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Student Opinion

Should We Get Rid of Homework?

Some educators are pushing to get rid of homework. Would that be a good thing?

studies on homework vs no homework

By Jeremy Engle and Michael Gonchar

Do you like doing homework? Do you think it has benefited you educationally?

Has homework ever helped you practice a difficult skill — in math, for example — until you mastered it? Has it helped you learn new concepts in history or science? Has it helped to teach you life skills, such as independence and responsibility? Or, have you had a more negative experience with homework? Does it stress you out, numb your brain from busywork or actually make you fall behind in your classes?

Should we get rid of homework?

In “ The Movement to End Homework Is Wrong, ” published in July, the Times Opinion writer Jay Caspian Kang argues that homework may be imperfect, but it still serves an important purpose in school. The essay begins:

Do students really need to do their homework? As a parent and a former teacher, I have been pondering this question for quite a long time. The teacher side of me can acknowledge that there were assignments I gave out to my students that probably had little to no academic value. But I also imagine that some of my students never would have done their basic reading if they hadn’t been trained to complete expected assignments, which would have made the task of teaching an English class nearly impossible. As a parent, I would rather my daughter not get stuck doing the sort of pointless homework I would occasionally assign, but I also think there’s a lot of value in saying, “Hey, a lot of work you’re going to end up doing in your life is pointless, so why not just get used to it?” I certainly am not the only person wondering about the value of homework. Recently, the sociologist Jessica McCrory Calarco and the mathematics education scholars Ilana Horn and Grace Chen published a paper, “ You Need to Be More Responsible: The Myth of Meritocracy and Teachers’ Accounts of Homework Inequalities .” They argued that while there’s some evidence that homework might help students learn, it also exacerbates inequalities and reinforces what they call the “meritocratic” narrative that says kids who do well in school do so because of “individual competence, effort and responsibility.” The authors believe this meritocratic narrative is a myth and that homework — math homework in particular — further entrenches the myth in the minds of teachers and their students. Calarco, Horn and Chen write, “Research has highlighted inequalities in students’ homework production and linked those inequalities to differences in students’ home lives and in the support students’ families can provide.”

Mr. Kang argues:

But there’s a defense of homework that doesn’t really have much to do with class mobility, equality or any sense of reinforcing the notion of meritocracy. It’s one that became quite clear to me when I was a teacher: Kids need to learn how to practice things. Homework, in many cases, is the only ritualized thing they have to do every day. Even if we could perfectly equalize opportunity in school and empower all students not to be encumbered by the weight of their socioeconomic status or ethnicity, I’m not sure what good it would do if the kids didn’t know how to do something relentlessly, over and over again, until they perfected it. Most teachers know that type of progress is very difficult to achieve inside the classroom, regardless of a student’s background, which is why, I imagine, Calarco, Horn and Chen found that most teachers weren’t thinking in a structural inequalities frame. Holistic ideas of education, in which learning is emphasized and students can explore concepts and ideas, are largely for the types of kids who don’t need to worry about class mobility. A defense of rote practice through homework might seem revanchist at this moment, but if we truly believe that schools should teach children lessons that fall outside the meritocracy, I can’t think of one that matters more than the simple satisfaction of mastering something that you were once bad at. That takes homework and the acknowledgment that sometimes a student can get a question wrong and, with proper instruction, eventually get it right.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

Should we get rid of homework? Why, or why not?

Is homework an outdated, ineffective or counterproductive tool for learning? Do you agree with the authors of the paper that homework is harmful and worsens inequalities that exist between students’ home circumstances?

Or do you agree with Mr. Kang that homework still has real educational value?

When you get home after school, how much homework will you do? Do you think the amount is appropriate, too much or too little? Is homework, including the projects and writing assignments you do at home, an important part of your learning experience? Or, in your opinion, is it not a good use of time? Explain.

In these letters to the editor , one reader makes a distinction between elementary school and high school:

Homework’s value is unclear for younger students. But by high school and college, homework is absolutely essential for any student who wishes to excel. There simply isn’t time to digest Dostoyevsky if you only ever read him in class.

What do you think? How much does grade level matter when discussing the value of homework?

Is there a way to make homework more effective?

If you were a teacher, would you assign homework? What kind of assignments would you give and why?

Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column . Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

Jeremy Engle joined The Learning Network as a staff editor in 2018 after spending more than 20 years as a classroom humanities and documentary-making teacher, professional developer and curriculum designer working with students and teachers across the country. More about Jeremy Engle

Is Homework Good for Kids? Here’s What the Research Says

A s 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:

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.

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.”

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Should Kids Get Homework?

Homework gives elementary students a way to practice concepts, but too much can be harmful, experts say.

Mother helping son with homework at home

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Effective homework reinforces math, reading, writing or spelling skills, but in a way that's meaningful.

How much homework students should get has long been a source of debate among parents and educators. In recent years, some districts have even implemented no-homework policies, as students juggle sports, music and other activities after school.

Parents of elementary school students, in particular, have argued that after-school hours should be spent with family or playing outside rather than completing assignments. And there is little research to show that homework improves academic achievement for elementary students.

But some experts say there's value in homework, even for younger students. When done well, it can help students practice core concepts and develop study habits and time management skills. The key to effective homework, they say, is keeping assignments related to classroom learning, and tailoring the amount by age: Many experts suggest no homework for kindergartners, and little to none in first and second grade.

Value of Homework

Homework provides a chance to solidify what is being taught in the classroom that day, week or unit. Practice matters, says Janine Bempechat, clinical professor at Boston University 's Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.

"There really is no other domain of human ability where anybody would say you don't need to practice," she adds. "We have children practicing piano and we have children going to sports practice several days a week after school. You name the domain of ability and practice is in there."

Homework is also the place where schools and families most frequently intersect.

"The children are bringing things from the school into the home," says Paula S. Fass, professor emerita of history at the University of California—Berkeley and the author of "The End of American Childhood." "Before the pandemic, (homework) was the only real sense that parents had to what was going on in schools."

Harris Cooper, professor emeritus of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and author of "The Battle Over Homework," examined more than 60 research studies on homework between 1987 and 2003 and found that — when designed properly — homework can lead to greater student success. Too much, however, is harmful. And homework has a greater positive effect on students in secondary school (grades 7-12) than those in elementary.

"Every child should be doing homework, but the amount and type that they're doing should be appropriate for their developmental level," he says. "For teachers, it's a balancing act. Doing away with homework completely is not in the best interest of children and families. But overburdening families with homework is also not in the child's or a family's best interest."

Negative Homework Assignments

Not all homework for elementary students involves completing a worksheet. Assignments can be fun, says Cooper, like having students visit educational locations, keep statistics on their favorite sports teams, read for pleasure or even help their parents grocery shop. The point is to show students that activities done outside of school can relate to subjects learned in the classroom.

But assignments that are just busy work, that force students to learn new concepts at home, or that are overly time-consuming can be counterproductive, experts say.

Homework that's just busy work.

Effective homework reinforces math, reading, writing or spelling skills, but in a way that's meaningful, experts say. Assignments that look more like busy work – projects or worksheets that don't require teacher feedback and aren't related to topics learned in the classroom – can be frustrating for students and create burdens for families.

"The mental health piece has definitely played a role here over the last couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the last thing we want to do is frustrate students with busy work or homework that makes no sense," says Dave Steckler, principal of Red Trail Elementary School in Mandan, North Dakota.

Homework on material that kids haven't learned yet.

With the pressure to cover all topics on standardized tests and limited time during the school day, some teachers assign homework that has not yet been taught in the classroom.

Not only does this create stress, but it also causes equity challenges. Some parents speak languages other than English or work several jobs, and they aren't able to help teach their children new concepts.

" It just becomes agony for both parents and the kids to get through this worksheet, and the goal becomes getting to the bottom of (the) worksheet with answers filled in without any understanding of what any of it matters for," says professor Susan R. Goldman, co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Illinois—Chicago .

Homework that's overly time-consuming.

The standard homework guideline recommended by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association is the "10-minute rule" – 10 minutes of nightly homework per grade level. A fourth grader, for instance, would receive a total of 40 minutes of homework per night.

But this does not always happen, especially since not every student learns the same. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy found that primary school children actually received three times the recommended amount of homework — and that family stress increased along with the homework load.

Young children can only remain attentive for short periods, so large amounts of homework, especially lengthy projects, can negatively affect students' views on school. Some individual long-term projects – like having to build a replica city, for example – typically become an assignment for parents rather than students, Fass says.

"It's one thing to assign a project like that in which several kids are working on it together," she adds. "In (that) case, the kids do normally work on it. It's another to send it home to the families, where it becomes a burden and doesn't really accomplish very much."

Private vs. Public Schools

Do private schools assign more homework than public schools? There's little research on the issue, but experts say private school parents may be more accepting of homework, seeing it as a sign of academic rigor.

Of course, not all private schools are the same – some focus on college preparation and traditional academics, while others stress alternative approaches to education.

"I think in the academically oriented private schools, there's more support for homework from parents," says Gerald K. LeTendre, chair of educational administration at Pennsylvania State University—University Park . "I don't know if there's any research to show there's more homework, but it's less of a contentious issue."

How to Address Homework Overload

First, assess if the workload takes as long as it appears. Sometimes children may start working on a homework assignment, wander away and come back later, Cooper says.

"Parents don't see it, but they know that their child has started doing their homework four hours ago and still not done it," he adds. "They don't see that there are those four hours where their child was doing lots of other things. So the homework assignment itself actually is not four hours long. It's the way the child is approaching it."

But if homework is becoming stressful or workload is excessive, experts suggest parents first approach the teacher, followed by a school administrator.

"Many times, we can solve a lot of issues by having conversations," Steckler says, including by "sitting down, talking about the amount of homework, and what's appropriate and not appropriate."

Study Tips for High School Students

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Does homework really work?

by: Leslie Crawford | Updated: December 12, 2023

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Does homework help

You know the drill. It’s 10:15 p.m., and the cardboard-and-toothpick Golden Gate Bridge is collapsing. The pages of polynomials have been abandoned. The paper on the Battle of Waterloo seems to have frozen in time with Napoleon lingering eternally over his breakfast at Le Caillou. Then come the tears and tantrums — while we parents wonder, Does the gain merit all this pain? Is this just too much homework?

However the drama unfolds night after night, year after year, most parents hold on to the hope that homework (after soccer games, dinner, flute practice, and, oh yes, that childhood pastime of yore known as playing) advances their children academically.

But what does homework really do for kids? Is the forest’s worth of book reports and math and spelling sheets the average American student completes in their 12 years of primary schooling making a difference? Or is it just busywork?

Homework haterz

Whether or not homework helps, or even hurts, depends on who you ask. If you ask my 12-year-old son, Sam, he’ll say, “Homework doesn’t help anything. It makes kids stressed-out and tired and makes them hate school more.”

Nothing more than common kid bellyaching?

Maybe, but in the fractious field of homework studies, it’s worth noting that Sam’s sentiments nicely synopsize one side of the ivory tower debate. Books like The End of Homework , The Homework Myth , and The Case Against Homework the film Race to Nowhere , and the anguished parent essay “ My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me ” make the case that homework, by taking away precious family time and putting kids under unneeded pressure, is an ineffective way to help children become better learners and thinkers.

One Canadian couple took their homework apostasy all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. After arguing that there was no evidence that it improved academic performance, they won a ruling that exempted their two children from all homework.

So what’s the real relationship between homework and academic achievement?

How much is too much?

To answer this question, researchers have been doing their homework on homework, conducting and examining hundreds of studies. Chris Drew Ph.D., founder and editor at The Helpful Professor recently compiled multiple statistics revealing the folly of today’s after-school busy work. Does any of the data he listed below ring true for you?

• 45 percent of parents think homework is too easy for their child, primarily because it is geared to the lowest standard under the Common Core State Standards .

• 74 percent of students say homework is a source of stress , defined as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss, and stomach problems.

• Students in high-performing high schools spend an average of 3.1 hours a night on homework , even though 1 to 2 hours is the optimal duration, according to a peer-reviewed study .

Not included in the list above is the fact many kids have to abandon activities they love — like sports and clubs — because homework deprives them of the needed time to enjoy themselves with other pursuits.

Conversely, The Helpful Professor does list a few pros of homework, noting it teaches discipline and time management, and helps parents know what’s being taught in the class.

The oft-bandied rule on homework quantity — 10 minutes a night per grade (starting from between 10 to 20 minutes in first grade) — is listed on the National Education Association’s website and the National Parent Teacher Association’s website , but few schools follow this rule.

Do you think your child is doing excessive homework? Harris Cooper Ph.D., author of a meta-study on homework , recommends talking with the teacher. “Often there is a miscommunication about the goals of homework assignments,” he says. “What appears to be problematic for kids, why they are doing an assignment, can be cleared up with a conversation.” Also, Cooper suggests taking a careful look at how your child is doing the assignments. It may seem like they’re taking two hours, but maybe your child is wandering off frequently to get a snack or getting distracted.

Less is often more

If your child is dutifully doing their work but still burning the midnight oil, it’s worth intervening to make sure your child gets enough sleep. A 2012 study of 535 high school students found that proper sleep may be far more essential to brain and body development.

For elementary school-age children, Cooper’s research at Duke University shows there is no measurable academic advantage to homework. For middle-schoolers, Cooper found there is a direct correlation between homework and achievement if assignments last between one to two hours per night. After two hours, however, achievement doesn’t improve. For high schoolers, Cooper’s research suggests that two hours per night is optimal. If teens have more than two hours of homework a night, their academic success flatlines. But less is not better. The average high school student doing homework outperformed 69 percent of the students in a class with no homework.

Many schools are starting to act on this research. A Florida superintendent abolished homework in her 42,000 student district, replacing it with 20 minutes of nightly reading. She attributed her decision to “ solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students .”

More family time

A 2020 survey by Crayola Experience reports 82 percent of children complain they don’t have enough quality time with their parents. Homework deserves much of the blame. “Kids should have a chance to just be kids and do things they enjoy, particularly after spending six hours a day in school,” says Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth . “It’s absurd to insist that children must be engaged in constructive activities right up until their heads hit the pillow.”

By far, the best replacement for homework — for both parents and children — is bonding, relaxing time together.

