Homework, or a homework assignment, is a set of tasks assigned to students by their teachers to be completed outside the class. Common homework assignments may include required reading, a writing or typing project, mathematical exercises to be completed, information to be reviewed before a test, or other skills to be practiced.
The effect of homework is debated. Generally speaking, homework does not improve academic performance among children and may improve academic skills among older students, especially lower-achieving students. Homework also creates stress for students and their parents and reduces the amount of time that students could spend outdoors, exercising, playing, working, sleeping, or in other activities.
- 1 Purposes
- 2 Effects
- 3 History
- 4 Notes and references
- 5 Further reading
The basic objectives of assigning homework to students are the same as schooling in general: to increase the knowledge and improve the abilities and skills of the students, to prepare them for upcoming (or complex or difficult) lessons, to extend what they know by having them apply it to new situations, or to integrate their abilities by applying different skills to a single task. Homework also provides an opportunity for parents to participate in their children’s education. Homework is designed to reinforce what students have already learned.
Teachers have many purposes for assigning homework including:
- personal development,
- parent–child relations,
- parent–teacher communications,
- peer interactions,
- public relations, and
Homework research dates back to the early 1900s. However, no consensus exists on the general effectiveness on homework. Results of homework studies vary based on multiple factors, such as the age group of those studied and the measure of academic performance.
Among teenagers, students who spend somewhat more time on homework generally have higher grades, and somewhat higher test scores than students who spend less time on homework. Very high amounts of homework cause students’ academic performance to worsen, even among older students. Students who are assigned homework in middle and high school score somewhat better on standardized tests, but the students who have 60 to 90 minutes of homework a day in middle school or more than two hours in high school score worse.
Younger students who spend more time on homework generally have slightly worse, or the same academic performance, as those who spend less time on homework. Homework does not improve academic achievements for grade school students.
Low-achieving students receive more benefit from doing homework than high-achieving students. However, schoolteachers commonly assign less homework to the students who need it most, and more homework to the students who are performing well.
Proponents claim that assigning homework to young children helps them learn good study habits. Essentially, they advocate for doing potentially unnecessary homework from approximately age five to ten as a way of practicing for doing necessary homework from age 10 to 15. No research has ever been conducted to determine whether this claim has any merit.
The amount of homework given does not necessarily affect students’ attitudes towards homework and various other aspects of school.
Epstein (1988) found a near-zero correlation between the amount of homework and parents’ reports on how well their elementary school students behaved. Vazsonyi & Pickering (2003) studied 809 adolescents in American high schools, and found that, using the Normative Deviance Scale as a model for deviance, the correlation was r = 0.28 for Caucasian students, and r = 0.24 for African-American students. For all three of the correlations, higher values represent a higher correlation between time spent on homework and poor conduct.
Bempechat (2004) says that homework develops students’ motivation and study skills. In a single study, parents and teachers of middle school students believed that homework improved students’ study skills and personal responsibility skills. Their students were more likely to have negative perceptions about homework and were less likely to ascribe the development of such skills to homework.Leone & Richards (1989) found that students generally had negative emotions when completing homework and reduced engagement compared to other activities.
Health and daily life
Homework has been identified in numerous studies and articles as a dominant or significant source of stress and anxiety for students. Studies on the relation between homework and health are few compared to studies on academic performance.
Cheung & Leung-Ngai (1992) surveyed 1,983 students in Hong Kong, and found that homework led not only to added stress and anxiety, but also physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches. Students in the survey who were ridiculed or punished by parents and peers had a higher incidence of depression symptoms, with 2.2% of students reporting that they “always” had suicidal thoughts, and anxiety was exacerbated by punishments and criticism of students by teachers for both problems with homework as well as forgetting to hand in homework.
A 2007 study of American students by MetLife found that 89% of students felt stressed from homework, with 34% reporting that they “often” or “very often” felt stressed from homework. Stress was especially evident among high school students. Students that reported stress from homework were more likely to be deprived of sleep.
Homework can cause tension and conflict in the home as well as at school, and can reduce students’ family and leisure time. In the Cheung & Leung-Ngai (1992) survey, failure to complete homework and low grades where homework was a contributing factor was correlated with greater conflict; some students have reported teachers and parents frequently criticizing their work. In the MetLife study, high school students reported spending more time completing homework than performing home tasks.Kohn (2006) argued that homework can create family conflict and reduce students’ quality of life. The authors of Sallee & Rigler (2008), both high school English teachers, reported that their homework disrupted their students’ extracurricular activities and responsibilities. However, Kiewra et al. (2009) found that parents were less likely to report homework as a distraction from their children’s activities and responsibilities. Galloway, Conner & Pope (2013) recommended further empirical study relating to this aspect due to the difference between student and parent observations.
