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Back to School: The Science Behind Homework

While teachers argue that homework provides beneficial practice and comprehension of new and old concepts, even the American Psychological Association has some doubts about that

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That word alone can make millions of students cringe and sigh. The idea of having to do schoolwork at home seems redundant and causes stress, leaving parents and students alike to wonder why homework even exists. While teachers argue that homework provides beneficial practice and comprehension of new and old concepts, even the American Psychological Association has some doubts about that (1).

Major factors that determine the benefits of homework, cited by researchers and organizations, is the quantity versus the quality of work and the age of the students. Authors Marzano and Pickering compiled the pros and cons of homework in an Educational Leadership book. They used statistical data from multiple researchers – most notably Harris Cooper who is also cited in the APA article and in multiple other articles on homework – to show common patterns: Elementary level students benefit less from homework; having excessive amounts of homework (anywhere between 100 minutes to 200 minutes) is detrimental to the learning process, and that appropriate homework is effective in increasing retention and understanding. Marzano and Pickering summarize these facts in one sentence: Teachers should not abandon homework. Instead, they should improve its instructional quality (2).

Cooper is frequently seen as the pinnacle in understanding the benefits of homework and coming up with effective usages of work while not advocating for its complete erasure. His biggest contribution is the “10-minute rule.” For teachers looking to give optimal amounts of homework, they should take the grade their teaching and multiply it by 10. If they teach a high school course, homework should not exceed 120 minutes, while if they were teaching elementary school it should not exceed 50 minutes (going by K-5 standards for elementary school). This rule clearly shows the relationship between age and time that should be spent on homework. However, plenty of students and parents are scoffing at these numbers, and so is the news (3).

In fact, the news brings it up so often that in 2014, The Brown Center created another report on the American education system. Their results went directly against the panic created by news organizations such as TIME, Newsweek, and People, that suggested homework has become an increasing burden among students: Homework has only dramatically increased for elementary students as they had had none before and in most cases, homework had actually gone down. Now, the Brown Center acknowledges that the results seen in the report are from a question asked about a student’s homework the day before, rather than asked about long-term patterns However, they assure that the data is accurate even with that taken into account and that it does not support the notion that students are getting more homework than before (4).

Homework has been and will continue to be, a heavily debated topic. With parents and students continuously grumbling about the amount, news sources reporting on the detrimental effects of homework, and with some schools even getting rid of homework entirely, it’ll be interesting to see where the debate takes the future of homework.


(1) http://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/03/homework.aspx

(2) http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar07/vol64/num06/The-Case-For-and-Against-Homework.aspx

(3) https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-04-23/homework-good-your-childs-brain

(4) https://www.brookings.edu/research/homework-in-america/

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