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The Cult of Homework

America’s devotion to the practice stems in part from the fact that it’s what today’s parents and teachers grew up with themselves.

studies on homework vs no homework

America has long had a fickle relationship with homework. A century or so ago, progressive reformers argued that it made kids unduly stressed , which later led in some cases to district-level bans on it for all grades under seventh. This anti-homework sentiment faded, though, amid mid-century fears that the U.S. was falling behind the Soviet Union (which led to more homework), only to resurface in the 1960s and ’70s, when a more open culture came to see homework as stifling play and creativity (which led to less). But this didn’t last either: In the ’80s, government researchers blamed America’s schools for its economic troubles and recommended ramping homework up once more.

The 21st century has so far been a homework-heavy era, with American teenagers now averaging about twice as much time spent on homework each day as their predecessors did in the 1990s . Even little kids are asked to bring school home with them. A 2015 study , for instance, found that kindergarteners, who researchers tend to agree shouldn’t have any take-home work, were spending about 25 minutes a night on it.

But not without pushback. As many children, not to mention their parents and teachers, are drained by their daily workload, some schools and districts are rethinking how homework should work—and some teachers are doing away with it entirely. They’re reviewing the research on homework (which, it should be noted, is contested) and concluding that it’s time to revisit the subject.

Read: My daughter’s homework is killing me

Hillsborough, California, an affluent suburb of San Francisco, is one district that has changed its ways. The district, which includes three elementary schools and a middle school, worked with teachers and convened panels of parents in order to come up with a homework policy that would allow students more unscheduled time to spend with their families or to play. In August 2017, it rolled out an updated policy, which emphasized that homework should be “meaningful” and banned due dates that fell on the day after a weekend or a break.

“The first year was a bit bumpy,” says Louann Carlomagno, the district’s superintendent. She says the adjustment was at times hard for the teachers, some of whom had been doing their job in a similar fashion for a quarter of a century. Parents’ expectations were also an issue. Carlomagno says they took some time to “realize that it was okay not to have an hour of homework for a second grader—that was new.”

Most of the way through year two, though, the policy appears to be working more smoothly. “The students do seem to be less stressed based on conversations I’ve had with parents,” Carlomagno says. It also helps that the students performed just as well on the state standardized test last year as they have in the past.

Earlier this year, the district of Somerville, Massachusetts, also rewrote its homework policy, reducing the amount of homework its elementary and middle schoolers may receive. In grades six through eight, for example, homework is capped at an hour a night and can only be assigned two to three nights a week.

Jack Schneider, an education professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell whose daughter attends school in Somerville, is generally pleased with the new policy. But, he says, it’s part of a bigger, worrisome pattern. “The origin for this was general parental dissatisfaction, which not surprisingly was coming from a particular demographic,” Schneider says. “Middle-class white parents tend to be more vocal about concerns about homework … They feel entitled enough to voice their opinions.”

Schneider is all for revisiting taken-for-granted practices like homework, but thinks districts need to take care to be inclusive in that process. “I hear approximately zero middle-class white parents talking about how homework done best in grades K through two actually strengthens the connection between home and school for young people and their families,” he says. Because many of these parents already feel connected to their school community, this benefit of homework can seem redundant. “They don’t need it,” Schneider says, “so they’re not advocating for it.”

That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that homework is more vital in low-income districts. In fact, there are different, but just as compelling, reasons it can be burdensome in these communities as well. Allison Wienhold, who teaches high-school Spanish in the small town of Dunkerton, Iowa, has phased out homework assignments over the past three years. Her thinking: Some of her students, she says, have little time for homework because they’re working 30 hours a week or responsible for looking after younger siblings.

As educators reduce or eliminate the homework they assign, it’s worth asking what amount and what kind of homework is best for students. It turns out that there’s some disagreement about this among researchers, who tend to fall in one of two camps.

In the first camp is Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. Cooper conducted a review of the existing research on homework in the mid-2000s , and found that, up to a point, the amount of homework students reported doing correlates with their performance on in-class tests. This correlation, the review found, was stronger for older students than for younger ones.

This conclusion is generally accepted among educators, in part because it’s compatible with “the 10-minute rule,” a rule of thumb popular among teachers suggesting that the proper amount of homework is approximately 10 minutes per night, per grade level—that is, 10 minutes a night for first graders, 20 minutes a night for second graders, and so on, up to two hours a night for high schoolers.

In Cooper’s eyes, homework isn’t overly burdensome for the typical American kid. He points to a 2014 Brookings Institution report that found “little evidence that the homework load has increased for the average student”; onerous amounts of homework, it determined, are indeed out there, but relatively rare. Moreover, the report noted that most parents think their children get the right amount of homework, and that parents who are worried about under-assigning outnumber those who are worried about over-assigning. Cooper says that those latter worries tend to come from a small number of communities with “concerns about being competitive for the most selective colleges and universities.”

According to Alfie Kohn, squarely in camp two, most of the conclusions listed in the previous three paragraphs are questionable. Kohn, the author of The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing , considers homework to be a “reliable extinguisher of curiosity,” and has several complaints with the evidence that Cooper and others cite in favor of it. Kohn notes, among other things, that Cooper’s 2006 meta-analysis doesn’t establish causation, and that its central correlation is based on children’s (potentially unreliable) self-reporting of how much time they spend doing homework. (Kohn’s prolific writing on the subject alleges numerous other methodological faults.)

In fact, other correlations make a compelling case that homework doesn’t help. Some countries whose students regularly outperform American kids on standardized tests, such as Japan and Denmark, send their kids home with less schoolwork , while students from some countries with higher homework loads than the U.S., such as Thailand and Greece, fare worse on tests. (Of course, international comparisons can be fraught because so many factors, in education systems and in societies at large, might shape students’ success.)

Kohn also takes issue with the way achievement is commonly assessed. “If all you want is to cram kids’ heads with facts for tomorrow’s tests that they’re going to forget by next week, yeah, if you give them more time and make them do the cramming at night, that could raise the scores,” he says. “But if you’re interested in kids who know how to think or enjoy learning, then homework isn’t merely ineffective, but counterproductive.”

His concern is, in a way, a philosophical one. “The practice of homework assumes that only academic growth matters, to the point that having kids work on that most of the school day isn’t enough,” Kohn says. What about homework’s effect on quality time spent with family? On long-term information retention? On critical-thinking skills? On social development? On success later in life? On happiness? The research is quiet on these questions.

Another problem is that research tends to focus on homework’s quantity rather than its quality, because the former is much easier to measure than the latter. While experts generally agree that the substance of an assignment matters greatly (and that a lot of homework is uninspiring busywork), there isn’t a catchall rule for what’s best—the answer is often specific to a certain curriculum or even an individual student.

Given that homework’s benefits are so narrowly defined (and even then, contested), it’s a bit surprising that assigning so much of it is often a classroom default, and that more isn’t done to make the homework that is assigned more enriching. A number of things are preserving this state of affairs—things that have little to do with whether homework helps students learn.

Jack Schneider, the Massachusetts parent and professor, thinks it’s important to consider the generational inertia of the practice. “The vast majority of parents of public-school students themselves are graduates of the public education system,” he says. “Therefore, their views of what is legitimate have been shaped already by the system that they would ostensibly be critiquing.” In other words, many parents’ own history with homework might lead them to expect the same for their children, and anything less is often taken as an indicator that a school or a teacher isn’t rigorous enough. (This dovetails with—and complicates—the finding that most parents think their children have the right amount of homework.)

Barbara Stengel, an education professor at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, brought up two developments in the educational system that might be keeping homework rote and unexciting. The first is the importance placed in the past few decades on standardized testing, which looms over many public-school classroom decisions and frequently discourages teachers from trying out more creative homework assignments. “They could do it, but they’re afraid to do it, because they’re getting pressure every day about test scores,” Stengel says.

Second, she notes that the profession of teaching, with its relatively low wages and lack of autonomy, struggles to attract and support some of the people who might reimagine homework, as well as other aspects of education. “Part of why we get less interesting homework is because some of the people who would really have pushed the limits of that are no longer in teaching,” she says.

“In general, we have no imagination when it comes to homework,” Stengel says. She wishes teachers had the time and resources to remake homework into something that actually engages students. “If we had kids reading—anything, the sports page, anything that they’re able to read—that’s the best single thing. If we had kids going to the zoo, if we had kids going to parks after school, if we had them doing all of those things, their test scores would improve. But they’re not. They’re going home and doing homework that is not expanding what they think about.”

“Exploratory” is one word Mike Simpson used when describing the types of homework he’d like his students to undertake. Simpson is the head of the Stone Independent School, a tiny private high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that opened in 2017. “We were lucky to start a school a year and a half ago,” Simpson says, “so it’s been easy to say we aren’t going to assign worksheets, we aren’t going assign regurgitative problem sets.” For instance, a half-dozen students recently built a 25-foot trebuchet on campus.

Simpson says he thinks it’s a shame that the things students have to do at home are often the least fulfilling parts of schooling: “When our students can’t make the connection between the work they’re doing at 11 o’clock at night on a Tuesday to the way they want their lives to be, I think we begin to lose the plot.”

When I talked with other teachers who did homework makeovers in their classrooms, I heard few regrets. Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher in Joshua, Texas, stopped assigning take-home packets of worksheets three years ago, and instead started asking her students to do 20 minutes of pleasure reading a night. She says she’s pleased with the results, but she’s noticed something funny. “Some kids,” she says, “really do like homework.” She’s started putting out a bucket of it for students to draw from voluntarily—whether because they want an additional challenge or something to pass the time at home.

Chris Bronke, a high-school English teacher in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, told me something similar. This school year, he eliminated homework for his class of freshmen, and now mostly lets students study on their own or in small groups during class time. It’s usually up to them what they work on each day, and Bronke has been impressed by how they’ve managed their time.

In fact, some of them willingly spend time on assignments at home, whether because they’re particularly engaged, because they prefer to do some deeper thinking outside school, or because they needed to spend time in class that day preparing for, say, a biology test the following period. “They’re making meaningful decisions about their time that I don’t think education really ever gives students the experience, nor the practice, of doing,” Bronke said.

The typical prescription offered by those overwhelmed with homework is to assign less of it—to subtract. But perhaps a more useful approach, for many classrooms, would be to create homework only when teachers and students believe it’s actually needed to further the learning that takes place in class—to start with nothing, and add as necessary.

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“Homework Should Be…but We Do Not Live in an Ideal World”: Mathematics Teachers’ Perspectives on Quality Homework and on Homework Assigned in Elementary and Middle Schools

Pedro rosário.

1 Departamento de Psicologia Aplicada, Escola de Psicologia, Universidade do Minho, Braga, Portugal

Jennifer Cunha

Tânia nunes, ana rita nunes, tânia moreira, josé carlos núñez.

2 Departamento de Psicología, Universidad de Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain

Associated Data

Existing literature has analyzed homework characteristics associated with academic results. Researchers and educators defend the need to provide quality homework, but there is still much to be learned about the characteristics of quality homework (e.g., purposes, type). Acknowledging that teachers play an important role in designing and assigning homework, this study explored teachers’ perspectives regarding: (i) the characteristics of quality homework and (ii) the characteristics of the homework tasks assigned. In the current study, mathematics teachers from elementary and middle schools ( N = 78) participated in focus group discussions. To enhance the trustworthiness of the findings, homework tasks assigned by 25% of the participants were analyzed for triangulation of data purposes. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis for elementary and middle school separately. Teachers discussed the various characteristics of quality homework (e.g., short assignments, adjusted to the availability of students) and shared the characteristics of the homework tasks typically assigned, highlighting a few differences (e.g., degree of individualization of homework, purposes) between these two topics. Globally, data on the homework tasks assigned were consistent with teachers’ reports about the characteristics of the homework tasks they usually assigned. Findings provide valuable insights for research and practice aimed to promote the quality of homework and consequently students’ learning and progress.

Introduction

The extensive literature on homework suggests the importance of completing homework tasks to foster students’ academic achievement (e.g., Trautwein and Lüdtke, 2009 ; Hagger et al., 2015 ; Núñez et al., 2015a ; Valle et al., 2016 ; Fernández-Alonso et al., 2017 ). However, existing research also indicate that the amount of homework assigned is not always related to high academic achievement ( Epstein and Van Voorhis, 2001 ; Epstein and Van Voorhis, 2012 ). In the words of Dettmers et al. (2010) “homework works if quality is high” (p. 467). However, further research is needed to answer the question “What is quality homework?”.

Teachers are responsible for designing and assigning homework, thus our knowledge on their perspectives about this topic and the characteristics of the homework typically assigned is expected to be a relevant contribution to the literature on the quality of homework. Moreover, data on the characteristics of homework could provide valuable information to unveil the complex network of relationships between homework and academic achievement (e.g., Cooper, 2001 ; Trautwein and Köller, 2003 ; Trautwein et al., 2009a ; Xu, 2010 ).

Thus, focusing on the perspective of mathematics teachers from elementary and middle school, the aims of the present study are twofold: to explore the characteristics of quality homework, and to identify the characteristics of the homework tasks typically assigned at these school levels. Findings may help deepen our understanding of why homework may impact differently the mathematics achievement of elementary and middle school students (see Fan et al., 2017 ).

Research Background on Homework Characteristics

Homework is a complex educational process involving a diverse set of variables that each may influence students’ academic outcomes (e.g., Corno, 2000 ; Trautwein and Köller, 2003 ; Cooper et al., 2006 ; Epstein and Van Voorhis, 2012 ). Cooper (1989 , 2001 ) presented a model outlining the factors that may potentially influence the effect of homework at the three stages of the homework process (i.e., design of the homework assignment, completion of homework and homework follow-up practices). At the first stage teachers are expected to consider class characteristics (e.g., students’ prior knowledge, grade level, number of students per class), and also variables that may influence the impact of homework on students’ outcomes, such as homework assignment characteristics. In 1989, Cooper (see also Cooper et al., 2006 ) presented a list of the characteristics of homework assignments as follows: amount (comprising homework frequency and length), purpose, skill area targeted, degree of individualization, student degree of choice, completion deadlines, and social context. Based on existing literature, Trautwein et al. (2006b) proposed a distinct organization for the assignment characteristics. The proposal included: homework frequency (i.e., how often homework assignments are prescribed to students), quality, control, and adaptivity. “Homework frequency” and “adaptivity” are similar to “amount” and “degree of individualization” in Cooper’s model, respectively. Both homework models provide a relevant theoretical framework for the present study.

