Homework is not only a routine aspect of schoolchildren's lives, but also the key daily interaction between school and family. As such, it often leads to tension between family and school over control of children's time and over parents' role in education–particularly after the expansion of mass schooling during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
A vocal anti-homework movement emerged in the United States in the early twentieth century, asserting parental prerogatives and children's rights. One critic argued that "the cultural or recreational life of the family is seriously restricted or handicapped … by the school's invasion of the home hours" ("Home Study?" p. 69) while another pronounced that homework was a sin against childhood. The anti-homework position reflected the growing influence internationally of scientific knowledge about children's health and development. This in turn motivated a Progressive reform movement in education that rejected rote methods of teaching and learning in favor of individualized, "childcentered" approaches. Many educators argued that homework had no place in a Progressive educational regime, particularly in the elementary grades. During the first half of the twentieth century, school policies in many communities across the United States commanded the reduction or abolition of homework.
Nevertheless, throughout the era of mass education, most parents supported homework, at least in moderate amounts. They regarded homework not only as essential to academic achievement, but also as an important means for children to develop self-discipline and responsibility. Finally, some parents viewed homework not as an intrusion into family time but as a critical means of understanding how the school is educating their child. In the words of a parent from the 1930s, "Homework is a wonderful connecting link between the parents and the child's school life" ("Do You Believe in Homework?" p. 58). Two decades later, another parent made the point more bluntly: "Homework is our only way of keeping up with what goes on" in the school (Langdon and Stout, p.370).
During the second half of the twentieth century, expert opinion increasingly came into line with parental views in support of homework. After the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, U.S. politicians, parents, and educators became concerned that the educational system required substantial improvement to match Soviet technological prowess. The resulting focus on science and mathematics reinforced challenges to Progressive education and sparked interest in using homework to support increasingly ambitious academic goals. By the 1980s, at least in the United States, a "back-to-basics" movement had largely replaced the earlier Progressive discourse in education. With it came a celebration of homework as vital to fostering academic attainment, moral virtue, and international economic competitiveness–and a strong endorsement of parental partnership in schooling.
Not all parents joined in the celebration of homework, however, particularly when its sheer quantity was over-whelming for their children or their family life. But in the United States the great majority of children never spent much time on homework. Despite small increases for high-school students in the post-Sputnik decade and for young children in the 1980s and 1990s, homework involved only a modest time commitment for most American students throughout the second half of the twentieth century. In the primary grades, despite the increases at the end of the century, homework occupied most children for only two hours weekly –an amount perhaps comparable to that given in other industrial nations. Meanwhile most U.S. high-school students spent around an hour daily on homework– substantially less than their counterparts in other advanced industrial nations. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, high-school students in many parts of Europe and Asia were spending substantial amounts of time on homework. In the United States, by contrast, an enormous gap was evident between a solidly pro-homework discourse and levels of homework practice that remained stubbornly low, even among college-bound students.
See also: Education, United States.
Chen, Chuansheng, and Harold W. Stevenson. 1989. "Homework: A Cross-Cultural Examination." Child Development 60: 551–561.
"Do You Believe in Homework? Replies For and Against." 1936. Parents Magazine (January): 11, 14–15, 58–61.
Gill, Brian P., and Steven L. Schlossman. 1996. "'A Sin Against Childhood': Progressive Education and the Crusade to Abolish Homework, 1897–1941." American Journal of Education 105:27–66.
Gill, Brian P., and Steven L. Schlossman. 2000. "The Lost Cause of Homework Reform." American Journal of Education 109:27–62.
Gill, Brian P., and Steven L. Schlossman. 2003. "Homework and the Elusive Voice of Parents: Some Historical Perspectives." Teachers College Record 105, no. 5.
Gill, Brian P., and Steven L. Schlossman. 2003. "A Nation at Rest: The American Way of Homework, 1948–1999." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
"Home Study?" 1930. Washington Education Journal (November): 69–70, 82.
Langdon, Grace, and Irving W. Stout. 1957. "What Parents Think about Homework." NEA Journal 46: 370–372.
Larson, Reed W., and Suman Verma. 1999. "How Children and Adolescents Spend Time Across the World: Work, Play, and Developmental Opportunities." Psychological Bulletin 125, no. 6: 701–736.
Patri, Angelo. 1927. School and Home. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
Homework is defined as tasks assigned to students by school teachers that are intended to be carried out during nonschool hours. This definition excludes in-school guided study (although homework is often worked on during school), home-study courses, and extracurricular activities such as sports teams and clubs.
