Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Hot Topics/Homework

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What is the ideal amount of homework to assign?

A typical school day in the United States is six to six and half hours long. During this time, teachers are required to teach four to five core subjects, including math, English, science, and history. In addition, they must find time to include the fundamental supplementary subjects. These supplementary subjects include, but are not limited to, physical education, health, art, music, and foreign language. In these six hours, lunch and recess must also take place. Because of the large curriculum and the limited time, many teachers assign homework.

What is Homework?[edit]

Homework is work assigned to students, by teachers, to be completed outside of the school. “It is used as an instructional supplement to classroom teaching.” (6) Although it is not required, homework is typically counted as part of the students’ grade. “The U.S. is one of the few nations where teachers include homework scores as an element of course grades.” (2) Forms, objectives, and lengths of homework vary. A large debate surrounds the importance of homework and the time restraints it places on today’s students.

History of the Homework Debate[edit]

The debate over the importance of homework is not a new one. It has been debated since the late 1800s. Between the late 1800s and the mid 1900s some cities in the United States banned homework on the account that it was affecting the health of children; “many thought (homework) was an overemphasis on at-home drill and memorization”.(2) Children were spending so much time on schoolwork and homework that they were mentally and physically exhausted. However, in the 1950s and '60s homework loads began to increase. The government felt that the “United States was becoming less economically competitive” (2). A major event that sparked these notions was the Russians' launch of the Sputnik satellite (7). This increase of homework lasted until the 1970s, in which it once again made a drastic decline. In the 1980s the load once again begins to increase (2). This time it is due to the incompetence on international tests. In 2002, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act under President George W. Bush. Under this act, teachers and administrators are required to submit their school's achievements on state standardized test to the federal government. Failure to comply or to reach the goals set forth by the state leads to a range of consequences. The most severe consequence is the replacement of staff in those failing schools. According to the NCLB Act, all students must be proficient in math and reading by 2014 (2).

Types of Homework[edit]

Homework is assigned in a multitude of varieties. Some assignments include reading specific content, problems at the end of a chapter, worksheets, research papers, and creative projects. Teachers may assign daily homework in which the assignment is to be completed and turned in on the following school day. Alternatively, teachers may assign long-term assignments; giving the students a week or more to complete the assignment. Homework assignments can be used to reinforce lessons taught in class, or elaborate on briefly introduced material (2). In addition, homework assignments may be used to prepare the students for an upcoming lesson (5).

Purpose of Homework[edit]

“Different homework assignments serve different purposes, so it is important to consider the goal of each exercise.” (5) Some valid purposes of homework assignments include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. (5) Homework assigned to reinforce lessons gives students the opportunity to practice newly acquired skills. They also help teachers assess the students’ understanding and comprehension of the lessons. Homework assigned to elaborate on newly introduced material requires students to take initiative and learn independently. This type of assignments also allows teachers to introduce more material throughout the school year. Homework assignments designed as preparation for upcoming lessons introduces the lesson to the students beforehand and therefore increases their ability to comprehend it. All of these reasons are intended to have a direct effect on students’ learning and academic performances. In addition to these academic lessons, homework results in positive non-academic lessons. Homework teaches the values of responsibility, good work-study habits, time management, initiative, and motivation. “Perhaps the most important advantage of homework is that it can enhance achievement by extending learning beyond the school day.” (8)

The Effects of Homework[edit]

Does the amount of homework assigned have an impact on the academic success of students? Unfortunately, there is no straightforward concrete answer. Research shows that homework affects students differently depending on their age and grade level. The effect of homework on academic success increases as age and grade levels increase. The National Education Association and the National Teacher Association endorse a 10 minute per grade rule of thumb (2). This rule of thumb suggests that first graders should be assigned approximately ten minutes of homework, second graders about twenty, and twelfth graders about two hours.

Elementary School[edit]

Although homework has the least effect on elementary aged students, research shows that the homework loads have increased in the elementary schools over the last decade (2). “Research shows little evidence that homework improves learning or school achievement for children in the early grades.” (2) Students at this age have a limited attention span and grasp of study skills. A vast amount of homework may actually inhibit their academic achievement; “it can be counter productive, children will show signs of fatigue and frustration”. (7) Homework, in moderation, is more important at this age level to foster good work-study habits and teach self-motivation and responsibility.