Prior research has analyzed the relationship between homework variables, students’ behaviors and academic achievement, and found different results depending on the variables examined (see Trautwein et al., 2009b ; Fan et al., 2017 ). For example, while homework frequency consistently and positively predicted students’ academic achievement (e.g., Trautwein et al., 2002 ; Trautwein, 2007 ; Fernández-Alonso et al., 2015 ), findings regarding the amount of homework assigned (usually assessed by the time spent on homework) have shown mixed results (e.g., Trautwein, 2007 ; Dettmers et al., 2009 ; Núñez et al., 2015a ). Data indicated a positive association between the amount of homework and students’ academic achievement in high school (e.g., OECD, 2014a ); however, this relationship is almost null in elementary school (e.g., Cooper et al., 2006 ; Rosário et al., 2009 ). Finally, other studies reported a negative association between time spent on homework and students’ academic achievement at different school levels (e.g., Trautwein et al., 2009b ; Rosário et al., 2011 ; Núñez et al., 2015a ).

Homework purposes are among the factors that may influence the effect of homework on students’ homework behaviors and academic achievement ( Cooper, 2001 ; Trautwein et al., 2009a ; Epstein and Van Voorhis, 2012 ; Rosário et al., 2015 ). In his model Cooper (1989 , 2001 ) reported instructional purposes (i.e., practicing or reviewing, preparation, integration and extension) and non-instructional purposes (i.e., parent-child communication, fulfilling directives, punishment, and community relations). Depending on their nature, homework instructional purposes may vary throughout schooling ( Muhlenbruck et al., 2000 ; Epstein and Van Voorhis, 2001 ). For example, in elementary school, teachers are likely to use homework as an opportunity to review the content taught in class, while in secondary school (6th–12th grade), teachers are prone to use homework to prepare students for the content to be learned in subsequent classes ( Muhlenbruck et al., 2000 ). Still, studies have recently shown that practicing the content learned is the homework purpose most frequently used throughout schooling (e.g., Xu and Yuan, 2003 ; Danielson et al., 2011 ; Kaur, 2011 ; Bang, 2012 ; Kukliansky et al., 2014 ). Studies using quantitative methodologies have analyzed the role played by homework purposes in students’ effort and achievement ( Trautwein et al., 2009a ; Rosário et al., 2015 , 2018 ), and reported distinct results depending on the subject analyzed. For example, Foyle et al. (1990) found that homework assignments with the purposes of practice and preparation improved the performance of 5th-grade students’ social studies when compared with the no-homework group. However, no statistical difference was found between the two types of homework purposes analyzed (i.e., practice and preparation). When examining the homework purposes reported by 8th-grade teachers of French as a Second Language (e.g., drilling and practicing, motivating, linking school and home), Trautwein et al. (2009a) found that students in classes assigned tasks with high emphasis on motivation displayed more effort and achieved higher outcomes than their peers. On the contrary, students in classes assigned tasks with high drill and practice reported less homework effort and achievement ( Trautwein et al., 2009a ). A recent study by Rosário et al. (2015) analyzed the relationship between homework assignments with various types of purposes (i.e., practice, preparation and extension) and 6th-grade mathematics achievement. These authors reported that homework with the purpose of “extension” impacted positively on students’ academic achievement while the other two homework purposes did not.

Cooper (1989 , 2001 ) identified the “degree of individualization” as a characteristic of homework focused on the need to design homework addressing different levels of performance. For example, some students need to be assigned practice exercises with a low level of difficulty to help them reach school goals, while others need to be assigned exercises with high levels of complexity to foster their motivation for homework ( Trautwein et al., 2002 ). When there is a disparity between the level of difficulty of homework assignments and students’ skills level, students may have to spend long hours doing homework, and they may experience negative emotions or even avoid doing homework ( Corno, 2000 ). On the contrary, when homework assignments meet students’ learning needs (e.g., Bang, 2012 ; Kukliansky et al., 2014 ), both students’ homework effort and academic achievement increase (e.g., Trautwein et al., 2006a ; Zakharov et al., 2014 ). Teachers may also decide on the time given to students to complete their homework ( Cooper, 1989 ; Cooper et al., 2006 ). For example, homework may be assigned to be delivered in the following class (e.g., Kaur et al., 2004 ) or within a week (e.g., Kaur, 2011 ). However, research on the beneficial effects of each practice is still limited.

Trautwein et al. (2006b) investigated homework characteristics other than those previously reported. Their line of research analyzed students’ perception of homework quality and homework control (e.g., Trautwein et al., 2006b ; Dettmers et al., 2010 ). Findings on homework quality (e.g., level of difficulty of the mathematics exercises, Trautwein et al., 2002 ; homework “cognitively activating” and “well prepared”, Trautwein et al., 2006b , p. 448; homework selection and level of challenge, Dettmers et al., 2010 ; Rosário et al., 2018 ) varied regarding the various measures and levels of analysis considered. For example, focusing on mathematics, Trautwein et al. (2002) concluded that “demanding” exercises improved 7th-grade students’ achievement at student and class levels, while “repetitive exercises” impacted negatively on students’ achievement. Dettmers et al. (2010) found that homework assignments perceived by students as “well-prepared and interesting” (p. 471) positively predicted 9th- and 10th-grade students’ homework motivation (expectancy and value beliefs) and behavior (effort and time) at student and class level, and mathematics achievement at class level only. These authors also reported that “cognitively challenging” homework (p. 471), as perceived by students, negatively predicted students’ expectancy beliefs at both levels, and students’ homework effort at student level ( Dettmers et al., 2010 ). Moreover, this study showed that “challenging homework” significantly and positively impacted on students’ mathematics achievement at class level ( Dettmers et al., 2010 ). At elementary school, homework quality (assessed through homework selection) predicted positively 6th-grade students’ homework effort, homework performance, and mathematics achievement ( Rosário et al., 2018 ).

Finally, Trautwein and colleagues investigated the variable “homework control” perceived by middle school students and found mixed results. The works by Trautwein and Lüdtke (2007 , 2009 ) found that “homework control” predicted positively students’ homework effort in mathematics, but other studies (e.g., Trautwein et al., 2002 , 2006b ) did not predict homework effort and mathematics achievement.

The Present Study

A vast body of research indicates that homework enhances students’ academic achievement [see the meta-analysis conducted by Fan et al. (2017) ], however, maladaptive homework behaviors of students (e.g., procrastination, lack of interest in homework, failure to complete homework) may affect homework benefits ( Bembenutty, 2011a ; Hong et al., 2011 ; Rosário et al., 2019 ). These behaviors may be related to the characteristics of the homework assigned (e.g., large amount of homework, disconnect between the type and level of difficulty of homework assignments and students’ needs and abilities, see Margolis and McCabe, 2004 ; Trautwein, 2007 ).

Homework is only valuable to students’ learning when its quality is perceived by students ( Dettmers et al., 2010 ). Nevertheless, little is known about the meaning of homework quality for teachers who are responsible for assigning homework. What do teachers understand to be quality homework? To our knowledge, the previous studies exploring teachers’ perspectives on their homework practices did not relate data with quality homework (e.g., Xu and Yuan, 2003 ; Danielson et al., 2011 ; Kaur, 2011 ; Bang, 2012 ; Kukliansky et al., 2014 ). For example, Kukliansky et al. (2014) found a disconnect between middle school science teachers’ perspectives about their homework practices and their actual homework practices observed in class. However, results were not further explained.

The current study aims to explore teachers’ perspectives on the characteristics of quality homework, and on the characteristics underlying the homework tasks assigned. Findings are expected to shed some light on the role of teachers in the homework process and contribute to maximize the benefits of homework. Our results may be useful for either homework research (e.g., by informing new quantitative studies grounded on data from teachers’ perspectives) or educational practice (e.g., by identifying new avenues for teacher training and the defining of guidelines for homework practices).

This study is particularly important in mathematics for the following reasons: mathematics is among the school subjects where teachers assign the largest amount of homework (e.g., Rønning, 2011 ; Xu, 2015 ), while students continue to yield worrying school results in the subject, especially in middle and high school ( Gottfried et al., 2007 ; OECD, 2014b ). Moreover, a recent meta-analysis focused on mathematics and science homework showed that the relationship between homework and academic achievement in middle school is weaker than in elementary school ( Fan et al., 2017 ). Thus, we collected data through focus group discussions with elementary and middle school mathematics teachers in order to analyze any potential variations in their perspectives on the characteristics of quality homework, and on the characteristics of homework tasks they typically assign. Regarding the latter topic, we also collected photos of homework tasks assigned by 25% of the participating teachers in order to triangulate data and enhance the trustworthiness of our findings.

Our exploratory study was guided by the following research questions:

  • simple (1) How do elementary and middle school mathematics teachers perceive quality homework?
  • simple (2) How do elementary and middle school mathematics teachers describe the homework tasks they typically assign to students?

Materials and Methods

The study context.

Despite recommendations of the need for clear homework policies (e.g., Cooper et al., 2006 ; Bembenutty, 2011b ), Portugal has no formal guidelines for homework (e.g., concerning the frequency, length, type of tasks). Still, many teachers usually include homework as part of students’ overall grade and ask parents to monitor their children’s homework completion. Moreover, according to participants there is no specific training on homework practices for pre-service or in-service teachers.

The Portuguese educational system is organized as follows: the last two years of elementary school encompass 5th and 6th grade (10 and 11 years old), while middle school encompasses 7th, 8th, and 9th grade (12 to 14 years old). At the two school levels mentioned, mathematics is a compulsory subject and students attend three to five mathematics lessons per week depending on the duration of each class (270 min per week for Grades 5 and 6, and 225 min per week for Grades 7–9). All students are assessed by their mathematics teacher (through continuous assessment tests), and at the end of elementary and middle school levels (6th and 9th grade) students are assessed externally through a national exam that counts for 30% of the overall grade. In Portuguese schools assigning homework is a frequently used educational practice, mostly in mathematics, and usually counts toward the overall grade, ranging between 2% and 5% depending on school boards ( Rosário et al., 2018 ).

Participants

In the current study, all participants were involved in focus groups and 25% of them, randomly selected, were asked to submit photos of homework tasks assigned.

According to Morgan (1997) , to maximize the discussion among participants it is important that they share some characteristics and experiences related to the aims of the study in question. In the current study, teachers were eligible to participate when the following criteria were met: (i) they had been teaching mathematics at elementary or middle school levels for at least two years; and (ii) they would assign homework regularly, at least twice a week, in order to have enough experiences to share in the focus group.

All mathematics teachers ( N = 130) from 25 elementary and middle schools in Northern Portugal were contacted by email. The email informed teachers of the purposes and procedures of the study (e.g., inclusion criteria, duration of the session, session videotaping, selection of teachers to send photos of homework tasks assigned), and invited them to participate in the study. To facilitate recruitment, researchers scheduled focus group discussions considering participants’ availability. Of the volunteer teachers, all participants met the inclusion criteria. The research team did not allocate teachers with hierarchical relationships in the same group, as this might limit freedom of responses, affect the dynamics of the discussion, and, consequently, the outcomes ( Kitzinger, 1995 ).

Initially we conducted four focus groups with elementary school teachers (5th and 6th grade, 10 and 11 years old) and four focus groups with middle school teachers (7th, 8th, and 9th grade, 12, 13 and 14 years old). Subsequently, two additional focus group discussions (one for each school level) were conducted to ensure the saturation of data. Finally, seventy-eight mathematics teachers (61 females and 17 males; an acceptance rate of 60%) from 16 schools participated in our study (see Table 1 ). The teachers enrolled in 10 focus groups comprised of seven to nine teachers per group. Twenty teachers were randomly selected and asked to participate in the second data collection; all answered positively to our invitation (15 females and 5 males).

Participants’ demographic information.

According to our participants, in the school context, mathematics teachers may teach one to eight classes of different grade levels. In the current research, participants were teaching one to five classes of two or three grade levels at schools in urban or near urban contexts. The participants practiced the mandatory nationwide curriculum and a continuous assessment policy.

Data Collection

We carried out this study following the recommendations of the ethics committee of the University of Minho. All teachers gave written informed consent to participate in the research in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. The collaboration involved participating in one focus group discussion, and, for 25% of the participants, submitting photos by email of the homework tasks assigned.

In the current study, aiming to deepen our comprehension of the research questions, focus group interviews were conducted to capture participants’ thoughts about a particular topic ( Kitzinger, 1995 ; Morgan, 1997 ). The focus groups were conducted by two members of the research team (a moderator and a field note-taker) in the first term of the school year and followed the procedure described by Krueger and Casey (2000) . To prevent mishandling the discussions and to encourage teachers to participate in the sessions, the two facilitators attended a course on qualitative research offered at their home institution specifically targeting focus group methodology.

All focus group interviews were videotaped. The sessions were held in a meeting room at the University of Minho facilities, and lasted 90 to 105 min. Before starting the discussion, teachers filled in a questionnaire with sociodemographic information, and were invited to read and sign a written informed consent form. Researchers introduced themselves, and read out the information regarding the study purpose and the focus group ground rules. Participants were ensured of the confidentiality of their responses (e.g., names and researchers’ personal notes that might link participants to their schools were deleted). Then, the investigators initiated the discussion (see Table 2 ). At the end of each focus group discussion, participants were given the opportunity to ask questions or make further contributions.

Focus group questions.

After the focus group discussions, we randomly selected 25% of the participating teachers (i.e., 10 teachers from each school level), each asked to submit photos of the homework tasks assigned by email over the course of three weeks (period between two mathematics assessment tests). This data collection aimed to triangulate data from focus groups regarding the characteristics of homework usually assigned. To encourage participation, the research team sent teachers a friendly reminder email every evening throughout the period of data collection. In total, we received 125 photos (51% were from middle school teachers).

Data Analysis

Videotapes were used to assist the verbatim transcription of focus group data. Both focus group data and photos of the homework assignments were analyzed using thematic analysis ( Braun and Clarke, 2006 ), assisted by QSR International’s NVivo 10 software ( Richards, 2005 ). In this analysis there are no rigid guidelines on how to determine themes; to assure that the analysis is rigorous, researchers are expected to follow a consistent procedure throughout the analysis process ( Braun and Clarke, 2006 ). For the current study, to identify themes and sub-themes, we used the extensiveness of comments criterion (number of participants who express a theme, Krueger and Casey, 2000 ).

