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I did my homework on homework

As a follow-up from this post/rant, I did a bit of digging on this homework research I’ve heard people reference. And like most things — or at least most research data — it can be interpreted in a few different ways. Since the topic sparked a bit of interest, I thought I’d share what I’d found. Kind of like a Coles Notes version (come on, you used Coles Notes at least once, didn’t ya?).

Okay, so in one corner of the ring you have the more traditional stance of “Homework is valuable. Homework works.”

The most authoritative research on this is a Duke University study that reviewed more than 60 research studies on homework from from 1987 to 2003 and synthesized the results. The conclusion? Homework does have a positive effect on student achievement:

With only rare exception, the relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes was found to be positive and statistically significant.

There are some “but”s to this, though. The first is age, and the second is how much. This is no surprise to you — we’ve all been commenting on these two factors for a couple of days now.

So, what did they find?

With regards to age, the study found that the positive correlation was much stronger for secondary students -– those in grades 7 through 12 -– than those in elementary school. And with regard to how much, it showed that too much homework can be counter-productive for students at all levels [emphasis is mine].

If you really want to be a good student, the full results from this study are covered in the book The Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents by Corwin Press, 2001.

Since this the time of this study’s publication, a number of opposing voices have come to the fore. These are the voices from the other side of the ring, the “Homework has no proven benefits. It’s just busy-work.”

For instance, a study completed in 2008 by two Toronto professors found that Ontario students are doing more homework than their counterparts in other provinces. And further, that homework is causing family conflict, even marital stress:

In their study, more than 1,000 parents were surveyed and said while they like the good work habits homework promotes, as well as how it helps parents be involved in their children’s academic lives, the amount students are getting is interfering with family time, causing stress and even marital troubles.

So, should homework be given to young children at all? The debate still rages it seems. And although the school boards have not amended any policies, there is a growing movement to at least modify the type and length of homework provided.

A 2004 article published in Education, offers this recommendation related to age, type and family stress:

Homework is still an important educational tool that should be used at all levels, but in a prudent manner. At the elementary level, it certainly should not be used to introduce new material or just to give kids some work to take home to show their parents something is happening at school. Nor should it be a daily drudgery of worksheets and times tables, but interesting activities that can be done with the help of family. More independent and involved homework should come at the advent of high school. The only way to end the battle is to make sure that homework is relevant, varied, and takes place outside of the classroom.

Gee, that sounds easy doesn’t it?

What do you think? Do we need an overhaul of the culture around homework — coming directly from the administration, down through to teachers, to parents and last, but not least, students? And does this research change your mind at all? Do you have other research sources you’d like to share with me?


  1. Except for the odd project, all the homework my daughter ever got throughout elementary school was “busy work” — something to take home just so she’d have homework. And some nights it was hours worth. She has far less homework in high school and I’m not the first parent to find that. I don’t believe in filling every moment of a kid’s life with organized activities. I think sitting in a classroom for 5 hours a day is enough for a young child. They need to decompress when they get home – play, run around, go outside and do some activity they enjoy..allowing them to explore their own interests and passions. So, I vote a resounding NO to homework. A fun project once or twice a year, okay. Other than that – NO.

  2. I’m a teacher – can I share? I do not believe in homework. Unless a child is consistently NOT completing work in class. I believe in some sort of homework to get them into a study routine – in the early grades a reading log or simple spelling or math review. Homework should be a REVIEW of what they are doing in class, should not require parental help (except for ensuring that they have a place and quiet) and should not be a screaming match. If it is call the teacher – a couple of missed recesses to complete it or a few loving words from the teacher can often work wonders. As a single Mom, I HATE homework!!!!

  3. XUP – Okay, I will add you into the homework-haters vote!

    Stefanie – Yes! Thanks for sharing a teacher and a mother’s view. Hmm … another homework-hater. I seriously had no idea that homework was such a big stressor for so many people.

  4. Have you tallied it all up?

  5. Finola – If I count you as a “hater” then there is 5 homework haters and 4 homework lovers. Pretty close race!

  6. LOL….can I be a “qualified hater”….it sounds so harsh!

  7. coffeewithjulie says:

    haha! You’re right “hater” does sound harsh! I guess I was having too much fun with “h”s. Let’s call it “in favour of homework” or “not in favour of homework.”

  8. I hate homework. I’ve said this before.
    I will give you an example. The Boy came home and had to COPY the definitions of certain terms out of the math text book into his notebook. I don’t even think he read them. He just copies them. Word for word. What could possibly be gained from this. What’s worse is that they aren’t even words that they were using that week.

  9. I think I’m in the middle somewhere.

    I totally agree with the Education article that states homework should be used in a “prudent manner”.

    I’m a teacher and also a mother of two kids in kindergarten (one in J/K, one in S/K). While I think it is totally ridiculous to send homework home to kindergarten students, I do realize that there are some parents who are not doing any “extra” work at home with their kids. I like to work on printing, letter recognition, and early reading skills with my two boys b/c they are in large classes at school and I know the teacher is busy and does not have a lot of time for one on one help. This is an important time for kids to learn to read and print, so I try to do activities at home that make printing and learning the alphabet “fun”. (I am also still on leave and am not working right now, so this is easy for me to do.) I’m sure the homework is meant for kids to just get some extra practice at home, as repetition is key at this age.

    As kids get older, sending homework home for the sake of “homework” is ridiculous. When I taught grade six I tried to only send home work that was unfinished in school – if I knew a student was not capable of completing as much as someone who was just screwing off and not doing their work, I made accommodations for that. I still had parents complaining, and I definitely did not give the most homework in our school (not by a long shot).

    A lot of the teacher rhetoric these days is focused on “preparing kids for high school”. So even in kindergarten, schools want to prepare kids for the reality they will face in the years to come – homework.

    Great post :)

  10. I agree with Stefanie, homework should be a review of what is going on in class. It is important because if your child is struggling through it, then it shows the parents that they are also struggling in class and might need a little extra help.

    I wouldn’t call myself a “homework hater” because of what I stated in the above, but I would agree that at a young age homework should not be super challenging. It needs to be simple and sometimes simple is hard enough for some of the students who are behind. If your child gets it and finishes it no problem, that is a good indication of how they are doing in class (and parents are not in the classroom, so I like that homework can indicate abilities of their children).

  11. Ahh… The homework debate rages on. I have to reveal right off the bat I am a teacher (grades 2-4). I support the opinion of Alphie Kohn who has written a book on the matter. The Homework Myth:Why Our Kids Get Too Much
    of a Bad Thing and here is a link to a synopsis of his arguement.

    For my student I ask that they read and are read to for a minimum of 20 minutes per day. I also send a daily email with 3 “ask about” topics so parents have something to draw on to start conversations to the question “what did you do in school”.

    Final thoughts, worksheets are a thing of the past. We are asking our students to get do higher order thinking this can not be reproduced in a worksheet. Don’t ask for them.


  12. You have all really helped broaden my ideas and thoughts related to the subject of homework. Thank you so much!

    I just read about curriculum reform in the States in this opinion article. I think it is absolutely fascinating — and likely absolutely accurate:

    Let me know what you think …. Julie

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