Middle School[edit]

Research is inconclusive on regards to the effects of homework on middle school students. However, research does show that middle school is the stage of school that our students began falling behind on an international level; “by middle school U.S. scores begin to fall (on international achievement tests)” (2).

High School[edit]

Homework has the most effect on the academic success of high school students. There is a correlation between homework and scores on achievement tests and overall grades. (6) Following the ten-minute rule of thumb, the optimal amount of homework for high school students is approximately two hours. The more the better does not apply after two hours. Each added hour doing homework shows a smaller pay off in achievement (6).

Too Much or Too Little[edit]

A major debate surrounds the effect and time restriction that homework has on school-aged children. Should homework be required? How much is too much? Critics against required homework argue that if students are assigned too much homework it leaves no time for family, extra curricular activities, and play. “Research shows (these activities) are more highly correlated with cognitive development and achievement than is homework.”(2) Too much homework can lead to stress, sleep deprivation and even depression. An unreasonable amount of homework dims children’s love of learning and too much may “diminish its effectiveness or become counter productive”. (2) On the other side, critics that are for required homework argue that the schools are not assigning enough homework. “Mastering a subject or skill takes practice, and homework can provide that practice.” (5) Students have the weekends, holidays, and summer to play. The amount of time spent on academics, to include the length of school days and school years as well as time spent on homework, does not compare with other industrialized countries, such as Asia and Europe. (2) Supporters of homework argue that homework adds to study time, and study time is the chief determinant of how much students learn. (2)

Importance of the Type of Homework Assigned[edit]

The type of homework that a teacher assigns can have a lot to do with its effectiveness. “Even more important than how much homework is what kind.” (2) If students are required to complete repetitive, long, ill thought out assignments, the knowledge they gain by doing so is minimal (8). For example, if there are 40 math problems assigned focusing on the same material, a student that knows the material may feel that it is repetitive and pointless. On the other hand, a student that is having a hard time with the material may get frustrated and disengaged. An approach taken by many teachers to avoid these issues is to use the five-problem rule recommended by the U.S. Department of Education (2). This rule suggests that teachers should not assign more than five problems of any given content. Five problems are enough to assess weather a student comprehends the material or not. Furthermore, “if a child who did not get the right idea in class slogs through thirty problems, she is just cementing the wrong method in her brain” (2).

Teachers must carefully plan and assign homework in a way that maximizes the potential for student success (2). Not all students learn the same way. Students may be visual, verbal, or logical learners. Teachers need to be aware of the different learning strengths of their students and vary the types of homework they assign to include all types of learning styles. In addition, assignments must be realistic in length and difficulty (8). First graders should not be expected to learn twenty-five seven-letter words for a spelling test. Teachers need to take in to account their students logical and mental capabilities. Teachers should limit assignments to important and thoughtful ones (2). They should not assign homework just because it is expected by the parents and/or students. Generally, students complete their assignments because of expectations, as opposed to the educational gain they will receive by doing so. Keeping this in mind, teachers should assign homework that will keep the students interested while expanding their knowledge.

Conclusion[edit]

Homework is a hot-button topic in education. Some view homework as a needless waste of time and effort, and source of tremendous stress for students; while, others view it as an excellent study and review tool. As a middle school teacher, I see it as a way for my students to hone the information they learned in class and also continually spiral back to retain information learned previously. Also, it can be used as a way to introduce new topics and peak interest in a student. It is a valuable resource one can use to their advantage. However, it should not be a determining factor in a student’s grade point or average, as it is merely a tool and not a fundamental aspect of any course; the heart of the material should be assessed and covered in class. In fact, many teachers refuse to even assign homework as it is understood that students rarely complete it or put great effort into it. Whatever one’s feeling regarding homework, there is a definite ‘best’ method one can employ to reap the full benefits of homework. As pointed out by the National Education Association, “ensuring students’ success is a shared responsibility” (NEA, 2006, p. 2). That is, as parents and educators, we should be utilizing every avenue available to us to assist our students in their journey for academic success. As the achievement gap becomes a gorge the world grows ever more competitive and unforgiving. So, what can we do to make homework work? First, we can be prepared. Secondly, be on the same page as the instructor or teacher—understand their policy. Thirdly, be accessible and willing to model your expectations. Also, utilize all of your resources and stay in touch. Finally, foster learning even outside of school. (NEA, 2006, p. 1-3).

