Duke Today Homework

For Teachers Updated December 7, 2017

The Homework Debate: How Homework Benefits Students

By Monica Fuglei November 21, 2013

This post has been updated for accuracy and relevance as of December 2017.

In another of our blog posts, The Case Against Homework, we articulated several points of view against homework as standard practice for teachers. However, a variety of lessons, content-related and beyond, can be taught or reinforced through homework and are worth exploring. Read on!

Four ways homework aids students’ academic achievement

Homework provides an opportunity for parents to interact with and understand the content their students are learning so they can provide another means of academic support for students. Memphis Parent writer Glenda Faye Pryor-Johnson says that, “When your child does homework, you do homework,” and notes that this is an opportunity for parents to model good behavior for their children.

Pryor-Johnson also identifies four qualities children develop when they complete homework that can help them become high-achieving students:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Time management
  3. Perseverance
  4. Self-esteem

While these cannot be measured on standardized tests, perseverance has garnered a lot of attention as an essential skill for successful students. Regular accomplishments like finishing homework build self-esteem, which aids students’ mental and physical health. Responsibility and time management are highly desirable qualities that benefit students long after they graduate.

NYU and Duke professors refute the idea that homework is unrelated to student success

In response to the National School Board Association’s Center for Public Education’s findings that homework was not conclusively related to student success, historian and NYU professor Diane Ravitch contends that the study’s true discovery was that students who did not complete homework or who lacked the resources to do so suffered poor outcomes.

Ravitch believes the study’s data only supports the idea that those who complete homework benefit from homework. She also cites additional benefits of homework: when else would students be allowed to engage thoughtfully with a text or write a complete essay? Constraints on class time require that such activities are given as outside assignments.

5 studies support a significant relationship between homework completion and academic success

Duke University professor Harris Cooper supports Ravitch’s assessment, saying that, “Across five studies, the average student who did homework had a higher unit test score than the students not doing homework.” Dr. Cooper and his colleagues analyzed dozens of studies on whether homework is beneficial in a 2006 publication, “Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987–2003.”

This analysis found 12 less-authoritative studies that link achievement to time spent on homework, but control for many other factors that could influence the outcome. Finally, the research team identified 35 studies that found a positive correlation between homework and achievement, but only after elementary school. Dr. Cooper concluded that younger students might be less capable of  benefiting from homework due to undeveloped study habits or other factors.

Recommended amount of homework varies by grade level

“Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?” also identifies the amount homework that serves as a learning tool for students. While practice improves test scores at all grade levels, “Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes a night. For high school students, the positive line continues to climb until between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.”

Dr. Cooper’s conclusion—homework is important, but discretion can and should be used when assigning it—addresses the valid concerns of homework critics. While the act of completing homework has benefits in terms of developing good habits in students, homework must prove useful for students so that they buy in to the process and complete their assignments. If students (or their parents) feel homework is a useless component of their learning, they will skip it—and miss out on the major benefits, content and otherwise, that homework has to offer.

Continue reading: Ending the Homework Debate: Expert Advice on What Works

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.

Tags: Leadership and Administration, Pros and Cons, Teacher-Parent Relationships

Here’s a shocking thought: What if not doing homework was better for your kids? Would you still make them do it?

We want what’s best for our children, and when kids hit school age we follow the teacher’s lead. If the teacher assigns homework, we enforce it at home. Even in elementary school. Even in preschool and kindergarten. Even when the research disagrees.

Schooling may be mandatory, but homework isn’t. Home time is family time. Kids need time to play and reboot for the next school day, not go into overtime.

When children hit school-age, sometimes it feels as if the school is suddenly in charge of your family life. Night after night parents lock themselves in battles with overtired kids. “You have to do your homework,” we say, even when deep inside we know that the crying, wiggling child stuck in the homework chair desperately needs something else. Time to just be home, relax and play. Help with family chores. Or go to bed. But we think we must uphold homework, so we do. We nag. Cajole. Fight. Beg. And as a last resort, we do our kid’s homework.

There is another way. Say no, respectfully.

