K–3 found in our study calls into question whether primary school children are being exposed to a positive learning experience or to a scenario that may promote negative attitudes toward learning.”
Bottom line is this: You’re the best judge of how homework is affecting your child.
That’s just one study, conducted in one city, so it’s hard to generalize from it; clearly, we need more data. But another national online survey suggests that homework time for the younger grades has been increasing over the past three years. Annual teacher surveys conducted by the University of Phoenix reported that in 2013, only 2 percent of elementary teachers assigned more than 10 hours of homework per week. This figure quadrupled to 8 percent in 2015. On the bright side, though, several elementary schools in recent months announced that they have stopped assigning homework entirely.
Let’s now revisit that 10-minute rule. It is a recommendation backed by the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association that teachers have been using for a long time—but it is not based on any research. When teachers saw Cooper’s analysis of the homework data and noticed that the amounts of homework that correlated with the highest achievements in middle school and high school were similar to their rule, they used it as evidence that their rule was appropriate. But here’s the thing: While the 10-minute rule implies that 10 minutes of homework a night per grade is appropriate even starting in elementary school, Cooper’s data do not support this conclusion.
In a nutshell, then, we don’t have evidence that homework is beneficial for young kids, yet studies suggest that they are doing more homework than even the pro-homework organizations recommend, and the amounts they’re getting also seem to be increasing. So, if you’re a parent of a first-grader who’s getting 30 minutes of homework a night, what should you do?
“The first thing you should do is talk to the teacher and let the teacher know how long it’s taking the child to do homework,” Burris says. It’s best not to be confrontational—sometimes the teacher really has no idea that it’s taking so long and will make adjustments. Laura Bowman, the Virginia chapter leader at Parents Across America, a nonprofit organization for parents who want to strengthen public schools, explains: “I always feel that the initial conversation with the teacher is so important, and at that point a lot of teachers will say, ‘I did not realize how long it was taking, and if it’s going to take your child more than 10 minutes, then just do it for 10 minutes.’ ” Also, in early grades, homework should be really easy. “The assignments should be short, they should be simple, and they should lead to success,” Cooper says. “We want these kids to have a successful experience doing schoolwork on their own in another environment.”
If the teacher isn’t responsive, try the principal next, Burris suggests. Connect with other parents first to see if their kids are having similar experiences. “Go up the chain of command—if you have to go to a school board meeting, then you do, and you bring a few other parents with you, because there’s strength in numbers,” Bowman says. “The parent voice is a powerful one, and we all have to do what’s in the best interest of our own children.” Parents Across America has a handy toolkit for parents who want to organize other parents around a particular issue.
If you still can’t make headway, you can also tell the teacher that your child simply won’t be doing homework, or won’t be doing more than a certain amount. I know several parents who have done this without suffering any consequences other than a little side-eye from the teacher at school events. If this kind of confrontation makes you squeamish, get a letter from a pediatrician or psychologist that says it for you.
Bottom line is this: You’re the best judge of how homework is affecting your child. If you’ve got a second-grader who whizzes through his worksheets, then stick with the status quo, no harm done. But if your first-grader is struggling for an hour each night, or the homework is taking him away from other activities you feel are more important, take the above steps to remedy the problem. You want your kid’s earliest education experiences to be as positive as they can be; what happens in elementary school will forever shape his relationship with the classroom and his motivation to learn. We, as parents, have more power than we realize, and we should not feel ashamed to wield it for the sake of our children.
For other uses, see Homework (disambiguation).
Homework, or a homework assignment, is a set of tasks assigned to students by their teachers to be completed outside the class. Common homework assignments may include a quantity or period of reading to be performed, writing or typing to be completed, math problems to be solved, material to be reviewed before a test, or other skills to be practiced.
The effect of homework is debated. Generally speaking, homework does not improve academic performance among children and may improve academic skills among older students. It also creates stress for students and their parents and reduces the amount of time that students could spend outdoors, exercising, playing sports, working, sleeping or in other activities.
The basic objectives of assigning homework to students are the same as schooling in general: to increase the knowledge and improve the abilities and skills of the students, to prepare them for upcoming (or complex or difficult) lessons, to extend what they know by having them apply it to new situations, or to integrate their abilities by applying different skills to a single task. Homework also provides an opportunity for parents to participate in their children's education. Homework is designed to reinforce what students have already learned.
Teachers have many purposes for assigning homework including:
- personal development,
- parent–child relations,
- parent–teacher communications,
- peer interactions,
- public relations, and
Homework research dates back to the early 1900s. However, no consensus exists on the general effectiveness on homework. Results of homework studies vary based on multiple factors, such as the age group of those studied and the measure of academic performance.
Among teenagers, students who spend somewhat more time on homework generally have higher grades, and somewhat higher test scores than students who spend less time on homework. Very high amounts of homework cause students' academic performance to worsen, even among older students. Students who are assigned homework in middle and high school score somewhat better on standardized tests, but the students who have 60 to 90 minutes of homework a day in middle school or more than 2 hours in high school score worse.