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Homework has the greatest positive effects on...
A. Elementary students
B. Middle school students
C. High school students
D. All of the above

C. High school students

Which of the following is not a valid purpose of assigning homework?
A. Knowledge
B. Punishment
C. Synthesis
D. Evaluation

B. Punishment

The effectiveness of homework depends on the type assigned.
A. True
B. False

A. True

Which of the following is a value that homework teaches?
A. Good work-study habits
B. Time-management
C. Motivation
D. All of the above

D. All of the above

Ms. Jackson is a 6th grade teacher. She often gives her students brief assignments for homework that pique their interest and goes back to information in the beginning if the year. This is an example of someone using homework to
A. Be busy work.
B. Be a valuable review resource.
C. Do nothing because no one does it any way.
D. Fill in the grade book.

B. Be a valuable review resource.

With homework, it is important to
A. Do it for your child.
B. Not assign it because they won’t do it.
C. Make it really easy and simple.
D. Be accessible and willing to model your expectations.

D. Be accessible and willing to model your expectations.

Mr. Anderson is a third grade teacher. For homework he gives each child an old magazine. The students are to circle at least ten proper nouns they come across. They started proper nouns one day earlier. What is one thing we can say about Mr. Anderson's choice of homework?
A. The assignment will be too hard for the students because it is a new concept.
B. The assignment is extremely unfair.
C. The assignment is good practice for the students, but should not be graded because it is such a new concept.
D. The assignment will take too much time.

C. The assignment is good practice for the students, but should not be graded because it is such a new concept.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

If you were a teacher of any grade, what would your homework policies be, and why?

In having the opportunity to teach high school students, I have also had the chance to develop homework policies for my students. Homework is considered a tool to reinforce new and existing material that has been learned within the classroom. My class used computers for 90% of their class assignments. Homework consists of work that can be completed outside of class, without using a computer. By completing the assignments this allows students to become independent learners, as they work on self discipline and prepare themselves for higher academia. Students receive points for completing homework; however, they do not receive a grade for homework. The points that the students receive are incentive points and are translated into extra credit points for taking time to complete assignments outside of class. Students are assigned long-term projects. The long-term projects can be completed outside of class; however, students have enough time within class to complete the assigned project. The purpose for allowing students to complete long-term projects in class is to be able to support the student's questions, concerns and or ideas.

Students who do not take the opportunity to complete assignments outside of class do not receive any points. The points are not averaged into grades; but, by completing homework assignments students will have additional points to add to their original grade. The points that are added to the original grade can make a difference between a B or an A, or a D or a C. Students do not have any other opportunities to receive extra credit; therefore, all students make an effort to complete the homework assignments that are assigned to them.


I plan to teach Kindergarten and I don't think that I will be giving them homework unless it is something that isn't too time consuming such as reading a story to a parent. I feel that students work hard enough at school and they need time to relax and be kids. Students are in school for six or six and a half hours five days a week. That's a lot of time to be learning new things. I think that homework should be different at different grade levels. For example if I was teaching sixth grade then they would definitely have to have homework. Subjects such as math require homework because you need to make sure you understand the material. Some teachers take the homework overboard though, because some teachers forget that the students have other classes and want to give them tons of work to do. When this happens the students are doing homework all night and don't get much of a break; especially if they are involved in extra-curricular activates. That is why I think that homework should only be given if necessary. —Katherine Owen


