Does Homework Really Help You

As kids return to school, debate is heating up once again over how they should spend their time after they leave the classroom for the day.

The no-homework policy of a second-grade teacher in Texas went viral last week, earning praise from parents across the country who lament the heavy workload often assigned to young students. Brandy Young told parents she would not formally assign any homework this year, asking students instead to eat dinner with their families, play outside and go to bed early.

But the question of how much work children should be doing outside of school remains controversial, and plenty of parents take issue with no-homework policies, worried their kids are losing a potential academic advantage. Here’s what you need to know:

The issue

For decades, the homework standard has been a “10-minute rule,” which recommends a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Second graders, for example, should do about 20 minutes of homework each night. High school seniors should complete about two hours of homework each night. The National PTA and the National Education Association both support that guideline.

But some schools have begun to give their youngest students a break. A Massachusetts elementary school has announced a no-homework pilot program for the coming school year, lengthening the school day by two hours to provide more in-class instruction. “We really want kids to go home at 4 o’clock, tired. We want their brain to be tired,” Kelly Elementary School Principal Jackie Glasheen said in an interview with a local TV station. “We want them to enjoy their families. We want them to go to soccer practice or football practice, and we want them to go to bed. And that’s it.”

A New York City public elementary school implemented a similar policy last year, eliminating traditional homework assignments in favor of family time. The change was quickly met with outrage from some parents, though it earned support from other education leaders.

New solutions and approaches to homework differ by community, and these local debates are complicated by the fact that even education experts disagree about what’s best for kids.

The research

The most comprehensive research on homework to date comes from a 2006 meta-analysis by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, who found evidence of a positive correlation between homework and student achievement, meaning students who did homework performed better in school. The correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades, for whom there was a weak relationship between homework and performance.

Cooper’s analysis focused on how homework impacts academic achievement—test scores, for example. His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills. On the other hand, some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. At the end of his analysis, Cooper recommended further study of such potential effects of homework.

Despite the weak correlation between homework and performance for young children, Cooper argues that a small amount of homework is useful for all students. Second-graders should not be doing two hours of homework each night, he said, but they also shouldn’t be doing no homework.

The debate

Not all education experts agree entirely with Cooper’s assessment.

Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, supports the “10-minute rule” as a maximum, but she thinks there is not sufficient proof that homework is helpful for students in elementary school.

“Correlation is not causation,” she said. “Does homework cause achievement, or do high achievers do more homework?”

Vatterott, the author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, thinks there should be more emphasis on improving the quality of homework tasks, and she supports efforts to eliminate homework for younger kids.

“I have no concerns about students not starting homework until fourth grade or fifth grade,” she said, noting that while the debate over homework will undoubtedly continue, she has noticed a trend toward limiting, if not eliminating, homework in elementary school.

The issue has been debated for decades. A TIME cover in 1999 read: “Too much homework! How it’s hurting our kids, and what parents should do about it.” The accompanying story noted that the launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to a push for better math and science education in the U.S. The ensuing pressure to be competitive on a global scale, plus the increasingly demanding college admissions process, fueled the practice of assigning homework.

“The complaints are cyclical, and we’re in the part of the cycle now where the concern is for too much,” Cooper said. “You can go back to the 1970s, when you’ll find there were concerns that there was too little, when we were concerned about our global competitiveness.”

Cooper acknowledged that some students really are bringing home too much homework, and their parents are right to be concerned.

“A good way to think about homework is the way you think about medications or dietary supplements,” he said. “If you take too little, they’ll have no effect. If you take too much, they can kill you. If you take the right amount, you’ll get better.”


Homework is an important part of engaging students outside of the classroom.

It carries educational benefits for all age groups, including time management and organization. Homework also provides students with the ability to think beyond what is taught in class.

The not-so-good news is these benefits only occur when students are engaged and ready to learn. But, the more homework they get, the less they want to engage.

THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF HOMEWORK ON STUDENTS

Homework can affect students’ health, social life and grades. The hours logged in class, and the hours logged on schoolwork can lead to students feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated. Navigating the line between developing learning skills and feeling frustrated can be tricky.

Homework is an important part of being successful inside and outside of the classroom, but too much of it can actually have the opposite effect. Students who spend too much time on homework are not always able to meet other needs, like being physically and socially active. Ultimately, the amount of homework a student has can impact a lot more than his or her grades.

Find out how too much homework actually affects students.

How Does Homework Affect Students’ Health?

Homework can affect both students’ physical and mental health. According to a study by Stanford University, 56 per cent of students considered homework a primary source of stress. Too much homework can result in lack of sleep, headaches, exhaustion and weight loss. Excessive homework can also result in poor eating habits, with families choosing fast food as a faster alternative.

How Does Homework Affect Students’ Social Life?

Extracurricular activities and social time gives students a chance to refresh their minds and bodies. But students who have large amounts of homework have less time to spend with their families and friends. This can leave them feeling isolated and without a support system. For older students, balancing homework and part-time work makes it harder to balance school and other tasks. Without time to socialize and relax, students can become increasingly stressed, impacting life at school and at home.

How Does Homework Affect Students’ Grades?

After a full day of learning in class, students can become burnt out if they have too much homework. When this happens, the child may stop completing homework or rely on a parent to assist with homework. As a result, the benefits of homework are lost and grades can start to slip.

Too much homework can also result in less active learning, a type of learning that occurs in context and encourages participation. Active learning promotes the analysis and application of class content in real world settings. Homework does not always provide these opportunities, leading to boredom and a lack of problem-solving skills.

HOW CAN PARENTS HELP?

Being an active part of children’s homework routine is a major part of understanding feelings and of be able to provide the needed support. As parents, you can help your child have a stress-free homework experience. Sticking to a clear and organized homework routine helps children develop better homework habits as they get older. This routine also comes in handy when homework becomes more difficult and time-consuming.

Learn more about the current world of homework, and how you can help your child stay engaged.

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Infographic: How Does Homework Actually Affect Students?

Oct 04, 2016•Homework

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