Homework is always a hot button and can cause a lot of tension between students and teachers, parents and teachers, and students and parents.  Teachers assign homework and students grumble about it.  Parents struggle to get their kids to do the homework.  Is it all worth it?  

Woe unto the administrator who ventures forth into the homework wars.

Scale it back, and parents will be at your door complaining about a lack of academic rigor. Dial it up, and you’ll get an earful from other parents about interference with after-school activities and family time.

If you’re looking to bolster your particular position with research results, you’re in luck, because there are studies that back the more-is-better approach and others that support the less-is-better tack.

“Homework has been a hot topic for a number of years now because it affects so many people,” says Robert H. Tai, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education who has researched the topic and conducted a 2012 study, “When Is Homework Worth the Time?” After studying transcripts and data for more than 18,000 sophomore students nationwide, he found no significant relationship between time spent on homework and grades, but did find a positive relationship between homework and performance on standardized tests. “Homework should act as a place where students practice the skills they’ve learned in class,” Tai says. “It shouldn’t be a situation where students spend many hours every night poring over something [new].”

In Favor of Homework

A 2004 national survey conducted by the University of Michigan found that the amount of time spent on homework had risen 51 percent since 1981. Most of this increase was found among younger students, with daily homework for 6- to 8-year-olds increasing, on average, from about 8 minutes in 1981 to 22 minutes in 2003.

There is a positive relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes, according to a 2006 study by Harris Cooper, director of Duke University’s Program in Education, which analyzed and combined the results of dozens of homework studies. The studies found that students who had homework performed better on class tests compared to those who did not. Twelve studies linking the amount of homework to achievement and controlling for other factors, such as socioeconomic status, also found a positive link. Of 35 studies that simply correlated homework and achievement, with no attempt to control for student differences, about 77 percent also found a positive link between time on homework and achievement.

However, says Cooper, there was one group in the study for which homework was not correlated with achievement: elementary school students. For these children, the report states that “the average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement … hovered around zero,” or no relationship. This may be because younger students have less-developed study habits and are less able to tune out distractions at home, Cooper says.

The Case for Less

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