Firstly, following an inductive process one member of the research team read the first eight focus group transcriptions several times, took notes on the overall ideas of the data, and made a list of possible codes for data at a semantic level ( Braun and Clarke, 2006 ). Using a cluster analysis by word similarity procedure in Nvivo, all codes were grouped in order to identify sub-themes and themes posteriorly. All the themes and sub-themes were independently and iteratively identified and compared with the literature on homework ( Peterson and Irving, 2008 ). Then, the themes and sub-themes were compared with the homework characteristics already reported in the literature (e.g., Cooper, 1989 ; Epstein and Van Voorhis, 2001 ; Trautwein et al., 2006b ). New sub-themes emerged from participants’ discourses (i.e., “adjusted to the availability of students,” “teachers diagnose learning”), and were grouped in the themes reported in the literature. After, all themes and sub-themes were organized in a coding scheme (for an example see Table 3 ). Finally, the researcher coded the two other focus group discussions, no new information was added related to the research questions. Given that the generated patterns of data were not changed, the researcher concluded that thematic saturation was reached.

Examples of the coding scheme.

An external auditor, trained on the coding scheme, revised all transcriptions, the coding scheme and the coding process in order to minimize researchers’ biases and increase the trustworthiness of the study ( Lincoln and Guba, 1985 ). The first author and the external auditor examined the final categorization of data and reached consensus.

Two other members of the research team coded independently the photos of the homework assignments using the same coding scheme of the focus groups. To analyze data, the researchers had to define the sub-themes “short assignments” (i.e., up to three exercises) and “long assignments” (i.e., more than three exercises). In the end, the two researchers reviewed the coding process and discussed the differences found (e.g., some exercises had several sub questions, so one of the researchers coded it as “long assignments”; see the homework sample 4 of the Supplementary Material ). However, the researchers reached consensus, deciding not to count the number of sub questions of each exercise individually, because these types of questions are related and do not require a significant amount of additional time.

Inter-rater reliability (Cohen’s Kappa) was calculated. The Cohen’s Kappa was 0.86 for the data analysis of the focus groups and 0.85 for data analysis of the photos of homework assignments, which is considered very good according to Landis and Koch (1977) . To obtain a pattern of data considering the school levels, a matrix coding query was run for each data source (i.e., focus groups and photos of homework assignments). Using the various criteria options in NVivo 10, we crossed participants’ classifications (i.e., school level attribute) and nodes and displayed the frequencies of responses for each row–column combination ( Bazeley and Jackson, 2013 ).

In the end of this process of data analysis, for establishing the trustworthiness of findings, 20 teachers (i.e., ten participants of each grade level) were randomly invited, and all agreed, to provide a member check of the findings ( Lincoln and Guba, 1985 ). Member checking involved two phases. First, teachers were asked individually to read a summary of the findings and to fill in a 5-point Likert scale (1, completely disagree; 5, completely agree) with four items: “Findings reflect my perspective regarding homework quality”; “Findings reflect my perspective regarding homework practices”; “Findings reflect what was discussed in the focus group where I participated”, and “I feel that my opinion was influenced by the other teachers during the discussion” (inverted item). Secondly, teachers were gathered by school level and asked to critically analyze and discuss whether an authentic representation was made of their perspectives regarding quality homework and homework practices ( Creswell, 2007 ).

This study explored teachers’ perspectives on the characteristics of quality homework, and on the characteristics of the homework tasks typically assigned. To report results, we used the frequency of occurrence criterion of the categories defined by Hill et al. (2005) . Each theme may be classified as “General” when all participants, or all except one, mention a particular theme; “Typical” when more than half of the cases mention a theme; “Variant” when more than 3, and less than half of the cases mention a theme; and “Rare” when the frequency is between 2 and 3 cases. In the current study, only general and typical themes were reported to discuss the most salient data.

The results section was organized by each research question. Throughout the analysis of the results, quotes from participants were presented to illustrate data. For the second research question, data from the homework assignments collected as photographs were also included.

Initial Data Screening

All participating teachers defended the importance of completing homework, arguing that homework can help students to develop their learning and to engage in school life. Furthermore, participants also agreed on the importance of delivering this message to students. Nevertheless, all teachers acknowledged that assigning homework daily present a challenge to their teaching routine because of the heavy workload faced daily (e.g., large numbers of students per class, too many classes to teach, teaching classes from different grade levels which means preparing different lessons, administrative workload).

Teachers at both school levels talked spontaneously about the nature of the tasks they usually assign, and the majority reported selecting homework tasks from a textbook. However, participants also referred to creating exercises fit to particular learning goals. Data collected from the homework assigned corroborated this information. Most of participating teachers reported that they had not received any guidance from their school board regarding homework.

How do Elementary and Middle School Teachers Perceive Quality Homework?

Three main themes were identified by elementary school teachers (i.e., instructional purposes, degree of individualization/adaptivity, and length of homework) and two were identified by middle school teachers (i.e., instructional purposes, and degree of individualization/adaptivity). Figure 1 depicts the themes and sub-themes reported by teachers in the focus groups.

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Characteristics of quality homework reported by mathematics teachers by school level.

In all focus group discussions, all teachers from elementary and middle school mentioned “instructional purposes” as the main characteristic of quality homework. When asked to further explain the importance of this characteristic, teachers at both school levels in all focus group talked about the need for “practicing or reviewing” the content delivered in class to strengthen students’ knowledge. A teacher illustrated this idea clearly: “it is not worth teaching new content when students do not master the material previously covered” (P1 FG3). This idea was supported by participants in all focus groups; “at home they [students] have to work on the same content as those taught in class” (P1 FG7), “students have to revisit exercises and practice” (P2 FG9), “train over and over again” (P6 FG1), “practice, practice, practice” (P4 FG2).

While discussing the benefits of designing homework with the purpose of practicing the content learned, teachers at both school levels agreed on the fact that homework may be a useful tool for students to diagnose their own learning achievements while working independently. Teachers were empathetic with their peers when discussing the instrumentality of homework as a “thermometer” for students to assess their own progress. This idea was discussed in similar ways in all focus group, as the following quotation illustrates:

P2 FG1: Homework should be a bridge between class and home… students are expected to work independently, learn about their difficulties when doing homework, and check whether they understood the content.

When asked to outline other characteristics of quality homework, several elementary school teachers in all focus group mentioned that quality homework should also promote “student development” as an instructional purpose. These participants explained that homework is an instructional tool that should be designed to “foster students’ autonomy” (P9 FG4), “develop study habits and routines” (P1 FG8), and “promote organization skills and study methods” (P6 FG7). These thoughts were unanimous among participants in all focus groups. While some teachers introduced real-life examples to illustrate the ideas posited by their colleagues, others nodded their heads in agreement.

In addition, some elementary school teachers observed that homework tasks requiring transference of knowledge could help develop students’ complex thinking, a highly valued topic in the current mathematics curriculum worldwide. Teachers discussed this topic enthusiastically in two opposite directions: while some teachers defended this purpose as a characteristic of quality homework, others disagreed, as the following conversation excerpt illustrates:

P7 FG5: For me good homework would be a real challenge, like a problem-solving scenario that stimulates learning transference and develops mathematical reasoning … mathematical insight. It’s hard because it forces them [students] to think in more complex ways; still, I believe this is the type of homework with the most potential gains for them.

P3 FG5: That’s a good point, but they [students] give up easily. They just don’t do their homework. This type of homework implies competencies that the majority of students do not master…

P1 FG5: Not to mention that this type of homework takes up a lot of teaching time… explaining, checking…, and we simply don’t have time for this.

Globally, participants agreed on the potential of assigning homework with the purpose of instigating students to transfer learning to new tasks. However, participants also discussed the limitations faced daily in their teaching (e.g., number of students per class, students’ lack of prior knowledge) and concluded that homework with this purpose hinders the successful development of their lesson plans. This perspective may help explain why many participants did not perceive this purpose as a significant characteristic of quality homework. Further commenting on the characteristics of quality homework, the majority of participants at both school levels agreed that quality homework should be tailored to meet students’ learning needs. The importance of individualized homework was intensely discussed in all focus groups, and several participants suggested the need for designing homework targeted at a particular student or groups of students with common education needs. The following statements exemplifies participants’ opinions:

P3 FG3: Ideally, homework should be targeted at each student individually. For André a simple exercise, for Ana a more challenging exercise … in an ideal world homework should be tailored to students’ needs.

P6 FG6: Given the diversity of students in our classes, we may find a rainbow of levels of prior knowledge… quality homework should be as varied as our students’ needs.

As discussed in the focus groups, to foster the engagement of high-achievers in homework completion, homework tasks should be challenging enough (as reported previously by P3 FG3). However, participants at both school levels observed that their heavy daily workload prevents them from assigning individualized homework:

P1 FG1: I know it’s important to assign differentiated homework tasks, and I believe in it… but this option faces real-life barriers, such as the number of classes we have to teach, each with thirty students, tons of bureaucratic stuff we have to deal with… All this raises real-life questions, real impediments… how can we design homework tasks for individual students?

Considering this challenge, teachers from both school levels suggested that quality homework should comprise exercises with increasing levels of difficulty. This strategy would respond to the heterogeneity of students’ learning needs without assigning individualized homework tasks to each student.

While discussing individualized homework, elementary school teachers added that assignments should be designed bearing in mind students’ availability (e.g., school timetable, extracurricular activities, and exam dates). Participants noted that teachers should learn the amount of workload their students have, and should be aware about the importance of students’ well-being.

P4 FG1: If students have large amounts of homework, this could be very uncomfortable and even frustrating… They have to do homework of other subjects and add time to extracurricular activities… responding to all demands can be very stressful.

P4 FG2: I think that we have to learn about the learning context of our students, namely their limitations to complete homework in the time they have available. We all have good intentions and want them to progress, but if students do not have enough time to do their homework, this won’t work. So, quality homework would be, for example, when students have exams and the teacher gives them little or no homework at all.

The discussion about the length of homework found consensus among the elementary school teachers in all focus group in that quality homework should be “brief”. During the discussions, elementary school teachers further explained that assigning long tasks is not beneficial because “they [students] end up demotivated” (P3 FG4). Besides, “completing long homework assignments takes hours!” (P5 FG4).

How do Elementary and Middle School Teachers Describe the Homework Tasks They Typically Assign to Students?

When discussing the characteristics of the homework tasks usually assigned to their students four main themes were identified by elementary school teachers (i.e., instructional purposes, degree of individualization/adaptivity, frequency and completion deadlines), and two main themes were raised by middle school (i.e., instructional purposes, and degree of individualization/adaptivity). Figure 2 gives a general overview of the findings. Data gathered from photos added themes to findings as follows: one (i.e., length) to elementary school and two (i.e., length and completion deadlines) to middle school (see Figure 3 ).

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Characteristics of the homework tasks usually assigned as reported by mathematics teachers.

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Characteristics of the homework tasks assigned by mathematics teachers.

While describing the characteristics of the homework tasks usually assigned, teachers frequently felt the need to compare the quality homework characteristics previously discussed with those practices. In fact, at this stage, teachers’ discourse was often focused on the analysis of the similarities and potential discrepancies found.

The majority of teachers at both school levels in all focus group reported that they assign homework with the purpose of practicing and reviewing the materials covered earlier. Participants at both school levels highlighted the need to practice the contents covered because by the end of 6th- and 9th-grade students have to sit for a national exam for which they have to be trained. This educational context may interfere with the underlying homework purposes teachers have, as this quotation illustrates:

P3 FG3: When teaching mathematics, we set several goals, but our main focus is always the final exam they [students] have to take. I like students who think for themselves, who push themselves out of their comfort zone. However, I’m aware that they have to score high on national exams, otherwise… so, I assign homework to practice the contents covered.

Beyond assigning homework with the purpose of practicing and reviewing, middle school teachers also mentioned assigning homework with the purpose of diagnosing skills and personal development (see Figure 2 ). Many teachers reported that they use homework as a tool to diagnose students’ skills. However, several recognized that they had previously defended the importance of homework to help students to evaluate their own learning (see Figure 1 ). When discussing the latter point, participants observed the need to find out about whether students had understood the content taught in class, and to decide which changes to teaching style, homework assigned, or both may be necessary.

Participant teachers at middle school in all focus groups profusely discussed the purpose of personal development when assigning homework. In fact, not many teachers at this school level mentioned this purpose as a characteristic of quality homework (it was a variant category, so it was not reported), yet it was referred to as a cornerstone in their homework practice. Reflecting on this discrepancy, middle school teachers explained in a displeased tone that their students were expected to have developed study habits and manage their school work with autonomy and responsibility. However, this “educational scenario is rare, so I feel the need to assign homework with this aim [personal development]” (P4 FG9).

Moving further in the discussion, the majority of teachers at both school levels reported to assign whole-class homework (homework designed for the whole class with no focus on special cases). “Individualized homework requires a great amount of time to be monitored” (P1 FG6), explained several participants while recalling earlier comments. Teachers justified their position referring to the impediments already mentioned (e.g., large number of students per class, number of classes from different grade levels which means preparing different lessons). Besides, teachers discussed the challenge of coping with heterogeneous classes, as one participant noted: “the class is so diverse that it is difficult to select homework tasks to address the needs of every single student. I would like to do it…but we do not live in an ideal world” (P9 FG4).

Moreover, teachers at both school levels (see Figure 2 ) reported to assign homework according to the availability of students; still, only elementary school teachers had earlier referred to the importance of this characteristic in quality homework. When teachers were asked to elaborate on this idea, they defended the need to negotiate with students about specific homework characteristics, for example, the amount of homework and submission deadline. In some classes, matching students’ requests, teachers might assign a “weekly homework pack” (P7 FG10). This option provides students with the opportunity to complete homework according to their availability (e.g., choosing some days during the week or weekend). Teachers agreed that ‘negotiation’ fosters students’ engagement and homework compliance (e.g., “I do not agree that students do homework on weekends, but if they show their wish and actually they complete it, for me that’s okay”, P7 FG10). In addition, teachers expressed worry about their students’ often heavy workload. Many students stay in school from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm and then attend extracurricular activities (e.g., soccer training, private music lessons). These activities leave students very little free time to enjoy as they wish, as the following statement suggests:

P8 FG4: Today I talked to a group of 5th-graders which play soccer after school three times a week. They told me that sometimes they study between 10.00 and 11.00 p.m. I was astonished. How is this possible? It’s clearly too much for these kids.