You may be surprised to learn that research supports this. Dr. Harris Cooper, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Duke University, conducted a comprehensive review of nearly 180 research studies and found that homework hasno evidence of academic benefit for elementary school students. You read that right. Startling, isn’t it? Cooper’s research on the research prompted him to say this: “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.” (See further analysis of this issue here.)

Homework does have an impact, though. The same slew of studies show it increases emotional problems: negative attitudes towards school and high conflict in families.

What research suggests is thathomework benefits are age-specific. Homework belongs in high school. In middle school, there’s slight academic benefit, and none in the elementary years. “The research is very clear,” writes University of Arizona education professor Etta Kralovec in her book on the subject. “There’s no benefit at the elementary school level.” (See more information here.) Given these facts, it makes sense to give kids some practice assignments in middle school, but not too much. Even in high school, more than two hours of homework doesn’t help.

RELATED STORY: The end of homework? Why some schools are banning it

I didn’t yet know this research when my oldest child entered first grade, but I knew my child. I knew what he needed – and what he didn’t need – and was willing to buck the system and trust my gut. When school was over for the day, I knew this 6-year-old needed time to run outside, make noise, make faces with his brother, and simply pursue his own interests. Children are told what to do all day long at school. They need time to move their bodies and think their own thoughts. I told our teacher our family wouldn’t be participating in homework. We’d be supporting learning our own way.

I grew up without homework in elementary school, so I was already comfortable with the idea. I knew kids could learn and flourish without it. My childhood elementary school had no worksheets, no textbooks and no chairs, and yet we typically scored at the top of the district when worried officials came in and administered standardized tests. Our school was filled with the joy of learning.

In a homework-dominated culture, I think we forget joy.

Joy is part of learning. Kids are wired to learn just as they are wired to play. But homework at a young age can squash that out. Learning gets a bad name. Learning gets equated with homework.

When homework comes too young, it also delays development of responsibility. Parents turn into the Homework Patrol Cop, an unpleasant position that turns adults in to nagging homework monitors and kids into expert grumblers. These roles often extend into the teenage years. Homework, when it comes, should be the child’s job. My parents never told me to do my high school homework. Instead, my mother would say, “What’s your evening like?”

Homework is mainly a problem because it’s a theft of time. It’s a grave opportunity cost. And kids feel it. Homework steals kids’ time at home. Time they desperately need to play, connect with family, cope with big emotions, be outside and get good, long sleep.

If we want to improve test scores and enhance memory, focus and problem-solving ability, we need to give kids good sleep. Sleep is well established to improve learning and behavior. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 30 percent of elementary kids are seriously sleep-deprived, and only a few are getting the recommended hours. It’s not glamorous, but sleep is vital to children’s learning and success. Homework isn’t.

You have the right to decide what goes on in your home and family.

The first step is to realize you don’t have to be a Homework Enforcer, you can be a parent. Parents are in charge of their children’s upbringing. Your child’s teacher is your partner in this, and good partners tell each other when something is not working.

So – get your courage up – the next step is to approach your child’s teacher or principal and explain what’s going on in your house each night, and what you’d rather see. If you don’t know what to say, but you’re curious about reducing homework load or opting out, check out sample scripts, ideas and more research in my book "It's OK to Go Up the Slide." It’s meant for you whether you’re a teacher or a parent. Learn why substituting reading for pleasure at home is better than homework, and discover respectful ways to change the homework culture. Other good resources include Alfie Kohn's "The Homework Myth."

It can be scary to question school routines. Remember that teachers care about kids. What teachers typically want most is a supportive, involved family who cares about education and doing what’s best for the child. Good teachers are willing to listen – both to you and the research.

It’s time to stop a practice that doesn’t work. It’s time to think, question, examine the research and, for kids’ sake, ban elementary school homework.

Heather Shumaker’s new book "It's OK to Go Up the Slide" (Tarcher/ Penguin Random House, March 2016) dives into homework and more hot-button topics like recess, screens, safety and strangers. Heather is a national speaker on early childhood issues and an advocate for play-based learning and no homework in elementary schools. Visit www.heathershumaker.com for info, blog, podcast and more.

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