Thursday, October 16, 2014

What Do We Think We Know About Homework?

*That it encourages good work habits?
*That it increases achievement?
*That it keeps kids out of trouble?
*That it signals a good school and good teaching?
* Parents expect it?
*The school district expects it?

What Does The Research Tell Us? 

“Research on homework practices is an inexact science given the many variables including definitions of homework, socio-economic demographics, amount and type of home support, and standardized versus classroom assessments results to name but a few.” [1].

“The research has produced mixed results so far” is what The Center for Public Education tells us in a 2007 article entitled What Research Says About the Value of Homework: At a Glance. [2]

If we pay attention to the critics of homework, such as Alfie Kohn in his aggressive and polemical “The Homework Myth”, we would abandon homework immediately. His view is that homework is positively damaging and antithetical to good educational practice. [3]

However, the research suggests we should be careful about adopting an “either for it or against it”
attitude.  Here is what we know:

  • The link between homework and achievement is unproven: it varies across ages, grade levels, prior achievement, social conditions and amounts
  • Older students appear to show more consistent benefits: this may be related to the lower level of study habits in younger students.
  • Income levels often dictate homework success: this is in some ways obvious but easy to forget. Parents with college educations, good incomes, stable family life, good home conditions and time are better able to encourage good homework habits.
  • Special education students need greater levels of supervision, monitoring, and more preparation so that the tasks are appropriate.
  • Homework might well have more benefit in non-academic spheres: developing responsibility, study habits, reliability and consistency, for example, may all be positive side-effects.
  • More time might equal worse results!
  • Homework completion is more important than the volume assigned in the first place. Teachers often do not adequately plan for the time it will take to complete a homework assignment.
  • After school programs show little evidence of directly improving academic results but they may improve the work habits of students and that can indirectly have an impact on achievement.
  • Parent involvement impact is uncertain.
  • The purpose for which homework is given seems, at present, to have little impact on achievement. Many teacher sue homework to extend a lesson; some use it to add a new piece to the learning, some to reinforce what happened in class.

One overall conclusion that is less research based and more experience based is that teachers spend too little time planning for homework, assessing it and thinking about how to incorporate it into daily and longer term goals. This might lead us to ask whether teachers really do believe in the efficacy of homework or whether assignment homework is one of those parts of education practice that we do because it was done in the past. It seems clear form the murky nature of the research results that we could benefit from doing much more school based assessment of the benefits of homework, how it is constructed and planned, and how it is factored into the overall achievement of students across grade levels.

Some things to think about:

  1. How do we provide homework assignments that are meaningful? Do we know why we assign anything at all in the first place?
  2. What kind of school-based research would be helpful?
  3. What do we need to hear from parents about homework?
  4. Do we have ways to analyze what works and what does not?
  5. Do we have any evidence that homework improves either achievement or work habits?

Jon McGill
October 2014


  1. Herrig, Richard W. "Homework Research Gives Insight to Improving Teaching Practice," McGraw-Hill Education Glencoe Math White Papers,
  2. "What research says about the value of homework: At a glance," (2007 February)
  3. Kohn, Alfie. (2006) "The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing," Da Capo Press,