Galloway, Conner & Pope (2013) surveyed 4,317 high school students from ten high-performing schools, and found that students reported spending more than 3 hours on homework daily. 72% of the students reported stress from homework, and 82% reported physical symptoms. The students slept an average of 6 hours 48 minutes, lower than the recommendations prescribed by various health agencies.
A study done at the University of Michigan in 2007 concluded that the amount of homework given is increasing. In a sample taken of students between the ages of 6 and 9 years, it was shown that students spend more than 2 hours a week on homework, as opposed to 44 minutes in 1981.
Some educators argue that homework is beneficial to students, as it enhances learning, develops the skills taught in class, and lets educators verify that students comprehend their lessons. Proponents also argue that homework makes it more likely that students will develop and maintain proper study habits that they can use throughout their educational career.
Historically, homework was frowned upon in American culture. With few students able to pursue higher education, and with many children and teenagers needing to dedicate significant amounts of time to chores and farmwork, homework was disliked not only by parents, but also by some schools. The students’ inability to keep up with the homework, which was largely memorizing an assigned text at home, contributed to students dropping out of school at a relatively early age. Attending school was not legally required, and if the student could not spend afternoons and evenings working on homework, then the student could quit school.
Complaints from parents were common at all levels of society. In 1880, Francis Amasa Walker convinced the school board in Boston to prohibit teachers from assigning math homework under normal circumstances. In 1900, journalist Edward Bok railed against schools assigning homework to students until age 15. He encouraged parents to send notes to their children’s teachers to demand the end of all homework assignments, and thousands of parents did so. Others looked at the new child labor laws in the United States and noted that school time plus homework exceeded the number of hours that a child would be permitted to work for pay. The campaign resulted in the US Congress receiving testimony to the effect that experts thought children should never have any homework, and that teenagers should be limited to a maximum of two hours of homework per day. In 1901, the California legislature passed an act that effectively abolished homework for anyone under the age of 15. While homework was generally out of favor in the first half of the 20th century, some people supported homework reform, such as by making the assignments more relevant to the students’ non-school lives, rather than prohibiting it.
In the 1950s, with increasing pressure on the United States to stay ahead in the Cold War, homework made a resurgence, and children were encouraged to keep up with their Russian counterparts. From that time on, social attitudes have oscillated approximately on a 15-year cycle: homework was encouraged in the 1950s to mid-1960s; it was rejected from the mid-1960s until 1980; it was encouraged again from 1980 and the publication of A Nation at Risk until the mid-1990s, when Cold War ended. At that time, American schools were overwhelmingly in favor of issuing some homework to students of all grade levels. Homework was less favored after the end of the Cold War.
British students get more homework than many other countries in Europe. The weekly average for the subject is 5 hours. The main distinction for UK homework is the social gap, with middle-class teenagers getting a disproportionate amount of homework compared to Asia and Europe.
In 2012, a report by the OECD showed that Spanish children spend 6.4 hours a week on homework. This prompted the CEAPA, representing 12,000 parent associations to call for a homework strike.
Notes and references
Effectiveness of homework
Homework and non-academic effects
- Duke Study: Homework Helps Students Succeed in School, As Long as There Isn’t Too Much
- The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It by Sarah Bennett & Nancy Kalish (2006) Discusses in detail assessments of studies on homework and the authors’ own research and assessment of the homework situation in the United States. Has specific recommendations and sample letters to be used in negotiating a reduced homework load for your child.
- Closing the Book on Homework: Enhancing Public Education and Freeing Family Time by John Buell (2004)
- The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents by Harris Cooper (2007)
- The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn (2006)
- The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning by Etta Kralovec and John Buell (2000)
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- “The Myth About Homework”, Claudia Wallis, Time Magazine, Aug. 29, 2006
- History of “The Dog Ate My Homework” as an excuse
- Bridging the Great Homework Divide: A Solutions Guide for Parents of Middle School Students – from the National Education Association.
- Homework tips for parents – U.S. Department of Education.
- BBC’s (U.K.) parents’ school guide
- Helping Your Students With Homework: A Guide For Teachers – U.S. Department of Education.
- Homework Practices that Support Students with Disabilities