If I was a teacher for school I would give my students homework but I would not collect it. A lot of teachers give out homework and then they collect it for part of the student’s grade. Homework should always be offered but it should not be graded because homework is suppose to help students learn the information better so if a student does not do their homework and gets a bad grade on the test then that would be their fault. Students would then realize that even though homework is not collected you should still do it so you will be able to do well on your test. Another reason why I would not collect it for a grade is so the student can have more time studying for a class that he needs help in, because if a student knows the information and gets homework on that information then its a waste of time and that would take time from him studying for a class maybe he is struggling on. When I was a teacher I hated teachers that gave out a lot of homework and collected it for a grade because it takes all of your time. I feel like a student has been in school for 8 hours of the day, so they should get some free time and enjoy being a kid, not going straight home and cracking down on the books for another couple hours. —Kurt Johnson


I believe that homework is a crucial part of the learning process. It gives children a chance to attempt problems on their own. This allows them to discover their weaknesses and strengths before a test is given. It will also helps the children to learn valuable study skills. In addition, assigning homework gives parents a chance to become involved in what their children are learning. Parents’ support is crucial to the education of younger children. When I become a teacher, I definitely plan on assigning homework. However, I will do it in moderation. I believe that the 10 minutes per grade level rule is an excellent amount. Younger children should not be expected to spend as much time as older children on homework.

I would not assign homework over the weekends or during holiday breaks. Everyone needs a break now and then so that they do not become “burned out”. Also, with this break and rest from school work, the children will return feeling refreshed and ready to start learning again. I also think that long term assignments are a great learning tool. Children can begin these assignments and work on them little by little as they learn new skills. This would help the children see the progress of their knowledge and help them to realize how their lessons are related. —Kristy Currin


As a future fourth grade teacher, I plan to assign a minimal amount of homework. I intend to allow class time to complete assignments. If the student does not use his or her time wisely, then the work will have to be completed as homework. However, I realize that there will be occasions when assignments will have to be completed at home due to disruptions in the school day, such as assemblies. Also, due to extracurricular activities, many students have to rush to complete homework in order to get to participate in the activity or parents do the work for them just to get it done. If students have to rush through their work, they will not learn the necessary material, which will create problems for the student later. When students do their homework during class, I know whose work I will be grading. Another reason I plan to assign a minimal amount of homework is because I believe children need time to be children. If they have to go home and complete two hour’s worth of homework, when will they have time to play? In addition to getting their exercise, children learn when they are able to play and explore outdoors, which creates a happy, healthy child and a successful student. —Amanda Hughes


I plan on teaching 3rd grade and I think homework is a great opportunity to do some work on their own time. This can also teach the students good time management and how not to procrastinate. I do not plan on assigning a lot of homework but I believe it’s an important learning skill. Homework also gives the parents an idea of what their children are learning in class and what their children’s learning level is at. I also intend on giving students time in class to do their assignments and if they do not finish them in class they will have to finish at home. This also gives the students the opportunity to ask me questions if they have any. I think that homework is a good idea and I intend on giving some, but maybe not on the weekends. —Diane Berry


I plan to be a third grade teacher. At that age, I think it's important to not give an overload of homework. Some homework is inevitable. It is a great opportunity to see how the students work without the teacher's help, and their parents get to see how and what they are learning in school. However, I think children do enough work during the school day. When they go home at the end of the day, they should be able to play and enjoy their time away from school. Family time is also important for the development of small children. There is plenty of time in the school day for them to complete all their work and stay on track with the students from other classrooms that are given homework every night. If the student doesn't complete the given classwork in school, then it school be completed at home, but as a teacher I would try to my best to not give homework. —Whitney Medeiros


As a future high school or middle school history and government teacher, homework will be an important part of my class. I believe that at those ages, students should be serious about their education and willing to do outside of the classroom work in order to enhance their learning. Teachers do not give homework just to give it. Homework is given to supplement the present lesson or to get students to think about the next lesson they will be going over. I believe that some homework assignments can also help students because some people learn better on their own and it also helps reinforce what they have already learned. In my class, there will most likely be a lot of essay questions, reading and paper writing. I not only want my students to learn about history and government, but also use the tools they have learned in other classes such as English. Most likely I will have my students read a section in the book before we go over it, just so they have a basic understanding of the material. After we cover the material, they will complete worksheets that correspond. Any assignments that are not finished in class will be considered homework. I will also have my students complete long term assignments, such as a term paper. I do not want to assign my class loads of homework each night because I know that there will be some students who will not complete the work, but students who do complete homework assignments will be rewarded. Homework grades will be a small portion of the final grades for students, so they need to take it seriously. —Tara Saylor


