Since its inception, homework has been a controversial topic that has been debated upon by experts from every field of education. Whether it’s algebra problems, language arts activities, or physical dioramas, experts from both the pro-homework camp and the anti-homework camp have given more than two cents on the subject.
As early as the first few years of the 1900’s, progressive education theorists were already lambasting homework and how it was detrimental to both a student’s physical health as well as their academic performance. These theorists were able to convince the state of California to actually ban homework for students under the age of 15, a decision that was only reversed in the 50’s, thanks to public opinion that was swayed by reported advances in Soviet schools.
Nowadays, K to 5th graders have, on average, around 3 hours of homework per teacher per week, while middle school students have around 3.2 hours of homework per teacher per week, and high school students have a whopping 3.5 hours of homework per teacher per week. This means that an average high school student has over 17 hours of homework a week.
Too much work or a necessary chore? Those who support homework say that it gives students the opportunity to learn academic and life skills independently, giving each student a strong sense of achievement. Homework also allows parents to guide their children and monitor their academic progression more closely.
Meanwhile, opponents of homework say that too much take-home work is harmful: it increases stress by reducing leisure and sleep, two factors that contribute immensely to learning. Too many hours of homework can have an adverse effect on children by actually de-motivating them from study. Some critics even go so far as to say that homework can widen the social divide because of its bias towards more privileged children.
With all this said and done, why should students get homework? Why should students not be given homework? We take a look at both sides.
Pros of Doing Homework
Homework Improves Academic Abilities
Multiple studies show that homework does, indeed, have a positive effect on student’s grades. In fact, a study by Duke showed that homework improved standardized test scores among students from all grades, which in turn leads to higher chances of the student attending a university.
Studies show that homework improves student achievement in terms of improved grades, test results, and the likelihood to attend college.
This is backed up by research from the High School Journal which showed that students who spent between 30 minutes to an hour and a half every day working on homework achieved 40 points more on SAT-Mathematics than their peers who spent less time or spent no time at all on homework.
And it’s not just because of individual students: studies show that entire classes that were assigned homework performed 69% higher on standardized tests than classes that didn’t have assigned homework. Multiple studies also show that students who did regular homework showed, on average, a 64 to 72% increase in their grades compared to their peers who didn’t.
These statistics led the Institute of the Study of Labor, or IZA, in Germany to conclude that more homework equaled higher GPA’s, higher probabilities of entering university.
Regular Homework Helps Students Practice Academic and Life Skills
One of the key arguments for homework is that it helps students perfect what they’ve learned in school while teaching them valuable life skills like time management. And the numbers seem to back it up: a study by psychologists from Duke University shows that students who were given homework that taught them to “”strategies to organize and complete homework,” showed a sharp increase in their standardized test scores, not to mention a more positive demeanor in school (as reflected in their report card comments).
Parents, on the other hand, argue that homework helps their children develop critical life skills, like time management, autonomy, self-direction, independence, and of course, discipline. While it can be argued that students can learn that sans homework, the argument is that homework makes it easier and more manageable to develop those skills.
Homework Helps Parents Monitor Their Children’s Progress.
In a study done by Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that an interactive homework system called TIPS, or Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork, showed that students achieved higher grades in as little as 18 weeks as compared to their peers who didn’t take part in TIPS.
Class performance by students from economically disadvantaged families also saw an increase in academic performance thanks to homework, with many of the students reporting that homework was able to target their academic strengths and weaknesses.
These strengths and weaknesses also helped parents identify whether or not their children had learning disabilities. By observing their children navigate academic work, parents were able to witness first-hand the struggle of their learning-disabled children in comprehending certain subjects, allowing them to adjust their learning process and find more suitable classes for them.
Too Much Homework is Harmful
While the benefits of homework are well-documented, too much homework can also be severely detrimental to a child’s development. In fact, a study by the American Educational Research Association found that excessive homework, one that prevents students from social experiences, creative pursuits, or even recreation, can lead to a lack of sleep.
This can be problematic as a lack of sleep has been found to lead to higher instances of depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities in adolescent students. Especially in high school, where the pressure to succeed in order to enter college is at its peak, a lack of sleep brought about by too much homework can be severely detrimental to the academic and personal development of a student.
Homework is Biased Against Lower-Income Students
In a contradiction of homework helping students from lower-income families, a study by researchers found that economically disadvantaged students were less likely to do homework, especially if they have no access to computers or the internet. Moreover, economically disadvantaged students usually hold part-time jobs, lowering their chances of finishing their homework, or forcing them to stay up all night.
Although some people argue that this can be solved by a private tutor, the numbers simply do not add up: too often, lower-income families cannot possibly afford a private tutor, which in turn, disadvantages their children in the long run.
Younger Students Might Not Benefit from Homework
A counter-study by researchers from the Review of Educational Research found that homework had no bearing on the development of elementary school children, with added homework showing no increase in standardized test results.
In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that students in the 4th grade who were not assigned homework showed a very minimal change of scores in SAT-mathematics exams as compared to students who did half an hour of homework daily. In fact, the NAEP found that 4th graders who did more than 45 minutes of homework every night actually scored worse than students who weren’t assigned homework.
Parents Need to Talk to their Kids and Teachers
With all these pros and cons, it’s hard to come up with a direct answer to “should kids have homework?”. In order to get a more precise answer, parents must work together with their children and their teachers in order to determine a suitable learning process.
The best way to maximize the benefits of homework and minimize its detriments is to find a healthy amount of work, one which is dependent on the individual child, that doesn’t cut in to rest, relaxation, and of course, sleep. This, however, can only happen if there’s a healthy conversation between parents, teachers, and students.