However, younger students who spend more time on homework generally have slightly worse, or the same academic performance than those who spend less time on homework. Homework does not improve academic achievements for grade school students.
Low-achieving students receive more benefit from doing homework than high-achieving students. However, schoolteachers commonly assign less homework to the students who need it most, and more homework to the students who are performing well.
The amount of homework given does not necessarily affect students' attitudes towards homework and various other aspects of school.
Epstein (1988) found a near-zero correlation between the amount of homework and parents' reports on how well their elementary school students behaved. Vazsonyi & Pickering (2003) studied 809 adolescents in American high schools, and found that, using the Normative Deviance Scale as a model for deviance, the correlation was r = .28 for Caucasian students, and r = .24 for African-American students. For all three of the correlations, higher values represent a higher correlation between time spent on homework and poor conduct.
Bempechat (2004) says that homework develops students' motivation and study skills. In a single study, parents and teachers of middle school students believed that homework improved students' study skills and personal responsibility skills. Their students were more likely to have negative perceptions about homework and were less likely to ascribe the development of such skills to homework.Leone & Richards (1989) found that students generally had negative emotions when completing homework and reduced engagement compared to other activities.
Health and daily life
Homework has been identified in numerous studies and articles as a dominant or significant source of stress and anxiety for students. Studies on the relation between homework and health are few compared to studies on academic performance.
Cheung & Leung-Ngai (1992) surveyed 1,983 students in Hong Kong, and found that homework led not only to added stress and anxiety, but also physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches. Students in the survey who were ridiculed or punished by parents and peers had a higher incidence of depression symptoms, with 2.2% of students reporting that they "always" had suicidal thoughts, and anxiety was exacerbated by punishments and criticism of students by teachers for both problems with homework as well as forgetting to hand in homework.
A 2007 study of American students by MetLife found that 89% of students felt stressed from homework, with 34% reporting that they "often" or "very often" felt stressed from homework. Stress was especially evident among high school students. Students that reported stress from homework were more likely to be deprived of sleep.
Homework can cause tension and conflict in the home as well as at school, and can reduce students' family and leisure time. In the Cheung & Leung-Ngai (1992) survey, failure to complete homework and low grades where homework was a contributing factor was correlated with greater conflict; some students have reported teachers and parents frequently criticizing their work. In the MetLife study, high school students reported spending more time completing homework than performing home tasks.Kohn (2006) argued that homework can create family conflict and reduce students' quality of life. The authors of Sallee & Rigler (2008), both high school English teachers, reported that their homework disrupted their students' extracurricular activities and responsibilities. However, Kiewra et al. (2009) found that parents were less likely to report homework as a distraction from their children's activities and responsibilities. Galloway, Conner & Pope (2013) recommended further empirical study relating to this aspect due to the difference between student and parent observations.
Galloway, Conner & Pope (2013) surveyed 4,317 high school students from ten high-performing schools, and found that students reported spending more than 3 hours on homework daily. 72% of the students reported stress from homework, and 82% reported physical symptoms. The students slept an average of 6 hours 48 minutes, lower than the recommendations prescribed by various health agencies.
A study done at the University of Michigan in 2007 concluded that the amount of homework given is increasing. In a sample taken of students between the ages of 6 and 9 years, it was shown that students spend more than 2 hours a week on homework, as opposed to 44 minutes in 1981.
Some educators argue that homework is beneficial to students, as it enhances learning, develops the skills taught in class, and lets educators verify that students comprehend their lessons. Proponents also argue that homework makes it more likely that students will develop and maintain proper study habits that they can use throughout their educational career.
Historically, homework was frowned upon in American culture. With few students interested in higher education, and due to the necessity to complete daily chores, homework was discouraged not only by parents, but also by school districts. In 1901, the California legislature passed an act that effectively abolished homework for those who attended kindergarten through the eighth grade. But, in the 1950s, with increasing pressure on the United States to stay ahead in the Cold War, homework made a resurgence, and children were encouraged to keep up with their Russian counterparts. By the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the consensus in American education was overwhelmingly in favor of issuing homework to students of all grade levels.
British students get more homework than many other countries in Europe. The weekly average for the subject is 5 hours. The main distinction for UK homework is the social gap, with middle-class teenagers getting a disproportionate amount of homework compared to Asia and Europe.
In 2012, a report by the OECD showed that Spanish children spend 6.4 hours a week on homework. This prompted the CEAPA, representing 12,000 parent associations to call for a homework strike.
Notes and references
Effectiveness of homework
- Cooper, Harris; Robinson, Jorgianne C.; Patall, Erika A. (2006). "Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987-2003". Review of Educational Research. 76 (1): 1–62. doi:10.3102/00346543076001001.
- Epstein, Joyce L. (1988), "Homework practices, achievements, and behaviors of elementary school students", Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools
- Trautwein, Ulrich; Köller, Olaf (2003). "The Relationship Between Homework and Achievement—Still Much of a Mystery". Educational Psychology Review. 15 (2): 115–145. doi:10.1023/A:1023460414243.
- Vazsonyi, Alexander T.; Pickering, Lloyd E. (2003). "The Importance of Family and School Domains in Adolescent Deviance: African American and Caucasian Youth". Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 32 (2): 115–128. doi:10.1023/A:1021857801554.