Finally, elementary school teachers in all focus group referred frequency and completion deadlines as characteristics of the homework they usually assign. The majority of teachers informed that they assign homework in almost every class (i.e., teachers reported to exclude tests eves of other subjects), to be handed in the following class.

The photos of the homework assignments (see some examples in Supplementary Material ) submitted by the participating teachers served to triangulate data. The analysis showed that teachers’ discourses about the characteristics of homework assigned and the homework samples are congruent, and added information about the length of homework (elementary and middle schools) and the completion deadlines (middle school) (see Figure 3 ).

Discussion and Implications for Practice and Research

Homework research have reported teachers’ perspectives on their homework practices (e.g., Brock et al., 2007 ; Danielson et al., 2011 ; Kaur, 2011 ; Bang, 2012 ; Kukliansky et al., 2014 ), however, literature lacks research on the quality of homework. This study adds to the literature by examining the perspectives of teachers from two school levels regarding quality homework. Moreover, participants described the characteristics of the homework assignments they typically assign, which triggered the discussion about the match between the characteristics of quality homework and the tasks actually assigned. While discussing these key aspects of the homework process, the current study provides valuable information which may help deepen our understanding of the different contributions of homework to students’ learning. Furthermore, findings are expected to inform teachers and school administrators’ homework practices and, hopefully, improve the quality of students’ learning.

All teachers at both school levels valued homework as an important educational tool for their teaching practice. Consistent with the literature, participants indicated practicing or reviewing the material covered in class as the main purpose of both the homework typically assigned ( Danielson et al., 2011 ; Kaur, 2011 ) and quality homework. Despite the extended use of this homework purpose by teachers, a recent study conducted with mathematics teachers found that homework with the purpose of practicing the material covered in class did not impact significantly the academic achievement of 6th-grade students; however, homework designed with the purpose of solving problems did (extension homework) ( Rosário et al., 2015 ). Interestingly, in the current study only teachers from elementary school mentioned the homework purpose “extension” as being part of quality homework, but these teachers did not report to use it in practice (at least it was not a typical category) (see Figure 2 ). Extension homework was not referenced by middle school teachers either as quality homework or as a characteristic of homework assigned. Given that middle school students are expected to master complex math skills at this level (e.g., National Research Council and Mathematics Learning Study Committee, 2001 ), this finding may help school administrators and teachers reflect on the value and benefits of homework to students learning progress.

Moreover, teachers at both school levels stressed the use of homework as a tool to help students evaluate their own learning as a characteristic of quality homework; however, this purpose was not said to be a characteristic of the homework usually assigned. If teachers do not explicitly emphasize this homework purpose to their students, they may not perceive its importance and lose opportunities to evaluate and improve their work.

In addition, elementary school teachers identified personal development as a characteristic of quality homework. However, only middle school teachers reported assigning homework aiming to promote students’ personal development, and evaluate students’ learning (which does not imply that students evaluate their own learning). These findings are important because existing literature has highlighted the role played by homework in promoting students’ autonomy and learning throughout schooling ( Rosário et al., 2009 , 2011 ; Ramdass and Zimmerman, 2011 ; Núñez et al., 2015b ).

Globally, data show a disconnect between what teachers believe to be the characteristics of quality homework and the characteristics of the homework assigned, which should be further analyzed in depth. For example, teachers reported that middle school students lack the autonomy and responsibility expected for this school level, which translates to poor homework behaviors. In fact, contrary to what they would expect, middle school teachers reported the need to promote students’ personal development (i.e., responsibility and autonomy). This finding is consistent with the decrease of students’ engagement in academic activities found in middle school (e.g., Cleary and Chen, 2009 ; Wang and Eccles, 2012 ). This scenario may present a dilemma to middle school teachers regarding the purposes of homework. On one hand, students should have homework with more demanding purposes (e.g., extension); on another hand, students need to master work habits, responsibility and autonomy, otherwise homework may be counterproductive according to the participating teachers’ perspective.

Additionally, prior research has indicated that classes assigned challenging homework demonstrated high mathematics achievement ( Trautwein et al., 2002 ; Dettmers et al., 2010 ). Moreover, the study by Zakharov et al. (2014) found that Russian high school students from basic and advanced tracks benefited differently from two types of homework (i.e., basic short-answer questions, and open-ended questions with high level of complexity). Results showed that a high proportion of basic or complex homework exercises enhanced mathematics exam performance for students in the basic track; whereas only a high proportion of complex homework exercises enhanced mathematics exam performance for students in the advanced track. In fact, for these students, a low proportion of complex homework exercises was detrimental to their achievement. These findings, together with our own, may help explain why the relationship between homework and mathematics achievement in middle school is lower than in elementary school (see Fan et al., 2017 ). Our findings suggest the need for teachers to reflect upon the importance of assigning homework to promote students’ development in elementary school, and of assigning homework with challenging purposes as students advance in schooling to foster high academic outcomes. There is evidence that even students with poor prior knowledge need assignments with some degree of difficulty to promote their achievement (see Zakharov et al., 2014 ). It is important to note, however, the need to support the autonomy of students (e.g., providing different the types of assignments, opportunities for students to express negative feelings toward tasks, answer students’ questions) to minimize the threat that difficult homework exercises may pose to students’ sense of competence; otherwise an excessively high degree of difficulty can lead to students’ disengagement (see Patall et al., 2018 ). Moreover, teachers should consider students’ interests (e.g., which contents and types of homework tasks students like) and discuss homework purposes with their students to foster their understanding of the tasks assigned and, consequently, their engagement in homework ( Xu, 2010 , 2018 ; Epstein and Van Voorhis, 2012 ; Rosário et al., 2018 ).

We also found differences between teachers’ perspectives of quality homework and their reported homework practices concerning the degree of individualization when assigning homework. Contrary to the perspectives that quality homework stresses individual needs, teachers reported to assign homework to the whole class. In spite of the educational costs associated with assigning homework adjusted to specific students or groups of students (mentioned several times by participants), research has reported benefits for students when homework assignments match their educational needs (e.g., Cooper, 2001 ; Trautwein et al., 2006a ; Zakharov et al., 2014 ). The above-mentioned study by Zakharov et al. (2014) also shed light on this topic while supporting our participants’ suggestion to assign homework with increasing level of difficulty aiming to match the variety of students’ levels of knowledge (see also Dettmers et al., 2010 ). However, teachers did not mention this idea when discussing the characteristic of homework typically assigned. Thus, school administrators may wish to consider training teachers (e.g., using mentoring, see Núñez et al., 2013 ) to help them overcome some of the obstacles faced when designing and assigning homework targeting students’ individual characteristics and learning needs.

Another interesting finding is related to the sub-theme of homework adjusted to the availability of students. This was reported while discussing homework quality (elementary school) and characteristics of homework typically assigned (elementary and middle school). Moreover, some elementary and middle school teachers explained by email the reasons why they did not assign homework in some circumstances [e.g., eves of assessment tests of other subjects, extracurricular activities, short time between classes (last class of the day and next class in the following morning)]. These teachers’ behaviors show concern for students’ well-being, which may positively influence the relationship between students and teachers. As some participants mentioned, “students value this attitude” (P1 FG5). Thus, future research may explore how homework adjusted to the availability of students may contribute to encouraging positive behaviors, emotions and outcomes of students toward their homework.

Data gathered from the photos of the assigned homework tasks allowed a detailed analysis of the length and completion deadlines of homework. Long assignments did not match elementary school teachers’ perspectives of quality homework. However, a long homework was assigned once and aimed to help students practice the material covered for the mathematics assessment test. Here, practices diverged. Some teachers assigned this homework some weeks before and others assign it in last class before the test. For this reason, the “long term” completion deadline was not a typical category, hence not reported. Future research could consider studying the impact of this homework characteristic on students’ behaviors and academic performance.

Finally, our findings show that quality homework, according to teachers’ perspectives, requires attention to a combination of several characteristics of homework. Future studies may include measures to assess characteristics of homework other than “challenge” and “selection” already investigated ( Trautwein et al., 2006b ; Dettmers et al., 2010 ; Rosário et al., 2018 ); for example, homework adjusted to the availability of students.

Strengths and Limitations of the Study

The current study analyzed the teachers’ perspectives on the characteristics of quality homework and of the homework they typically assigned. Despite the incapability to generalize data, we believe that these findings provide important insights into the characteristics that may impact a homework assignment’s effectiveness, especially at middle school level. For example, our results showed a disconnect between teachers’ perspectives about the characteristics of quality homework and the characteristics of the homework they assign. This finding is relevant and emphasizes the need to reflect on the consistency between educational discourses and educational practices. Teachers and school administrators could consider finding opportunities to reflect on this disconnect, which may also occur in other educational practices (e.g., teacher feedback, types of questions asked in class). Present data indicate that middle school teachers reported to assign homework with the major purpose of practicing and reviewing the material, but they also aim to develop students’ responsibility and autonomy; still they neglect homework with the purpose of extension which is focused on encouraging students to display an autonomous role, solve problems and transfer the contents learned (see discussion section). Current findings also highlight the challenges and dilemmas teachers face when they assign homework, which is important to address in teachers’ training. In fact, assigning quality homework, that is, homework that works, is not an easy task for teachers and our findings provide empirical data to discuss and reflect upon its implications for research and educational practice. Although our findings cannot be generalized, still they are expected to provide important clues to enhance teachers’ homework practices in different contexts and educational settings, given that homework is among the most universal educational practices in the classroom, is a topic of public debate (e.g., some arguments against homework are related to the characteristics of the assignments, and to the malpractices in using this educational tool) and an active area of research in many countries ( Fan et al., 2017 ).

Moreover, these findings have identified some of the most common obstacles teachers struggle with; such data may be useful to school administrators when designing policies and to teacher training. The administrative obstacles (e.g., large number of students per class) reported by teachers may help understand some of the discrepancies found between teachers’ definition of quality homework and their actual homework practices (e.g., degree of individualization), and also identify which problems related to homework may require intervention. Furthermore, future research could further investigate this topic by interviewing teachers, videotaping classroom activities and discussing data in order to design new avenues of homework practices.

We share the perspective of Trautwein et al. (2006b) on the importance of mapping the characteristics of homework positively associated with students’ homework behaviors. Data from this study may inform future studies analyzing these relationships, promote adaptive homework behaviors and enhance learning.

Methodologically, this research followed rigorous procedures to increase the trustworthiness of findings, improving the validity of the study (e.g., Lincoln and Guba, 1985 ) that should be accounted for. Data from two data sources (i.e., focus groups and the homework assignments photographed) were consistent, and the member checking conducted in both phases allowed the opportunity to learn that the findings of the focus group seem to accurately reflect the overall teachers’ perspectives regarding quality homework and their homework practices.

Despite the promising contributions of this study to the body of research regarding homework practices, this specific research provides an incomplete perspective of the homework process as it has only addressed the perspectives of one of the agents involved. Future research may consider analyzing students’ perspectives about the same topic and contrast data with those of teachers. Findings are expected to help us identify the homework characteristics most highly valued by students and learn about whether they match those of teachers.

Furthermore, data from homework assignments (photos) were provided by 25% of the participating teachers and for a short period of time (i.e., three weeks in one school term). Future research may consider conducting small-scale studies by collecting data from various sources of information aiming at triangulating data (e.g., analyzing homework assignments given in class, interviewing students, conducting in-class observations) at different times of the school year. Researchers should also consider conducting similar studies in different subjects to compare data and inform teachers’ training.

Finally, our participants’ description does not include data regarding the teaching methodology followed by teachers in class. However, due to the potential interference of this variable in results, future research may consider collect and report data regarding school modality and the teaching methodology followed in class.

Homework is an instructional tool that has proved to enhance students’ learning ( Cooper et al., 2006 ; Fernández-Alonso et al., 2015 ; Valle et al., 2016 ; Fan et al., 2017 ; Rosário et al., 2018 ). Still, homework is a complex process and needs to be analyzed thoroughly. For instance, when planning and designing homework, teachers need to choose a set of homework characteristics (e.g., frequency, purposes, degree of individualization, see Cooper, 2001 ; Trautwein et al., 2006b ) considering students’ attributes (e.g., Cooper, 2001 ), which may pose a daily challenge even for experienced teachers as those of the current study. Regardless of grade level, quality homework results from the balance of a set of homework characteristics, several of which were addressed by our participants. As our data suggest, teachers need time and space to reflect on their practices and design homework tasks suited for their students. To improve the quality of homework design, school administrators may consider organizing teacher training addressing theoretical models of homework assignment and related research, discussing homework characteristics and their influence on students’ homework behaviors (e.g., amount of homework completed, homework effort), and academic achievement. We believe that this training would increase teachers’ knowledge and self-efficacy beliefs to develop homework practices best suited to their students’ needs, manage work obstacles and, hopefully, assign quality homework.

Ethics Statement

This study was reviewed and approved by the ethics committee of the University of Minho. All research participants provided written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Author Contributions

PR and TN substantially contributed to the conception and the design of the work. TN and JC were responsible for the literature search. JC, TN, AN, and TM were responsible for the acquisition, analysis, and interpretation of data for the work. PR was also in charge of technical guidance. JN made important intellectual contribution in manuscript revision. PR, JC, and TN wrote the manuscript with valuable inputs from the remaining authors. All authors agreed for all aspects of the work and approved the version to be published.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Fuensanta Monroy and Connor Holmes for the English editing of the manuscript.

Funding. This study was conducted at Psychology Research Centre, University of Minho, and supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science through national funds and when applicable co-financed by FEDER under the PT2020 Partnership Agreement (UID/PSI/01662/2013). PR was supported by the research projects EDU2013-44062-P (MINECO) and EDU2017-82984-P (MEIC). TN was supported by a Ph.D. fellowship (SFRH/BD/80405/2011) from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).

Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00224/full#supplementary-material

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A daughter sits at a desk doing homework while her mom stands beside her helping

Credit: August de Richelieu

Does homework still have value? A Johns Hopkins education expert weighs in

Joyce epstein, co-director of the center on school, family, and community partnerships, discusses why homework is essential, how to maximize its benefit to learners, and what the 'no-homework' approach gets wrong.