I plan to be a kindergarten teacher. I will probably not assign that much homework to them. Children are in school for a long enough period during the day that at such a young age I don’t think that it is necessary for them to be assigned work to do at home. I plan on giving them a few activities to complete at home though, but I will make sure it is all things that they would enjoy. By working with young children, I have observed that when they are in kindergarten they actually think it’s kind of "cool" to have homework. It makes them feel older and gives them a sense of accomplishment. I also feel that if they have some homework it will give the children a chance to ask their parents questions. By doing so parents (or guardians) and children can have a chance to spend time together and talk about what the child is learning in school. Although I feel that homework can be very essential to students at higher grade levels, I feel that in elementary school homework should be used to reinforce what was learned during the school day and give a chance for parents and children to spend time together at home. I do not believe that children (especially in elementary schools) should have so much work to take home that it makes going home a stressful event. —Marinda Gregory


Some people dislike the idea of homework and they say that it’s a waste of time and it is not an effective way to reinforce material. I believe that homework can be a really useful tool in the classroom and I think that it will benefit my students in the long run. I plan to become a Spanish teacher, and learning a language other than one’s own can be difficult, so I will give my students homework so they can get a grasp of the concepts presented to them. It is easy for kids to forget what they are taught, especially when a plethora of new ideas are thrown at them over the course of six hours a day, so my homework assignments will help them retain information and practice using the language outside of the classroom. I will not, however, make homework a major part of my student’s grades. Homework will only be mandatory if students fail to show mastery of a skill on tests or quizzes. If they maintain at least a “B” and aren’t showing any problems, then they do not have to do the assignment if they don’t want to. I don’t think it is a good idea to make students do homework if it doesn’t help them learn anything new. If their grades are not up to par then they will have required homework assignments until their quiz or test grades are adequate. This will keep them on task and then they will be rewarded in the end for making progress. —Lauren Spindle


First and foremost, I am not a big fan of long, drawn out homework assignments. I do not believe they enhance learning or lead to better comprehension of material (in agreement with this article). For my classrooms, I will only assign homework as needed. When we are working on math problems, which require practice, I will assign a few (no more than five) for my students to practice after school. Spelling words or simple papers will be the maximum for my language arts classes. All other topics will have assignments on an as needed basis. I hope to be able to cover all material and reach my students in class, without the need for after school work. The higher grade levels will require more homework, due to the amount of material that must be covered. For example, fifth graders are required to learn many more difficult topics than first graders, but their attention span and cognitive abilities are also greater. I had many friends who became “burnt out” from large homework loads and will make it a goal of mine to limit the amount of homework I assign. If I were to teach high school, obviously the workload would be higher. These students are preparing for college and must learn how to properly manage time and complete multiple assignments on time. The length of time we are given with our students is adequate, but reinforcement of skills will still be necessary. Therefore, it will be necessary to assign some homework, but it is still my job to teach the material and I intend to do so in class and without the need of learning skills at home. There is no way to get around studying for tests, but if the material is presented properly study time should be minimal. Homework will be solely for reinforcement of skills and practice. —April K. Smith


I would like the opportunity to teach second grade. I would assign homework to my students but only work that is manageable and acceptable. Personally, I believe homework should be a review and work that can be done. Too often homework has been work that takes hours or discourages students. I can remember doing homework in elementary school and feeling hopeless. The homework was overwhelming and took hours, when it should not have. Throughout middle and high school homework was the same. I spent way too long doing it and it became draining. Homework should be a review from that day’s lesson and not teach something new. My policy would be homework would be nightly and work from that day could help with the assignments. I know now, I would ask students to read every night but I would never ask them to read something out of the ordinary knowing they cannot read it. I believe in homework but it should be used when needed and necessary. —Meryl Cox