Homework and non-academic effects
- Bauwens, Jeanne; Hourcade, Jack J. (1992). "School-Based Sources of Stress Among Elementary and Secondary At-Risk Students". The School Counselor. 40 (2): 97–102.
- Bempechat, Janine (2004). "The Motivational Benefits of Homework: A Social-Cognitive Perspective". Theory In Practice. 43 (3): 189–196. doi:10.1353/tip.2004.0029.
- Cheung, S. K.; Leung-Ngai, J. M. Y. (1992). "Impact of homework stress on children's physical and psychological well-being"(PDF). Journal of the Hong Kong Medical Association. 44 (3): 146–150.
- Conner, Jerusha; Pope, Denise; Galloway, Mollie (2009). "Success with Less Stress". Health and Learning. 67 (4): 54–58.
- Cooper, Robinsin & Patall (2006, pp. 46–48)
- Galloway, Mollie; Conner, Jerusha; Pope, Denise (2013). "Nonacademic Effects of Homework in Privileged, High-Performing High Schools". The Journal of Experimental Education. 81 (4): 490–510. doi:10.1080/00220973.2012.745469.
- Hardy, Lawrence (2003). "Overburdened, Overwhelmed". American School Board Journal. 190: 18–23.
- Kiewra, Kenneth A; Kaufman, Douglas F.; Hart, Katie; Scoular, Jacqui; Brown, Marissa; Keller, Gwendolyn; Tyler, Becci (2009). "What Parents, Researchers, and the Popular Press Have to Say About Homework". scholarlypartnershipsedu. 4 (1): 93–109.
- Kouzma, Nadya M.; Kennedy, Gerard A. (2002). "Homework, stress, and mood disturbance in senior high school students"(PDF). Psychological Reports. 91 (1): 193–198. doi:10.2466/pr0.2002.91.1.193. PMID 12353781.
- Leone, Carla M.; Richards, H. (1989). "Classwork and homework in early adolescence: The ecology of achievement". Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 18 (6): 531–548. doi:10.1007/BF02139072. PMID 24272124.
- Markow, Dana; Kim, Amie; Liebman, Margot (2007), The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: The homework experience(PDF), Metropolitan Life Insurance Foundation
- Sallee, Buffy; Rigler, Neil (2008). "Doing Our Homework on Homework: How Does Homework Help?". The English Journal. 98 (2): 46–51.
- West, Charles K.; Wood, Edward S. (1970). "Academic Pressures on Public School Students". Educational Leadership. 3 (4): 585–589.
- Xu, Jianzhong; Yuan, Ruiping (2003). "Doing homework: Listening to students', parents', and teachers' voices in one urban middle school community". School Community Journal. 13 (2): 25–44.
- Ystgaard, M. (1997). "Life stress, social support and psychological distress in late adolescence". Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 32 (5): 277–283. doi:10.1007/BF00789040. PMID 9257518.
- Duke Study: Homework Helps Students Succeed in School, As Long as There Isn't Too Much
- The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It by Sarah Bennett & Nancy Kalish (2006) Discusses in detail assessments of studies on homework and the authors' own research and assessment of the homework situation in the United States. Has specific recommendations and sample letters to be used in negotiating a reduced homework load for your child.
- Closing the Book on Homework: Enhancing Public Education and Freeing Family Time by John Buell (2004)
- The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents by Harris Cooper (2007)
- The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn (2006)
- The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning by Etta Kralovec and John Buell (2000)
|Look up homework in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Homework.|
- ^Synthesis of research on homework. H Cooper - Educational leadership, 1989 - addison.pausd.org
- ^Needlmen, Robert. "Homework: The Rules of the Game".
- ^Epstein, Joyce L.; Voorhis, Frances L. Van (2001-09-01). "More Than Minutes: Teachers' Roles in Designing Homework". Educational Psychologist. 36 (3): 181–193. doi:10.1207/S15326985EP3603_4. ISSN 0046-1520.
- ^Wallis, Claudia (August 29, 2006). "The Myth About Homework". Time Online.
- ^ abCoughlan, Sean (2016-09-28). "Is homework worth the hassle?". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
- ^Bauwens & Hourcade (1992), Conner & Denise (2009), Hardy (2003), Kouzma & Kennedy (2002), West & Wood (1970), Ystgaard (1997).
- ^Seligman, Katherine (1999-12-19). "Parents: Too much homework". Hearst Communications Inc. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
- ^ abGrohnke, Kennedy, and Jake Merritt. "Do Kids Need Homework?" ScholasticNews/ Weekly Reader Edition 5/6, vol. 85, no. 3, 2016, pp. 7.
- ^"History of Homework". The San Francisco Chronicle. 1999-12-20. Retrieved 2007-03-24.
- ^Coughlan, Sean (11 December 2014). "UK families' 'long homework hours'". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
- ^Marsh, Sarah (2 November 2016). "Parents in the UK and abroad: do your children get set too much homework?". Theguardian.com. Retrieved 2 November 2017.