What we know about homework

homework pencilNow that the school year is back in full swing, I find that our family needs to make time for homework almost every night of the week. And it’s got me wondering how much homework impacts children’s achievement in school.

I went looking for evidence and found lots of it: there are at least a half dozen systematic reviews about the importance and effectiveness of homework, and all of its nuances.  The Center for Public Education and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development both provide comprehensive essays that summarize the evidence on homework.

One 2007 analysis published by Duke University researchers in particular caught my attention . It included 50 separate studies on homework research that asked the specific question, “Does homework improve academic achievement?”  This study followed an earlier meta-analysis of approximately 100 studies published by the same researchers in 1989. Both reviews conclude that homework does help to improve academic achievement, primarily in the middle and high school.  For children in elementary school, the review concludes that while homework can help children develop good study habits, it does not help to improve students’ grades or standardized test scores.

Here are some other interesting take-home messages about homework:

  • Students are more likely to complete and learn from homework assignments that have a purpose, for example, reviewing important concepts, improving students’ independence or providing opportunities to explore topics students are interested in.
  • Homework assignments are most successful when they are easy enough for students to complete independently, but challenging enough to be interesting.
  • Finding appropriate ways to involve parents with their children’s homework leads to improved academic performance.
  • Homework provides more academic benefits for older students. For younger students, some homework can help them to establish study habits and routines, but too much homework detracts from family and play activities after school.
  • There is strong evidence that homework improves learning for students with learning disabilities, most likely because these students benefit from additional time to practice new skills.

On a personal note, the evidence makes me wonder if my son receives a little too much homework for his age. In first grade, he receives a reading and a math assignment every day, and he often groans about completing them. I certainly plan to discuss the evidence about homework with his teacher at our first conference.


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