Homework Increased Over The Years

Homework is a perennial topic of griping among parents and students both. Just last week, Stanford researchers released a survey of students at high-performing high schools, finding that students report an average of 3-plus hours of homework per night. The conclusion? "Too much homework can negatively affect kids, especially their lives away from school, where family, friends and activities matter."

But a recent report from the Brookings Brown Center on Education casts aspersions on these findings and others like them that regularly crop up in the media (they've even produced a video summarizing media representations of homework burdens and contrasting them with their findings). The report looks at students' self-reported homework loads over the past 30 years, as tracked by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Their bottom line? "With one exception, the homework load has remained remarkably stable since 1984."

Let's set that exception aside for one second, and look at the data on middle and high-school students. They are doing roughly the same amount of homework they did 30 years ago. Even the share of students reporting heavy homework burdens -- 2-plus hours -- has remained constant, and in fact has decreased slightly for 13-year-olds. Also notable: 17-year-olds are the most likely to blow off their assignments altogether, with 13 percent reporting this in 2012.

But the exception mentioned above is a big one: elementary school kids are doing a lot more homework than they used to. Back in 1984, only 64 percent of 9-year-olds reported having homework the night before. In 2012, that figure had risen to 78 percent. Most of that rise is from students reporting a fairly light homework load: the share saying they spent less than an hour on homework went from 41 to 57 percent. The share of 9-year-olds reporting a heavy homework load has stayed constant at about 5 percent.

The Brown Center is probably overstating its case when it concludes that "NAEP data do not support the view that the homework burden is growing, nor do they support the belief that the proportion of students with a lot of homework has increased in recent years." This may be true for teens, but the shift in homework burden for elementary students is a significant one, and one that parents of primary school-aged children are likely to feel keenly.

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

Found In: teaching strategies

Some researchers are urging schools to take a fresh look at homework and its potential for engaging students and improving student performance. The key, they say, is to take into account grade-specific and developmental factors when determining the amount and kind of homework.

So, what's appropriate? What benefits can be expected? What makes for good homework policies? Research doesn't have all the answers, but a review of some existing data yields some helpful observations and guidance.

How Much Homework Do Students Do?

Survey data and anecdotal evidence show that some students spend hours nightly doing homework. Homework overload is the exception rather than the norm; however, according to research from the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation (see the Brown Center 2003 below). Their researchers analyzed data from a variety of sources and concluded that the majority of U.S. students spend less than an hour a day on homework, regardless of grade level, and this has held true for most of the past 50 years. In the last 20 years, homework has increased only in the lower grade levels, and this increase is associated with neutral (and sometimes negative) effects on student achievement.

How Much Is Appropriate?

The National PTA recommendations fall in line with general guidelines suggested by researcher Harris Cooper: 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth). High school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take (see Review of Educational Research, 2006).

What are the benefits?

Homework usually falls into one of three categories: practice, preparation, or extension. The purpose usually varies by grade. Individualized assignments that tap into students' existing skills or interests can be motivating. At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child's learning. At the secondary school level, student homework is associated with greater academic achievement. (Review of Educational Research, 2006)

What’s good policy?

Experts advise schools or districts to include teachers, parents, and students in any effort to set homework policies. Policies should address the purposes of homework; amount and frequency; school and teacher responsibilities; student responsibilities; and, the role of parents or others who assist students with homework.


Related Links

  • A Nation At Rest: The American Way of Homework ( PDF, 439 KB, 19 pgs.)
    Summary and comments from authors) - Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(3) (2003, Fall). Gill, B. P., & Schlossman, S. L.
  • Helping Your Child with Homework ( PDF, 378 KB, 25 pgs.)
    U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Research Spotlight on Best Practices in Education
    A list of NEA Spotlights on best practices.
  • NEA Reports & Statistics
    Research reports reviewing data on educational issues and policy papers concerning NEA members, educators, and the public school community.

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