The most common purpose of homework is to have students practice material already presented in class so as to reinforce learning and facilitate mastery of specific skills. Preparation assignments introduce the material that will be presented in future lessons. These assignments aim to help students obtain the maximum benefit when the new material is covered in class. Extension homework involves the transfer of previously learned skills to new situations. For example, students might learn in class about factors that led to the French Revolution and then be asked as homework to apply them to the American Revolution. Finally, integration homework requires the student to apply separately learned skills to produce a single product, such as book reports, science projects, or creative writing.
Homework also can serve purposes that do not relate directly to instruction. Homework can be used to (1) establish communication between parents and children; (2) fulfill directives from school administrators; (3) punish students; and (4) inform parents about what is going on in school. Most homework assignments have elements of several different purposes.
Public Attitudes toward Homework
Homework has been a part of student's lives since the beginning of formal schooling in the United States. However, the practice has been alternately accepted and rejected by educators and parents.
When the twentieth century began, the mind was viewed as a muscle that could be strengthened through mental exercise. Since this exercise could be done at home, homework was viewed favorably. During the 1940s, the emphasis in education shifted from drill to problem solving. Homework fell out of favor because it was closely associated with the repetition of material. The launch of the satellite Sputnik by the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s reversed this thinking. The American public worried that education lacked rigor and left children unprepared for complex technologies. Homework, it was believed, could accelerate knowledge acquisition.
The late 1960s witnessed yet another reversal. Educators and parents became concerned that homework was crowding out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities. In the 1980s, homework once again leapt back into favor when A Nation at Risk (1983), the report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, cited homework as a defense against the rising tide of mediocrity in American education. The push for more homework continued into the 1990s, fueled by increasingly rigorous state-mandated academic standards. As the century ended, a backlash against homework set in, led by parents concerned about too much stress on their children.
The Positive and Negative Effects of Homework
The most direct positive effect of homework is that it can improve retention and understanding. More indirectly, homework can improve students' study skills and attitudes toward school, and teach students that learning can take place anywhere, not just in school buildings. The nonacademic benefits of homework include fostering independence and responsibility. Finally, homework can involve parents in the school process, enhancing their appreciation of education, and allowing them to express positive attitudes toward the value of school success.
Conversely, educators and parents worry that students will grow bored if they are required to spend too much time on academic material. Homework can deny access to leisure time and community activities that also teach important life skills. Parent involvement in homework can turn into parent interference. For example, parents can confuse children if the instructional techniques they use differ from those used by teachers. Homework can actually lead to the acquisition of undesirable character traits if it promotes cheating, either through the copying of assignments or help with homework that goes beyond tutoring. Finally, homework could accentuate existing social inequities. Children from disadvantaged homes may have more difficulty completing assignments than their middle-class counterparts.
Extensiveness of Homework
In contrast to the shifts in public attitudes, surveys suggest that the amount of time students spend on homework has been relatively stable. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress suggests that in both 1984 and 1994, about one-third of nine-year-olds and one-quarter of thirteen-and seventeen-year-olds reported being assigned no homework at all, with an additional 5 percent to 10 percent admitting they did not do homework that was assigned. About one-half of nine-year-olds, one-third of thirteen-year-olds, and one-quarter of seventeen-year-olds said they did less than an hour of homework each night. In 1994 about 12 percent of nine-year-olds, 28 percent of thirteen-year-olds, and 26 percent of seventeen-year-olds said they did one to two hours of homework each night. These percentages were all within one point of the 1984 survey results.
A national survey of parents conducted by the polling agency Public Agenda, in October, 2000, revealed that 64 percent of parents felt their child was getting "about the right amount" of homework, 25 percent felt their child was getting "too little" homework, and only 10 percent felt "too much homework" was being assigned.
International comparisons often suggest that U.S. students spend less time on homework than students in other industrialized nations. However, direct comparisons across countries are difficult to interpret because of different definitions of homework and differences in the length of the school day and year.
Appropriate Amounts of Homework
Experts agree that the amount and type of homework should depend on the developmental level of the student. The National PTA and the National Education Association suggest that homework for children in grades K–2 is most effective when it does not exceed ten to twenty minutes each day. In grades three through six, children can benefit from thirty to sixty minutes daily. Junior high and high school students can benefit from more time on homework and the amount might vary from night to night. These recommendations are consistent with the conclusions reached by studies into the effectiveness of homework.