By Vicky Hallett

The necessity of homework has been a subject of debate since at least as far back as the 1890s, according to Joyce L. Epstein , co-director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University. "It's always been the case that parents, kids—and sometimes teachers, too—wonder if this is just busy work," Epstein says.

But after decades of researching how to improve schools, the professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Education remains certain that homework is essential—as long as the teachers have done their homework, too. The National Network of Partnership Schools , which she founded in 1995 to advise schools and districts on ways to improve comprehensive programs of family engagement, has developed hundreds of improved homework ideas through its Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork program. For an English class, a student might interview a parent on popular hairstyles from their youth and write about the differences between then and now. Or for science class, a family could identify forms of matter over the dinner table, labeling foods as liquids or solids. These innovative and interactive assignments not only reinforce concepts from the classroom but also foster creativity, spark discussions, and boost student motivation.

"We're not trying to eliminate homework procedures, but expand and enrich them," says Epstein, who is packing this research into a forthcoming book on the purposes and designs of homework. In the meantime, the Hub couldn't wait to ask her some questions:

What kind of homework training do teachers typically get?

Future teachers and administrators really have little formal training on how to design homework before they assign it. This means that most just repeat what their teachers did, or they follow textbook suggestions at the end of units. For example, future teachers are well prepared to teach reading and literacy skills at each grade level, and they continue to learn to improve their teaching of reading in ongoing in-service education. By contrast, most receive little or no training on the purposes and designs of homework in reading or other subjects. It is really important for future teachers to receive systematic training to understand that they have the power, opportunity, and obligation to design homework with a purpose.

Why do students need more interactive homework?

If homework assignments are always the same—10 math problems, six sentences with spelling words—homework can get boring and some kids just stop doing their assignments, especially in the middle and high school years. When we've asked teachers what's the best homework you've ever had or designed, invariably we hear examples of talking with a parent or grandparent or peer to share ideas. To be clear, parents should never be asked to "teach" seventh grade science or any other subject. Rather, teachers set up the homework assignments so that the student is in charge. It's always the student's homework. But a good activity can engage parents in a fun, collaborative way. Our data show that with "good" assignments, more kids finish their work, more kids interact with a family partner, and more parents say, "I learned what's happening in the curriculum." It all works around what the youngsters are learning.

Is family engagement really that important?

At Hopkins, I am part of the Center for Social Organization of Schools , a research center that studies how to improve many aspects of education to help all students do their best in school. One thing my colleagues and I realized was that we needed to look deeply into family and community engagement. There were so few references to this topic when we started that we had to build the field of study. When children go to school, their families "attend" with them whether a teacher can "see" the parents or not. So, family engagement is ever-present in the life of a school.

My daughter's elementary school doesn't assign homework until third grade. What's your take on "no homework" policies?

There are some parents, writers, and commentators who have argued against homework, especially for very young children. They suggest that children should have time to play after school. This, of course is true, but many kindergarten kids are excited to have homework like their older siblings. If they give homework, most teachers of young children make assignments very short—often following an informal rule of 10 minutes per grade level. "No homework" does not guarantee that all students will spend their free time in productive and imaginative play.

Some researchers and critics have consistently misinterpreted research findings. They have argued that homework should be assigned only at the high school level where data point to a strong connection of doing assignments with higher student achievement . However, as we discussed, some students stop doing homework. This leads, statistically, to results showing that doing homework or spending more minutes on homework is linked to higher student achievement. If slow or struggling students are not doing their assignments, they contribute to—or cause—this "result."

Teachers need to design homework that even struggling students want to do because it is interesting. Just about all students at any age level react positively to good assignments and will tell you so.

Did COVID change how schools and parents view homework?

Within 24 hours of the day school doors closed in March 2020, just about every school and district in the country figured out that teachers had to talk to and work with students' parents. This was not the same as homeschooling—teachers were still working hard to provide daily lessons. But if a child was learning at home in the living room, parents were more aware of what they were doing in school. One of the silver linings of COVID was that teachers reported that they gained a better understanding of their students' families. We collected wonderfully creative examples of activities from members of the National Network of Partnership Schools. I'm thinking of one art activity where every child talked with a parent about something that made their family unique. Then they drew their finding on a snowflake and returned it to share in class. In math, students talked with a parent about something the family liked so much that they could represent it 100 times. Conversations about schoolwork at home was the point.

How did you create so many homework activities via the Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork program?

We had several projects with educators to help them design interactive assignments, not just "do the next three examples on page 38." Teachers worked in teams to create TIPS activities, and then we turned their work into a standard TIPS format in math, reading/language arts, and science for grades K-8. Any teacher can use or adapt our prototypes to match their curricula.

Overall, we know that if future teachers and practicing educators were prepared to design homework assignments to meet specific purposes—including but not limited to interactive activities—more students would benefit from the important experience of doing their homework. And more parents would, indeed, be partners in education.

Posted in Voices+Opinion

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Are You Down With or Done With Homework?

  • Posted January 17, 2012
  • By Lory Hough

Sign: Are you down with or done with homework?

The debate over how much schoolwork students should be doing at home has flared again, with one side saying it's too much, the other side saying in our competitive world, it's just not enough.

It was a move that doesn't happen very often in American public schools: The principal got rid of homework.

This past September, Stephanie Brant, principal of Gaithersburg Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Md., decided that instead of teachers sending kids home with math worksheets and spelling flash cards, students would instead go home and read. Every day for 30 minutes, more if they had time or the inclination, with parents or on their own.

"I knew this would be a big shift for my community," she says. But she also strongly believed it was a necessary one. Twenty-first-century learners, especially those in elementary school, need to think critically and understand their own learning — not spend night after night doing rote homework drills.

Brant's move may not be common, but she isn't alone in her questioning. The value of doing schoolwork at home has gone in and out of fashion in the United States among educators, policymakers, the media, and, more recently, parents. As far back as the late 1800s, with the rise of the Progressive Era, doctors such as Joseph Mayer Rice began pushing for a limit on what he called "mechanical homework," saying it caused childhood nervous conditions and eyestrain. Around that time, the then-influential Ladies Home Journal began publishing a series of anti-homework articles, stating that five hours of brain work a day was "the most we should ask of our children," and that homework was an intrusion on family life. In response, states like California passed laws abolishing homework for students under a certain age.

But, as is often the case with education, the tide eventually turned. After the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, a space race emerged, and, writes Brian Gill in the journal Theory Into Practice, "The homework problem was reconceived as part of a national crisis; the U.S. was losing the Cold War because Russian children were smarter." Many earlier laws limiting homework were abolished, and the longterm trend toward less homework came to an end.

The debate re-emerged a decade later when parents of the late '60s and '70s argued that children should be free to play and explore — similar anti-homework wellness arguments echoed nearly a century earlier. By the early-1980s, however, the pendulum swung again with the publication of A Nation at Risk , which blamed poor education for a "rising tide of mediocrity." Students needed to work harder, the report said, and one way to do this was more homework.

For the most part, this pro-homework sentiment is still going strong today, in part because of mandatory testing and continued economic concerns about the nation's competitiveness. Many believe that today's students are falling behind their peers in places like Korea and Finland and are paying more attention to Angry Birds than to ancient Babylonia.

But there are also a growing number of Stephanie Brants out there, educators and parents who believe that students are stressed and missing out on valuable family time. Students, they say, particularly younger students who have seen a rise in the amount of take-home work and already put in a six- to nine-hour "work" day, need less, not more homework.

Who is right? Are students not working hard enough or is homework not working for them? Here's where the story gets a little tricky: It depends on whom you ask and what research you're looking at. As Cathy Vatterott, the author of Rethinking Homework , points out, "Homework has generated enough research so that a study can be found to support almost any position, as long as conflicting studies are ignored." Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth and a strong believer in eliminating all homework, writes that, "The fact that there isn't anything close to unanimity among experts belies the widespread assumption that homework helps." At best, he says, homework shows only an association, not a causal relationship, with academic achievement. In other words, it's hard to tease out how homework is really affecting test scores and grades. Did one teacher give better homework than another? Was one teacher more effective in the classroom? Do certain students test better or just try harder?

"It is difficult to separate where the effect of classroom teaching ends," Vatterott writes, "and the effect of homework begins."

Putting research aside, however, much of the current debate over homework is focused less on how homework affects academic achievement and more on time. Parents in particular have been saying that the amount of time children spend in school, especially with afterschool programs, combined with the amount of homework given — as early as kindergarten — is leaving students with little time to run around, eat dinner with their families, or even get enough sleep.

Certainly, for some parents, homework is a way to stay connected to their children's learning. But for others, homework creates a tug-of-war between parents and children, says Liz Goodenough, M.A.T.'71, creator of a documentary called Where Do the Children Play?

"Ideally homework should be about taking something home, spending a few curious and interesting moments in which children might engage with parents, and then getting that project back to school — an organizational triumph," she says. "A nag-free activity could engage family time: Ask a parent about his or her own childhood. Interview siblings."

Illustration by Jessica Esch

Instead, as the authors of The Case Against Homework write, "Homework overload is turning many of us into the types of parents we never wanted to be: nags, bribers, and taskmasters."

Leslie Butchko saw it happen a few years ago when her son started sixth grade in the Santa Monica-Malibu (Calif.) United School District. She remembers him getting two to four hours of homework a night, plus weekend and vacation projects. He was overwhelmed and struggled to finish assignments, especially on nights when he also had an extracurricular activity.

"Ultimately, we felt compelled to have Bobby quit karate — he's a black belt — to allow more time for homework," she says. And then, with all of their attention focused on Bobby's homework, she and her husband started sending their youngest to his room so that Bobby could focus. "One day, my younger son gave us 15-minute coupons as a present for us to use to send him to play in the back room. … It was then that we realized there had to be something wrong with the amount of homework we were facing."

Butchko joined forces with another mother who was having similar struggles and ultimately helped get the homework policy in her district changed, limiting homework on weekends and holidays, setting time guidelines for daily homework, and broadening the definition of homework to include projects and studying for tests. As she told the school board at one meeting when the policy was first being discussed, "In closing, I just want to say that I had more free time at Harvard Law School than my son has in middle school, and that is not in the best interests of our children."

One barrier that Butchko had to overcome initially was convincing many teachers and parents that more homework doesn't necessarily equal rigor.

"Most of the parents that were against the homework policy felt that students need a large quantity of homework to prepare them for the rigorous AP classes in high school and to get them into Harvard," she says.

Stephanie Conklin, Ed.M.'06, sees this at Another Course to College, the Boston pilot school where she teaches math. "When a student is not completing [his or her] homework, parents usually are frustrated by this and agree with me that homework is an important part of their child's learning," she says.

As Timothy Jarman, Ed.M.'10, a ninth-grade English teacher at Eugene Ashley High School in Wilmington, N.C., says, "Parents think it is strange when their children are not assigned a substantial amount of homework."

That's because, writes Vatterott, in her chapter, "The Cult(ure) of Homework," the concept of homework "has become so engrained in U.S. culture that the word homework is part of the common vernacular."

These days, nightly homework is a given in American schools, writes Kohn.

"Homework isn't limited to those occasions when it seems appropriate and important. Most teachers and administrators aren't saying, 'It may be useful to do this particular project at home,'" he writes. "Rather, the point of departure seems to be, 'We've decided ahead of time that children will have to do something every night (or several times a week). … This commitment to the idea of homework in the abstract is accepted by the overwhelming majority of schools — public and private, elementary and secondary."

Brant had to confront this when she cut homework at Gaithersburg Elementary.

"A lot of my parents have this idea that homework is part of life. This is what I had to do when I was young," she says, and so, too, will our kids. "So I had to shift their thinking." She did this slowly, first by asking her teachers last year to really think about what they were sending home. And this year, in addition to forming a parent advisory group around the issue, she also holds events to answer questions.

Still, not everyone is convinced that homework as a given is a bad thing. "Any pursuit of excellence, be it in sports, the arts, or academics, requires hard work. That our culture finds it okay for kids to spend hours a day in a sport but not equal time on academics is part of the problem," wrote one pro-homework parent on the blog for the documentary Race to Nowhere , which looks at the stress American students are under. "Homework has always been an issue for parents and children. It is now and it was 20 years ago. I think when people decide to have children that it is their responsibility to educate them," wrote another.

And part of educating them, some believe, is helping them develop skills they will eventually need in adulthood. "Homework can help students develop study skills that will be of value even after they leave school," reads a publication on the U.S. Department of Education website called Homework Tips for Parents. "It can teach them that learning takes place anywhere, not just in the classroom. … It can foster positive character traits such as independence and responsibility. Homework can teach children how to manage time."

Annie Brown, Ed.M.'01, feels this is particularly critical at less affluent schools like the ones she has worked at in Boston, Cambridge, Mass., and Los Angeles as a literacy coach.

"It feels important that my students do homework because they will ultimately be competing for college placement and jobs with students who have done homework and have developed a work ethic," she says. "Also it will get them ready for independently taking responsibility for their learning, which will need to happen for them to go to college."

The problem with this thinking, writes Vatterott, is that homework becomes a way to practice being a worker.

"Which begs the question," she writes. "Is our job as educators to produce learners or workers?"

Slate magazine editor Emily Bazelon, in a piece about homework, says this makes no sense for younger kids.

"Why should we think that practicing homework in first grade will make you better at doing it in middle school?" she writes. "Doesn't the opposite seem equally plausible: that it's counterproductive to ask children to sit down and work at night before they're developmentally ready because you'll just make them tired and cross?"

Kohn writes in the American School Board Journal that this "premature exposure" to practices like homework (and sit-and-listen lessons and tests) "are clearly a bad match for younger children and of questionable value at any age." He calls it BGUTI: Better Get Used to It. "The logic here is that we have to prepare you for the bad things that are going to be done to you later … by doing them to you now."

According to a recent University of Michigan study, daily homework for six- to eight-year-olds increased on average from about 8 minutes in 1981 to 22 minutes in 2003. A review of research by Duke University Professor Harris Cooper found that for elementary school students, "the average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement … hovered around zero."

So should homework be eliminated? Of course not, say many Ed School graduates who are teaching. Not only would students not have time for essays and long projects, but also teachers would not be able to get all students to grade level or to cover critical material, says Brett Pangburn, Ed.M.'06, a sixth-grade English teacher at Excel Academy Charter School in Boston. Still, he says, homework has to be relevant.