I am currently teaching twelfth grade honors English at Menchville High School in Newport News. This is my second year teaching this class and, with the help of the other honors English teacher, I have adopted very specific homework policies that I think are very effective. I spent last year perfecting these policies, and this year, I have found it even easier to enforce. My seniors have reading homework almost every night. It usually is not an excessive amount, but at the same time, it is difficult reading that requires a certain degree of effort and hard work. When they complain, I remind them that the point of this class is to prepare them for life after high school. Because it is an honors class, it is expected that the majority of these students will go on to college next year. Those who don’t will be entering the work force or the military, and like in college, they will have certain duties they will be expected to complete. The homework assignments are designed to make them think on their own and prepare them for life after high school. With every reading assignment, they know there is a possibility for a quiz the following class period. Failing several quizzes in a row as a result of not doing homework, will significantly lower a student’s grade. Therefore, they are much more likely to do the reading because they don’t want their grades to drop. —Erin Eudy


I am going to be a music teacher which will not require assigning homework, but I would also like to teach music theory which would. This would be a high school class. This subject is one that is very methodical and can only be learned through working out written examples. While taking music theory in high school about twenty minutes of homework was a sufficient amount for the class to master the material, generally. I would try to assign only that much, especially since I know the core classes would be assigning more and I wouldn't want my students to get stressed out. However, if I didn't feel enough material was covered during class, I would assign more. Homework is something to aid in the learning process, in my opinion, and it should not be assigned just for homework's sake, so I would keep that in mind as well. Also, I would check the homework to see whether or not the students made an attempt and that would determine their grade, not how well they did it. However, I would edit them for mistakes to make sure they understand the material. Homework is a learning experience and the student should not be faulted if they don't understand something. —Brittany Cannon


As a high school Spanish teacher, I think that it would be necessary to have homework for the students on a regular basis so that they get time to practice the language that they are learning. There is no way they will be able to learn the language if they only ever use it or think about it just in class, so I know that I would have homework for my kids every week. That said, I also think that I would be lenient in the homework that I give. It would follow the ten minute rule for the most part and be a review of the things that we learned in class that day, either some sort of grammar or vocabulary assignment. I would work with the children who were having trouble with the activity and use the homework in class as a review so that they get the opportunity to learn from each other and from me. I would also make sure that I know my kids well and know their backgrounds and stories so that I can work with children who do not have time or maybe a place at home to complete their homework, or have to work to help support their family. I think it is important to be firm in making students do homework as a review, but there will always be exceptions to that rule, there will always be students with special needs that you will have to work with so that they are able to succeed in the class and I think it is important to remember that when assigning homework especially. —Jessie Neumann


I am going to teach math at the high school level. Math is a subject that must be practiced at home to make sure the student can solve a problem on their own. I am also a mother of two children who are both in elementary school. I feel homework is very important for students no matter what the grade. Homework should be a review of what is taught in the class and just a way for students to test their understanding of the daily lessons taught. I do not feel that giving students more tougher homework will help our students to become smarter. The above article talks about how “by middle school U.S. scores begin to fall (on international achievement tests)”. I do not believe more homework will solve this problem. I think the approach to teaching needs to change so students are learning the most up to date information possible. Technology today allows for many new and entertaining ways to teach students. I feel we need to focus more on the what and how we are teaching our kids rather than the amount of homework time. In my opinion too hard of homework or overloaded homework will many times only be completed by the students who have a strong support system at home. Sadly many times students do not have a strong support system at home. Many students do not have help on the hard homework assignments and become discouraged when they are unable to complete the assignment. Many students live for today and easily become unmotivated when they are given too much homework deciding not to do any of the homework because they feel they were given an unreasonable amount. I also feel that as important as homework is, exercise is just as important. Kids need to have time to go outside for at least an hour so they keep their bodies healthy. Students go to school for about 6 hours five days a week and even though they get holidays and summers off, it is very important that students are happy with as little stress as possible because that is how the brain learns best, according to Dr. Allen’s lecture on “The Brain”. When I teach I will only use homework as practice to ensure the students understand the material taught. —Victoria Monaghan

References[edit]

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