The amount of homework students are assigned each night varies greatly across grade levels, schools, school districts, and states. Some students come home burdened with heavy backpacks and hours of work to be completed before the next day. Other students are assigned little to no work to be done at home.
How much homework is too much? How much homework is not enough? Research studies differ greatly on the academic merits of homework. Are there justifiable reasons for assigning homework? Why do some believe teachers should de-emphasize homework? How can teachers incorporate homework as a useful learning tool?
An Ongoing Debate
The battle over homework dates back to the 1880s when a Boston school board limited math homework. More recently, the town of Piscataway, New Jersey, received national attention for its efforts to limit the amount of homework assigned by the teachers. The Piscataway School Board voted to accept 90 minutes of homework as reasonable for middle school students each evening and up to two hours could be allowed each evening for high school students.
Other school districts across the United States followed Piscataway by establishing policies to limit homework assignments. Guidelines vary, but most are similar to the endorsement made by the National PTA and NEA (National Education Association), which specified an amount of ten minutes per grade level per day.
Why the Recent Homework Overload?
Homework has increased over the last decade for several reasons. Academic standards have increased in most states, creating a situation where more content must be taught during the school year. To maximize classroom time, homework is used to introduce and learn new skills and concepts, rather than to review material taught in the classroom.
In some cases, parents have pressured teachers for more homework, in hopes that more work will increase performance and increase their child's choices for college.
The trend to compare U.S. students to others across the world has also contributed to a general consensus that U.S. students do not study as much as their international counterparts. In the global economy, for the United States to succeed, it must be able educate its citizens to compete in the "knowledge" sector.
In addition to general trends affecting education, there are many valid reasons for teachers to assign homework to students. Homework can provide the following benefits:
Reasons to De-Emphasize Homework
- Review and practice concepts and skills.
- Prepare for complex or difficult lessons.
- Develop better study habits and skills for higher education.
- Provide additional time for the exploration of a topic.
- Reflect on prior learning.
- Enhance and supplement learning.
- Develop time management skills.
- Foster independent learning.
There are also valid reasons for teachers and schools to consider limiting homework. Like adults, students require a balance between family, school, and extra-curricular activities. The following reasons might contribute to the decision to limit or eliminate homework.
Four Types of Homework
- "Busy work" is often assigned as homework with no clear purpose or value.
- Students are often overloaded with extra-curricular activities and part-time jobs, resulting in stress and fatigue.
- Commuting time to and from school cuts into available time for out of school activities.
- Single parent families often cannot provide the necessary oversight to aid students in homework assignments.
- Time for family and leisure activities is compromised.
As teachers determine what amount of homework is appropriate for their class, they must evaluate the purpose of all homework assignments. Generally, homework falls into four broad categories of learning.
Tips for Assigning Homework
- Extension (applying skills to a new situation)
- Integration (applying many different skills and knowledge sets to a task)
Once teachers have determined the type of homework to assign, thought should be given to ways to maximize the benefits to be gained from the assignment. Consider the following:
- Length. Evaluate the length of the assignment with care. (Consider following the rule that no more than 10 minutes per grade level should be assigned, e.g., 90 minutes for 9th graders)
- Purpose/Value. Design activities that have meaning and support classroom learning. Communicate the purpose to students.
- Direction. Provide clear directions on how students should complete assignments, how they will be graded, and when they are due.
- Appropriateness. Match assignment tasks to students' abilities and interests.
- Variety. Keep students engaged by assigning a variety of different types of homework.
- Balance. Assign a balance of both short- and long-range assignments. Too many long-range assignments will overload the student.
- Feedback. Provide feedback as soon as possible.
Thorough, goal-oriented planning will help teachers justify the reasons for homework and the type of homework that is of most benefit to the students. With these purposes in mind, as well as forethought and planning, homework can be a useful learning tool without encumbering student and family time.
Read More about Homework
On this teen-produced Web site, a young author expresses her opinion against homework.
Even grade schoolers toil for hours a night
This article, from the San Francisco Gazette Web site, defines the 1990s as the "golden age" of homework and looks at the dissent against it.
Homework: Too Much of a Good Thing?
This Encarta article presents supports for reasonable homework and counterpoints against homework.
A Study of Three Cultures:
Germany, Japan, and the United States
Phi Delta Kappa International Online Edition
The widely-published results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study showcased the differences in achievement levels among students in 41 different countries. The author of this article investigates and discusses the research, including the misunderstanding of the definition of homework.
This article was contributed by Mollie Crie, an educator with 22 years in the classroom. She currently teaches for Bedford County Schools in Forest, Virginia.