"Kids need to practice the skills being taught in class, especially where, like the kids I teach at Excel, they are behind and need to catch up," he says. "Our results at Excel have demonstrated that kids can catch up and view themselves as in control of their academic futures, but this requires hard work, and homework is a part of it."

Ed School Professor Howard Gardner basically agrees.

"America and Americans lurch between too little homework in many of our schools to an excess of homework in our most competitive environments — Li'l Abner vs. Tiger Mother," he says. "Neither approach makes sense. Homework should build on what happens in class, consolidating skills and helping students to answer new questions."

So how can schools come to a happy medium, a way that allows teachers to cover everything they need while not overwhelming students? Conklin says she often gives online math assignments that act as labs and students have two or three days to complete them, including some in-class time. Students at Pangburn's school have a 50-minute silent period during regular school hours where homework can be started, and where teachers pull individual or small groups of students aside for tutoring, often on that night's homework. Afterschool homework clubs can help.

Some schools and districts have adapted time limits rather than nix homework completely, with the 10-minute per grade rule being the standard — 10 minutes a night for first-graders, 30 minutes for third-graders, and so on. (This remedy, however, is often met with mixed results since not all students work at the same pace.) Other schools offer an extended day that allows teachers to cover more material in school, in turn requiring fewer take-home assignments. And for others, like Stephanie Brant's elementary school in Maryland, more reading with a few targeted project assignments has been the answer.

"The routine of reading is so much more important than the routine of homework," she says. "Let's have kids reflect. You can still have the routine and you can still have your workspace, but now it's for reading. I often say to parents, if we can put a man on the moon, we can put a man or woman on Mars and that person is now a second-grader. We don't know what skills that person will need. At the end of the day, we have to feel confident that we're giving them something they can use on Mars."

Read a January 2014 update.

Homework Policy Still Going Strong

Illustration by Jessica Esch

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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Homework vs. No Homework Is the Wrong Question

Does your school have a homework policy? How does your school ensure that teachers don’t overload students with busy work?

Two young boys wearing backpacks rushing down the front steps of school

The real question we should be asking is, "What do we believe should happen after the end of the school day to help ensure that students retain what they have learned and are primed to learn more?" Any answer with the word, "work" in its name, as in "homework," is not typically going to be met with eagerness or enthusiasm by students.

Ideally, we want children to understand that they are always learners. In school, we refer to them as "students" but outside of school, as children, they are still learners. So it makes no sense to even advertise a "no homework" policy in a school. It sends the wrong message. The policy should be, "No time-wasting, rote, repetitive tasks will be assigned that lack clear instructional or learning purposes."

A realistic homework strategy should be a key topic of back-to-school night and the first parent-teacher conferences of the school year. But it should also reflect a considered school policy and not simply be up to each individual teacher to carry out according to his or own theory of student learning. Another advantage of this approach is to ensure that individual children are not inadvertently overloaded with demands from teachers who may not know what other teachers are asking of the same student. This is a particular concern in secondary schools.

Home Activities That Matter the Most

Children should be encouraged to read, write, perform arithmetic, better understand the world around them in terms of civics, science, and the arts, and, of course, develop their people skills -- their emotional intelligence. This encouragement should be part of everyday family interactions outside of school, and the school should provide developmental guidance to all parents, in the appropriate languages, to help them do this. For some children, specialized guidance will be needed, and this, too, should be provided proactively to parents.

Some parents will select focused programs or after-school experiences to help foster their children's learning in one or more of the aforementioned areas. To promote equity within and across schools, communities should think about how to make these kinds of experiences available to all children in high-quality ways -- without undue or unrealistic expense to families.

Of course, some teachers will have specific, creative ideas about how learning can be enhanced at home, in the context of particular units of study in school. Maybe what we need is a new word for all this. Instead of "homework," how about "continued learning" or "ongoing growth activities?"

Parents Playing Their Part

Finally, students' learning would be greatly enhanced by schools taking a clear stance about supporting good parenting. My colleague Yoni Schwab and I have written about the importance of parents focusing on parenting as a priority, and secondarily working on assisting schools with educational issues (Elias, M. J., and Schwab, Y., 2004).

Aspects of good parenting that could be encouraged by schools include workshops, family nights, and discussion series on ways to promote:

  • Children's social-emotional and character development
  • Parents spending more time directly interacting with their kids in enjoyable ways
  • Parents visibly showing how much they value the importance of education and effort
  • Parents monitoring their children's use of and exposure to electronic media
  • Children's "continued learning" in as many possible opportunities during everyday household routines
  • Above all, schools should remind parents to never lose sight of modeling for their children the value of close relationships, support, caring, and fun. That is the most important home work of all.

Elias, M. J., and Schwab, Y. (2004). What About Parental Involvement in Parenting? The Case for Home-Focused School-Parent Partnerships. Education Week, 24 (8), 39,41.

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TO GIVE OR NOT TO GIVE HOMEWORK…That is the question!

The amount of homework students are given differs greatly across grade levels and states. Some students are given hours of work while other students are assigned little or no work to be done at home.

So what’s appropriate? What is the purpose of homework? What are the advantages and disadvantages of homework? How much homework should be assigned? How important is the quality of the assignments? And most importantly: Does homework increase student achievement?

These questions represent the ongoing debate surrounding homework for the past two decades. According to a survey by the University of Michigan , homework has doubled over the last twenty years, especially in the younger grades, due to the school’s requirement to meet higher-than-ever achievement goals for children. Although homework has academic and non-academic advantages and disadvantages, the majority of studies conducted reveal inconclusive evidence that assigning homework increases student achievement. Most studies show positive effects for certain students, others suggest no effects, and some even suggest negative effects according to research by Alfie Kohn , an independent scholar (2006).

Let’s begin with the purpose of homework…

Educators assign homework for different reasons and purposes. Homework is assigned either as practice , preparation , extension , or integration of grade-level skills and concepts.

PRACTICE HOMEWORK reinforces learning from the skills and concepts already taught in the classroom. Practice homework promotes retention and automaticity of the concept , skill, and content taught. Examples include practicing multiplication facts or writing simple sentences in order to commit theses skills and concepts to long-term memory .

PREPARATION HOMEWORK is assigned to introduce content that will be addressed in future lessons. However, research suggests that homework is less effective if it is used to teach new or complex skills. For these types of assignments, students typically become stressed which can create a negative perspective towards learning and school.

EXTENSION HOMEWORK requires students to use previously taught skills and concepts and apply them to new situations or projects. For instance, students may use the concept of area and perimeter to build a flowerbed.

INTEGRATION HOMEWORK requires the student to apply learned skills and concepts to produce a single project like reading a book and writing a report on it.

Homework also serves other purposes not directly related to instruction. Homework can help establish communication between parents and children; it can be used as a form of discipline; and it can inform parents about school topics and activities.

The Homework Debate

The homework debate often focuses on how and why homework affects student learning and achievement. Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology, and colleagues (2006) found there are both positive and negative consequences of homework.

The Benefits

Homework provides practice with content, concepts, and skills taught at school by the teacher. It can foster retention and understanding of the academic content. Some studies suggest that homework correlates with student achievement. Cooper, Robinson, and Patall (2006) discovered a positive correlation between the amount of the homework students do and their achievement at the secondary level. Some studies also suggest that assigning homework improves the achievement of low-performing students and students in low-performing schools. However, the correlation between student achievement and homework given to elementary students is inconclusive. Most research only supports homework for middle and high school students (Cooper 1989a; Kohn 2006).

There are also non-academic reasons for assigning homework. Corno and Xu (2004) discovered that homework fosters independence, develops time-management skills, and teaches responsibility. Assigning homework to primary age students can establish better study habits and skills for secondary education (Bempechat, 2004). Homework promotes a positive attitude towards school and keeps families informed about their child’s learning.

The Potential Harm

Homework also has negative associations. It can lead to boredom if the student has already mastered the skills, and it can lead to loss of interest in school due to burnout.  Cheating is involved with homework by either copying another student’s work or when help is received from adults in an attempt to finish all the assignments.  Also, assigning excessive amounts of homework may result in unneeded stress and pressure on the child, which affects the student’s emotions, behaviors, thinking ability, and physical health.

The correlation between homework and student achievement is inconsistent. In The Battle Over Homework , Cooper determined that the average correlation between the time primary children spent on homework and achievement was around zero. Not to mention, the amount of homework completed had no effect on test scores.  David Baker and Gerald  LeTendre, professors of education at Penn State , found that countries that assign minimal amounts of homework, like Japan, were the most successful school systems compared to Greece and Iran school systems where students are given a lot of work.

Another concern surrounding homework is its interference with the student’s time to relax and take their minds off work as well as family time. Students are spending too much time completing homework assignments instead of playing outside or enjoying leisure activities, which teach and enhance important life skills.

In addition, homework decreases the time spent with family. As Alfie Kohn states in The Homework Myth , “ Why should children be asked to work a second shift? It’s unconscionable to send children to work for nearly eight hours a day, then have them go home and work for 2-5 more hours. Secondly, it reduces the amount of time that children could be spending with their families. Family time is especially important to a growing child and without it social problems can crop up and a family unit can be compromised by a lack of time being spent together .”

The Amount of Homework

The frequency and duration of each assignment does not necessarily suggest a correlation between homework and student achievement. “ We found that for kids in elementary school there was hardly any relationship between how much homework young children did and how well they were doing in school, but in middle school the relationship is positive and increases until the kids were doing between an hour to two hours a night, which is right where the 10-minute rule says it’s going to be optimal,” stated Harris Cooper. The 10-minute rule was created by the National PTA which suggests 10 minutes per a grade should be assigned (e.g., 70 minutes for 7 th grade). “After that it didn’t go up anymore. Kids that reported doing more than two hours of homework in middle school weren’t doing any better in school than kids who were doing between an hour to two hours ,” said Harris Cooper.

Quantity Versus Quality

Effective homework is homework with a purpose. According to Cooper, some teachers assign ‘shotgun homework’ : blanket drills, questions, and problems. Students are given homework that is not furthering the concepts and skills. The homework is assigned because it has been drilled into our collective mind that homework produces higher performing students. However, homework is most effective when it covers material already taught, is given for review, or is used to reinforce skills previously learned. Students should not be assigned homework on concepts and skills they do not grasp.

DataWORKS Educational Research recommends assigning homework to provide additional repetitions of the content to promote retention and automaticity . The reason for homework is to practice the content, NOT to learn the content.  Students learn the content (skills and concepts) from the lesson taught at school. Students need to be able to complete the work at home without assistance because some students do not have an English-speaking parents or guardians to help them.

In conclusion, research is inconsistent in determining if homework increases student achievement. As educators, the amount, frequency, and the purpose should be considered prior to assigning homework. Homework should be used effectively! Instead of the quantity of homework, educators should improve the quality of the assignments. Homework assignments must be well-designed.  So, when assigning homework, please consider the effectiveness of it, homework should positively impact the student learning. Otherwise, the debate about homework will continue without an answer – to give or not to give !

Kohn, Alfie (2007). Rethinking Homework .

Kohn, Alfie.   The Homework Myth:  Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing  (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006).

Cooper, H. (1989).  Homework.  White Plains, NY: Longman.

Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research .  1987–2003.  Review of Educational Research, 76 (1), 1–62.

What is your stance on homework? What do you think is an appropriate amount of homework? Why do you assign homework? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

Author:  patricia bogdanovich.

Patricia has held various positions with DataWORKS since 2002. She currently works as a Curriculum Specialist. Patricia helped develop and create many of the early resources and workshops designed by DataWORKS, and she is an expert in analysis of standards. Patricia plans to blog about curriculum and assessments for CCSS and NGSS, classroom strategies, and news and research from the world of education.

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11 Surprising Homework Statistics, Facts & Data

homework pros and cons

The age-old question of whether homework is good or bad for students is unanswerable because there are so many “ it depends ” factors.

For example, it depends on the age of the child, the type of homework being assigned, and even the child’s needs.

There are also many conflicting reports on whether homework is good or bad. This is a topic that largely relies on data interpretation for the researcher to come to their conclusions.

To cut through some of the fog, below I’ve outlined some great homework statistics that can help us understand the effects of homework on children.

Homework Statistics List

1. 45% of parents think homework is too easy for their children.

A study by the Center for American Progress found that parents are almost twice as likely to believe their children’s homework is too easy than to disagree with that statement.

Here are the figures for math homework:

  • 46% of parents think their child’s math homework is too easy.
  • 25% of parents think their child’s math homework is not too easy.
  • 29% of parents offered no opinion.

Here are the figures for language arts homework:

  • 44% of parents think their child’s language arts homework is too easy.
  • 28% of parents think their child’s language arts homework is not too easy.
  • 28% of parents offered no opinion.

These findings are based on online surveys of 372 parents of school-aged children conducted in 2018.

2. 93% of Fourth Grade Children Worldwide are Assigned Homework

The prestigious worldwide math assessment Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) took a survey of worldwide homework trends in 2007. Their study concluded that 93% of fourth-grade children are regularly assigned homework, while just 7% never or rarely have homework assigned.

3. 17% of Teens Regularly Miss Homework due to Lack of High-Speed Internet Access

A 2018 Pew Research poll of 743 US teens found that 17%, or almost 2 in every 5 students, regularly struggled to complete homework because they didn’t have reliable access to the internet.

This figure rose to 25% of Black American teens and 24% of teens whose families have an income of less than $30,000 per year.

4. Parents Spend 6.7 Hours Per Week on their Children’s Homework

A 2018 study of 27,500 parents around the world found that the average amount of time parents spend on homework with their child is 6.7 hours per week. Furthermore, 25% of parents spend more than 7 hours per week on their child’s homework.

American parents spend slightly below average at 6.2 hours per week, while Indian parents spend 12 hours per week and Japanese parents spend 2.6 hours per week.

5. Students in High-Performing High Schools Spend on Average 3.1 Hours per night Doing Homework

A study by Galloway, Conner & Pope (2013) conducted a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California. 

Across these high-performing schools, students self-reported that they did 3.1 hours per night of homework.

Graduates from those schools also ended up going on to college 93% of the time.

6. One to Two Hours is the Optimal Duration for Homework

A 2012 peer-reviewed study in the High School Journal found that students who conducted between one and two hours achieved higher results in tests than any other group.

However, the authors were quick to highlight that this “t is an oversimplification of a much more complex problem.” I’m inclined to agree. The greater variable is likely the quality of the homework than time spent on it.

