Homework: Research Q&A

Does homework help students do better in school?

The research on this question is very mixed. Some studies show that homework is linked to better test scores and grades in school, while other studies show no links, and still others suggest a negative influence of homework. Homework does seem to improve achievement and grades for older students more than younger students. In fact, some studies suggest that homework may be detrimental to younger students.

If the research about homework is inconclusive, why do teachers continue to assign it?

Many parents, educators, and policymakers continue to support homework. There is a widespread belief that homework builds character, work habits, and academic skills. The focus on international competitiveness contributes to the idea that U.S. students should be working harder. There are also fears that without homework, children will spend their after-school time in unproductive ways, such as watching television, instant-messaging, or playing video games.

Are students today overburdened with homework?

In spite of recent media reports that U.S. students are overburdened with homework, the average amount of homework across all grade levels is less than an hour per night. This is only an average, of course. Students in some programs—such as advanced courses—may have much more homework than this and others may have less.

How much time should my child spend on homework each night?

Little is known about the “optimum” amount of time students should spend on homework. The available research indicates that the optimum amount of time for high school students is 1½ to 2½ hours per night; for middle school students, the optimum appears to be less than 1 hour per night. When students spend more time than that on homework, the positive connection with student achievement diminishes. There is less research on elementary students, but what is available suggests that smaller amounts of homework may help to develop work habits and study skills but do not directly affect student achievement.

What is the purpose of homework?

Homework can be assigned for instructional and noninstructional purposes. Instructional homework may be assigned to help students (1) practice what they did in class that day; (2) prepare for new material; (3) extend what they have learned by applying the information in new contexts; or (4) integrate separately learned skills by applying them on projects. Most homework assigned by teachers is for practice and preparation purposes. Noninstructional homework may be assigned to (1) help students develop time-management and work skills, (2) improve communication between parents and children, (3) encourage students to work with their peers, or (4) fulfill school or district homework requirements. Noninstructional purposes for homework are more common for younger students than older students.

What kind of homework is most beneficial to students?

There is not much research on this topic. Some studies have shown that homework that prepares students for new material or asks them to review or practice old material leads to higher test scores than homework that simply reviews what was covered in class that day. One study of science homework found that students were more likely to return homework that required them to interact with their parents. Also, students who were assigned this kind of homework received better science grades than students who were assigned homework to complete on their own.

Why does my child spend two or more hours every night on homework that is time-consuming but not interesting or challenging?

On average, children spend less than an hour per night on homework. If your child is regularly doing homework for two hours or more each night, there could be a number of reasons. Some schools and districts have policies that require teachers to assign a certain amount of homework. Some children spend more time on homework because they are less efficient or lack skills they need to complete assignments. Older students—especially those in advanced classes—are most likely to be assigned relatively large amounts of homework.

Would it help my child to attend an after-school program that provides homework help?

After-school programs that offer homework help have not been shown to consistently improve student achievement. Such programs can, however, help improve students’ motivation, self-confidence, and work habits, which may indirectly improve performance in school.

Does homework help close the achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more advantaged peers?

There is not much research evidence to support this notion, partly because the research on the benefits to homework for any student is so inconclusive. Some researchers believe that homework may actually increase the “achievement gap” between children from advantaged backgrounds and those from less advantaged backgrounds. This is because children from advantaged backgrounds have more resources (such as computers with Internet access) and tend to have better-educated parents who can help them complete assignments. Even when homework help is provided at school, there is not much evidence that it brings about higher achievement—although it may improve student work habits and motivation. More research is needed on this question.

Should students with learning disabilities do homework?

Homework can help students with learning disabilities if they get help with organizing and completing the work.

What kinds of homework policies should school districts establish?

At present, the research findings on homework are so inconclusive that school districts should probably not set specific policies on homework. More appropriate might be homework guidelines at the school level that are created with input from all stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, parents, and students.

What questions about homework has the research not yet addressed?

  • Parents and school board members may have more specific questions about homework that the research has not yet addressed adequately or in detail. Such questions include the following:
  • Are certain types of homework beneficial for learning certain types of skills?
  • Are there certain types of homework that provide no measurable benefit?
  • Is the effect of homework different in different subject areas? For instance, does math homework show a stronger link to improved student learning than language arts homework?
  • Do students at different performance levels experience different benefits from homework: that is, do advanced/grade-level/remedial students experience greater benefits?
  • Do students at different socioeconomic levels or from various racial/ethnic groups experience different benefits from homework? Some research has been done on this question, but more is needed—especially in regard to school districts’ efforts to close the achievement gap.

The homework review was produced by researchers at Edvantia for the Center for Public Education. Edvantia, formerly the Appalachia Educational Laboratory, is an education research and development not-for-profit corporation founded in 1966.

Posted: February 5, 2007

© 2007 Center for Public Education