How Important Is Homework to Student Success?

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Will homework help your students succeed or is it simply extra effort for both students and teachers? There are definitely two camps on the issue, and this post will look at both sides.

The Homework Debate

The great debate over the value of homework has raged on for over a century. Over 130 studies have been conducted and published, and the findings run the gamut. Some studies have found it academically beneficial. Others found it detrimental. So the question remains, is homework important to student success?

Dispelling the Myth

student with lots of homework

Many people believe that with the emphasis that has been placed on assessment performance and No Child Left Behind, there has been an increase in the amount of homework given to students in an attempt to raise test scores. However, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, that is not actually the case. Surprisingly, homework levels have remained fairly consistent for the last 30 years. In fact, from 1984 to 2012, the homework loads for middle school students have actually dropped slightly. The National Assessment of Educational Progress evaluated 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds and found that most of them claimed to have less than 1 hour of nightly homework, and only a small percentage had over 2. As might be expected, the greatest variance was found among high school students.

What do parents think? Interestingly, their opinions have remained about the same as well. According to a survey done by MetLife in both 1987 and 2007, most parents rated the amount and quality of their children's homework as good or excellent. So all that being said, if the homework levels have remained fairly consistent and parents' attitudes toward homework have remained statistically similar, then why the big debate and why all the research?

two people standing back to back

The Two Sides of the Debate

Well, like most debates, there are certainly two sides to this discussion. And both sides are populated by parents, teachers, administrators, and educational organizations. Take a brief look at the stances taken by each side:

Homework Proponents

This group believes there is great benefit to homework and that it is vital to student success. They base their beliefs on the following ideas:

  • Some research has shown a correlation between test scores and homework
  • Homework establishes life skills like organization and time management
  • Critical thinking can be improved using homework
  • Homework doesn't have to be an overload - it can be assigned using the 10-minute homework rule endorsed by both the National PTA and the National Education Association (NEA) - 10 minutes times the grade level (i.e. 30 minutes for 3rd graders)

Homework Opponents

This group believes homework should be little or non-existent, and they base their opinions on the following points:

  • Homework has not been shown to improve performance significantly in many studies
  • Assigning and grading homework takes up valuable class time
  • Homework - especially for students in lower grades - often requires help, encouraging some students to hurry, cheat by getting someone else to do it, or simply not turn it in
  • Time spent doing homework could be spent reading
  • The additional assignments cause stress
  • Homework doesn't leave time for family, friends, volunteering, sports, or hobbies
  • Families and students benefit when homework is removed (less stress, more time together, well-balanced lives)

The Research

stack of data and research

Multitudes of studies have been done on homework effectiveness, benefits, and detriments over the years, utilizing various groups and controls and offering dramatically disparate results. A recent and comprehensive meta-analysis was performed by Dr. Harris Cooper at Duke University in 2006. As Dr. Cooper notes, everyone has opinions, but opinions are not facts. So, Dr. Cooper and his colleagues set out to analyze and synthesize the data collected in recent studies and evaluate the outcomes in an attempt to determine if homework is indeed beneficial for students, and if so how much is appropriate. He has published his work and authored a book entitied The Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents. Both are excellent resources and can more fully explain his analysis and the details of his findings.

His conclusion in a nutshell:

  • In moderation, homework tends to improve test scores, but not usually at the elementary level
  • Teachers should avoid extremes when assigning homework
  • Instructors should have the latitude to do what is best for their students in the given situation

The Answer Is...

So, how important is homework to student success? The answer is: no one really knows. Homework, like most things in life, when taken to the extreme can prove to do more harm than good. So, when considering homework for your students, consider these points:

  • It must be meaningful, doable, and of a reasonable length and amount (the 10 minute rule is a good general guideline)
  • Homework with timely individual feedback from the teacher is the most effective- and most likely to get the best effort from students
  • Homework at the elementary level doesn't improve test scores but can be good preparation for middle school
  • Homework is an important way for parents to see how their children are doing (especially in elementary school when given in moderation and at a level the child can complete on their own)

Education, like most of life, is about balance. Homework in moderation and with realistic expectations can teach your students valuable life skills and help parents assess their young children's learning abilities and progress. Too much can cause stress, fatigue, and disruption to family life. Homework is just one little piece of the education puzzle - to get the big picture, all the pieces have to be in place!

Does your child need help with their homework? Study.com has thousands of lessons that students can use to go over homework topics. Explore topics here.

By Laurie Smith
June 2019
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