Nevertheless, one result was unequivocal: that some homework is better than none at all : “students who complete any amount of homework earn higher test scores than their peers who do not complete homework.”

7. 74% of Teens cite Homework as a Source of Stress

A study by the Better Sleep Council found that homework is a source of stress for 74% of students. Only school grades, at 75%, rated higher in the study.

That figure rises for girls, with 80% of girls citing homework as a source of stress.

Similarly, the study by Galloway, Conner & Pope (2013) found that 56% of students cite homework as a “primary stressor” in their lives.

8. US Teens Spend more than 15 Hours per Week on Homework

The same study by the Better Sleep Council also found that US teens spend over 2 hours per school night on homework, and overall this added up to over 15 hours per week.

Surprisingly, 4% of US teens say they do more than 6 hours of homework per night. That’s almost as much homework as there are hours in the school day.

The only activity that teens self-reported as doing more than homework was engaging in electronics, which included using phones, playing video games, and watching TV.

9. The 10-Minute Rule

The National Education Association (USA) endorses the concept of doing 10 minutes of homework per night per grade.

For example, if you are in 3rd grade, you should do 30 minutes of homework per night. If you are in 4th grade, you should do 40 minutes of homework per night.

However, this ‘rule’ appears not to be based in sound research. Nevertheless, it is true that homework benefits (no matter the quality of the homework) will likely wane after 2 hours (120 minutes) per night, which would be the NEA guidelines’ peak in grade 12.

10. 21.9% of Parents are Too Busy for their Children’s Homework

An online poll of nearly 300 parents found that 21.9% are too busy to review their children’s homework. On top of this, 31.6% of parents do not look at their children’s homework because their children do not want their help. For these parents, their children’s unwillingness to accept their support is a key source of frustration.

11. 46.5% of Parents find Homework too Hard

The same online poll of parents of children from grades 1 to 12 also found that many parents struggle to help their children with homework because parents find it confusing themselves. Unfortunately, the study did not ask the age of the students so more data is required here to get a full picture of the issue.

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Interpreting the Data

Unfortunately, homework is one of those topics that can be interpreted by different people pursuing differing agendas. All studies of homework have a wide range of variables, such as:

  • What age were the children in the study?
  • What was the homework they were assigned?
  • What tools were available to them?
  • What were the cultural attitudes to homework and how did they impact the study?
  • Is the study replicable?

The more questions we ask about the data, the more we realize that it’s hard to come to firm conclusions about the pros and cons of homework .

Furthermore, questions about the opportunity cost of homework remain. Even if homework is good for children’s test scores, is it worthwhile if the children consequently do less exercise or experience more stress?

Thus, this ends up becoming a largely qualitative exercise. If parents and teachers zoom in on an individual child’s needs, they’ll be able to more effectively understand how much homework a child needs as well as the type of homework they should be assigned.

Related: Funny Homework Excuses

The debate over whether homework should be banned will not be resolved with these homework statistics. But, these facts and figures can help you to pursue a position in a school debate on the topic – and with that, I hope your debate goes well and you develop some great debating skills!

Chris

Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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School Life Balance , Tips for Online Students

The Pros and Cons of Homework

Updated: December 7, 2023

Published: January 23, 2020

The-Pros-and-Cons-Should-Students-Have-Homework

Homework is a word that most students dread hearing. After hours upon hours of sitting in class , the last thing we want is more schoolwork over our precious weekends. While it’s known to be a staple of traditional schooling, homework has also become a rather divise topic. Some feel as though homework is a necessary part of school, while others believe that the time could be better invested. Should students have homework? Have a closer look into the arguments on both sides to decide for yourself.

A college student completely swamped with homework.

Photo by  energepic.com  from  Pexels

Why should students have homework, 1. homework encourages practice.

Many people believe that one of the positive effects of homework is that it encourages the discipline of practice. While it may be time consuming and boring compared to other activities, repetition is needed to get better at skills. Homework helps make concepts more clear, and gives students more opportunities when starting their career .

2. Homework Gets Parents Involved

Homework can be something that gets parents involved in their children’s lives if the environment is a healthy one. A parent helping their child with homework makes them take part in their academic success, and allows for the parent to keep up with what the child is doing in school. It can also be a chance to connect together.

3. Homework Teaches Time Management

Homework is much more than just completing the assigned tasks. Homework can develop time management skills , forcing students to plan their time and make sure that all of their homework assignments are done on time. By learning to manage their time, students also practice their problem-solving skills and independent thinking. One of the positive effects of homework is that it forces decision making and compromises to be made.

4. Homework Opens A Bridge Of Communication

Homework creates a connection between the student, the teacher, the school, and the parents. It allows everyone to get to know each other better, and parents can see where their children are struggling. In the same sense, parents can also see where their children are excelling. Homework in turn can allow for a better, more targeted educational plan for the student.

5. Homework Allows For More Learning Time

Homework allows for more time to complete the learning process. School hours are not always enough time for students to really understand core concepts, and homework can counter the effects of time shortages, benefiting students in the long run, even if they can’t see it in the moment.

6. Homework Reduces Screen Time

Many students in North America spend far too many hours watching TV. If they weren’t in school, these numbers would likely increase even more. Although homework is usually undesired, it encourages better study habits and discourages spending time in front of the TV. Homework can be seen as another extracurricular activity, and many families already invest a lot of time and money in different clubs and lessons to fill up their children’s extra time. Just like extracurricular activities, homework can be fit into one’s schedule.

A female student who doesn’t want to do homework.

The Other Side: Why Homework Is Bad

1. homework encourages a sedentary lifestyle.

Should students have homework? Well, that depends on where you stand. There are arguments both for the advantages and the disadvantages of homework.

While classroom time is important, playground time is just as important. If children are given too much homework, they won’t have enough playtime, which can impact their social development and learning. Studies have found that those who get more play get better grades in school , as it can help them pay closer attention in the classroom.

Children are already sitting long hours in the classroom, and homework assignments only add to these hours. Sedentary lifestyles can be dangerous and can cause health problems such as obesity. Homework takes away from time that could be spent investing in physical activity.

2. Homework Isn’t Healthy In Every Home

While many people that think homes are a beneficial environment for children to learn, not all homes provide a healthy environment, and there may be very little investment from parents. Some parents do not provide any kind of support or homework help, and even if they would like to, due to personal barriers, they sometimes cannot. Homework can create friction between children and their parents, which is one of the reasons why homework is bad .

3. Homework Adds To An Already Full-Time Job

School is already a full-time job for students, as they generally spend over 6 hours each day in class. Students also often have extracurricular activities such as sports, music, or art that are just as important as their traditional courses. Adding on extra hours to all of these demands is a lot for children to manage, and prevents students from having extra time to themselves for a variety of creative endeavors. Homework prevents self discovery and having the time to learn new skills outside of the school system. This is one of the main disadvantages of homework.

4. Homework Has Not Been Proven To Provide Results

Endless surveys have found that homework creates a negative attitude towards school, and homework has not been found to be linked to a higher level of academic success.

The positive effects of homework have not been backed up enough. While homework may help some students improve in specific subjects, if they have outside help there is no real proof that homework makes for improvements.

It can be a challenge to really enforce the completion of homework, and students can still get decent grades without doing their homework. Extra school time does not necessarily mean better grades — quality must always come before quantity.

Accurate practice when it comes to homework simply isn’t reliable. Homework could even cause opposite effects if misunderstood, especially since the reliance is placed on the student and their parents — one of the major reasons as to why homework is bad. Many students would rather cheat in class to avoid doing their homework at home, and children often just copy off of each other or from what they read on the internet.

5. Homework Assignments Are Overdone

The general agreement is that students should not be given more than 10 minutes a day per grade level. What this means is that a first grader should be given a maximum of 10 minutes of homework, while a second grader receives 20 minutes, etc. Many students are given a lot more homework than the recommended amount, however.

On average, college students spend as much as 3 hours per night on homework . By giving too much homework, it can increase stress levels and lead to burn out. This in turn provides an opposite effect when it comes to academic success.

The pros and cons of homework are both valid, and it seems as though the question of ‘‘should students have homework?’ is not a simple, straightforward one. Parents and teachers often are found to be clashing heads, while the student is left in the middle without much say.

It’s important to understand all the advantages and disadvantages of homework, taking both perspectives into conversation to find a common ground. At the end of the day, everyone’s goal is the success of the student.

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COMMENTS

  1. Is homework a necessary evil?

    In a review of studies published from 1987 to 2003, Cooper and his colleagues found that homework was linked to better test scores in high school and, to a lesser degree, in middle school. Yet they found only faint evidence that homework provided academic benefit in elementary school (Review of Educational Research, 2006).

  2. Should We Get Rid of Homework?

    Homework's value is unclear for younger students. But by high school and college, homework is absolutely essential for any student who wishes to excel. There simply isn't time to digest ...

  3. Is Homework Good for Kids? Here's What the Research Says

    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 ...

  4. Should Kids Get Homework?

    Too much, however, is harmful. And homework has a greater positive effect on students in secondary school (grades 7-12) than those in elementary. "Every child should be doing homework, but the ...

  5. Key Lessons: What Research Says About the Value of Homework

    Too much homework may diminish its effectiveness. While research on the optimum amount of time students should spend on homework is limited, there are indications that for high school students, 1½ to 2½ hours per night is optimum. Middle school students appear to benefit from smaller amounts (less than 1 hour per night).

  6. Does homework really work?

    After two hours, however, achievement doesn't improve. For high schoolers, Cooper's research suggests that two hours per night is optimal. If teens have more than two hours of homework a night, their academic success flatlines. But less is not better. The average high school student doing homework outperformed 69 percent of the students in ...

  7. Why Homework Doesn't Seem To Boost Learning--And How It Could

    One study found that lower-income ninth-graders "consistently described receiving minimal homework—perhaps one or two worksheets or textbook pages, the occasional project, and 30 minutes of ...

  8. Online vs traditional homework: A systematic review on the benefits to

    Additionally, half of the studies showed no differences in terms of student performance as a function of the format of delivery of homework. In nine studies students' performance was higher in the online compared with the traditional homework format, and only one study showed the opposite result. Lastly, six studies reported mixed results.

  9. Does Homework Work?

    This anti-homework sentiment faded, though, amid mid-century fears that the U.S. was falling behind the Soviet Union (which led to more homework), only to resurface in the 1960s and '70s, when a ...

  10. Research Trends: Why Homework Should Be Balanced

    Why Homework Should Be Balanced. Homework can boost learning, but doing too much can be detrimental. The National PTA and National Education Association support the "10-minute homework rule," which recommends 10 minutes of homework per grade level, per night (10 minutes for first grade, 20 minutes for second grade, and so on, up to two ...

  11. Homework vs. No Homework Learning Strategies: Exploring the Debate

    Explore the debate between homework and no homework learning strategies. Delve into the effects of homework on student workload, academic achievement, and overall well-being. Discover the potential benefits of no homework approaches, such as improved time management and fostering independent learning. Consider the role of parental involvement ...

  12. "Homework Should Be…but We Do Not Live in an Ideal World": Mathematics

    For example, Foyle et al. (1990) found that homework assignments with the purposes of practice and preparation improved the performance of 5th-grade students' social studies when compared with the no-homework group. However, no statistical difference was found between the two types of homework purposes analyzed (i.e., practice and preparation).

  13. Does homework still have value? A Johns Hopkins education expert weighs

    Q+A. Does homework still have value? A Johns Hopkins education expert weighs in. Joyce Epstein, co-director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, discusses why homework is essential, how to maximize its benefit to learners, and what the 'no-homework' approach gets wrong. The necessity of homework has been a subject of ...

  14. Are You Down With or Done With Homework?

    According to a recent University of Michigan study, daily homework for six- to eight-year-olds increased on average from about 8 minutes in 1981 to 22 minutes in 2003. A review of research by Duke University Professor Harris Cooper found that for elementary school students, "the average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement ...

  15. Homework Pros and Cons

    Homework does not help younger students, and may not help high school students. We've known for a while that homework does not help elementary students. A 2006 study found that "homework had no association with achievement gains" when measured by standardized tests results or grades. [ 7]

  16. Homework vs. No Homework Is the Wrong Question

    Any answer with the word, "work" in its name, as in "homework," is not typically going to be met with eagerness or enthusiasm by students. Ideally, we want children to understand that they are always learners. In school, we refer to them as "students" but outside of school, as children, they are still learners.

  17. PDF Homework policy review: A case study of a public school in the ...

    This study found that no homework has left a more positive effect on learners. However, this study argues that no homework will be a disadvantage in the future. To conclude, this study sought motivating factors that influence learners in becoming successful. Finally, this study proposes that some form of homework ought to be in place in order ...

  18. Should Teachers Give Students Homework or No Homework?

    Although homework has academic and non-academic advantages and disadvantages, the majority of studies conducted reveal inconclusive evidence that assigning homework increases student achievement. Most studies show positive effects for certain students, others suggest no effects, and some even suggest negative effects according to research by ...

  19. 11 Surprising Homework Statistics, Facts & Data (2024)

    8. US Teens Spend more than 15 Hours per Week on Homework. The same study by the Better Sleep Council also found that US teens spend over 2 hours per school night on homework, and overall this added up to over 15 hours per week. Surprisingly, 4% of US teens say they do more than 6 hours of homework per night.

  20. (PDF) Homework vs. Home-learning: A Lifelong Learning ...

    In this paper, I also present the results of a small-scale study into 90 first-year English Department students' perceptions of homework vs. home-learning in the context of Abu Dhabi, the UAE.

  21. The Pros and Cons: Should Students Have Homework?

    Homework allows for more time to complete the learning process. School hours are not always enough time for students to really understand core concepts, and homework can counter the effects of time shortages, benefiting students in the long run, even if they can't see it in the moment. 6. Homework Reduces Screen Time.

  22. Homework is pointless. Here's what you should do instead

    Study: Your kids are doing too much homework 01:32 ... This might include fighting for no-homework policies at their children's schools, and pushing back against unrealistic homework assignments

  23. The Results of Homework Versus No-Homework Research Studies

    This report summarizes the results of 24 research studies on the correlation of homework and no homework and academic achievement. The studies were conducted over the years from 1923 to 1976 in elementary and secondary schools. The results of the studies do not provide a clear-cut endorsement for either homework or no homework. It is suggested that individual teachers are best equipped to ...