omework battles have raged for decades.
For as long as kids have been whining about
doing their homework, parents and education
reformers have complained that homework’s
benefits are dubious. Meanwhile many teachers
argue that take-home lessons are key to helping
students learn. Now, as schools are shifting
to the new (and hotly debated) Common
Core curriculum standards, educators,
administrators and researchers are turning a
fresh eye toward the question of homework’s
But when it comes to deciphering the
research literature on the subject, homework is
anything but an open book.
The 10-minute rule
In many ways, homework seems like
common sense. Spend more time practicing
multiplication or studying Spanish vocabulary
and you should get better at math or Spanish.
But it may not be that simple.
Homework can indeed produce academic
benefits, such as increased understanding and
retention of the material, says Duke University
social psychologist Harris Cooper, PhD, one of
the nation’s leading homework researchers. But
not all students benefit. In a review of studies
published from 1987 to 2003, Cooper and his
colleagues found that homework was linked
to better test scores in high school and, to a
lesser degree, in middle school. Yet they found
only faint evidence that homework provided
academic benefit in elementary school (Review
of Educational Research, 2006).
Then again, test scores aren’t everything.
Homework proponents also cite the
nonacademic advantages it might confer, such
as the development of personal responsibility,
good study habits and time-management skills.
But as to hard evidence of those benefits, “the
jury is still out,” says Mollie Galloway, PhD,
associate professor of educational leadership
at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
“I think there’s a focus on assigning homework
because [teachers] think it has these positive
outcomes for study skills and habits. But we
don’t know for sure that’s the case.”
Even when homework is helpful, there can
be too much of a good thing. “There is a limit
to how much kids can benefit from home
study,” Cooper says. He agrees with an oft-
cited rule of thumb that students should do no
more than 10 minutes a night per grade level
— from about 10 minutes in first grade up to a
maximum of about two hours in high school.
Both the National Education Association and
National Parent Teacher Association support
Beyond that point, kids don’t absorb much
useful information, Cooper says. In fact, too
much homework can do more harm than
good. Researchers have cited drawbacks,
including boredom and burnout toward
academic material, less time for family and
extracurricular activities, lack of sleep and
In a recent study of Spanish students, Rubén
After decades of debate, researchers
are still sorting out the truth about
homework’s pros and cons. One
point they can agree on: Quality
By Kirsten Weir