Research on Homework's Overall Effectiveness
Three types of studies have been used to examine the relationship between homework and academic achievement. One type compares students who receive homework with students who receive none. Generally, these studies reveal homework to be a positive influence on achievement. However, they also reveal a relationship between homework and achievement for high school students that is about twice as strong as for junior high students. The relationship at the elementary school level is only one-quarter that of the high school level.
Another type of study compares homework to in-class supervised study. Overall, the positive relationship is about half as strong as in the first type of study. These studies again reveal a strong grade-level effect. When homework and in-class study were compared in elementary schools, in-class study proved superior.
The third type of study correlates the amount of homework students say they complete with their achievement test scores. Again, these surveys show the relationship is influenced by the grade level of students. For students in primary grades, the correlation between time spent on homework and achievement is near zero. For students in middle and junior high school, the correlation suggests a positive but weak relationship. For high school students, the correlation suggests a moderate relationship between achievement and time spend on homework.
Research on Effective Homework Assignments
The subject matter shows no consistent relationship to the value of homework. It appears that shorter and more frequent assignments may be more effective than longer but fewer assignments. Assignments that involve review and preparation are more effective than homework that focuses only on material covered in class on the day of the assignments. It can be beneficial to involve parents in homework when young children are experiencing problems in school. Older students and students doing well in school have more to gain from homework when it promotes independent learning.
Homework can be an effective instructional device. However, the relationship between homework and achievement is influenced greatly by the students' developmental level. Expectations for home work's effects, especially in the short term and in earlier grades, must be modest. Further, homework can have both positive and negative effects. Educators and parents should not be concerned with which list of homework effects is correct. Rather, homework policies and practices should give individual schools and teachers flexibility to take into account the unique needs and circumstances of their students so as to maximize positive effects and minimize negative ones.
Campbell, Jay R. ; Reese, Clyde M. ; O'Sullivan, Christine; and Dossey, John A. 1996. NAEP 1994 Trends in Academic Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Cooper, Harris. 2001. The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents, 2nd edition. Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press.
Cooper, Harris, and Valentine, J. C., eds. 2001. "Homework: A Special Issue." Educational Psychologist 36 (3).
Public Agenda. 2000. "Survey Finds Little Sign of Backlash Against Academic Standards or Standardized Tests." <www.publicagenda.org/aboutpa/aboutpa3ee.htm>
HOMEWORK. Schoolwork assigned to be done out-side of the school hours. The history of homework in the United States is a varied one, both in substance and in perceived value. Over the years, its presentation has changed markedly, and its popularity has waxed and waned.
In the early 1800s, in an agrarian society, the school year was short and homework was of little significance. There was little time for it, because children living on farms had a multitude of chores. In the late 1800s, as a result of the industrial revolution, families moved to the cities and became more urbanized. At this time, educational philosophers perceived the mind as a passive, blank slate upon which learning would be imprinted. The formal learning of the time, in large part, consisted of a classroom experience that entailed much memorization, drill, and recitation. Homework, which was structured similarly, was deemed an important reinforcement of what was learned. Many people, however, believed that homework could cause physical, emotional, or mental illness, since it kept children from fresh air and physical exercise.
In the early 1900s, educator Edward Bok was instrumental in addressing and supporting concerns about the value of homework. In his writings he suggested that no homework should be assigned to those students less than 15 years of age and only one hour per night to those students 15 and older. The Progressive Education Movement had begun to ask questions about the structure of teaching. Supporters of this movement viewed learning as an active process of problem solving, far different from the passive learning philosophy of the past. This change in perception caused memorizing and reciting to lose its place as the primary approach to education. In 1930, the Society of the Abolition of Homework was established. This group stressed its concerns about the health risks that members felt homework presented, including eye-strain, lack of sleep, limited development in certain areas due to lack of free play, and even physical deformities.
In response to Russia's launching of the space satellite Sputnik in 1957, the pendulum swung again. A fifty-year trend toward less homework came to a halt. As the United States became committed to compete with the Russians, a cry came out for more and better education in both math and science. The vast majority of educators and parents called for more homework. The National Defense Education Act supported this effort and, in turn, the value of homework. By the 1960s, homework was seen as a major factor in scholastic achievement, although in 1966 the National Education Association (NEA) did suggest some limits in amount. The NEA suggested no homework for the early elementary school child; no more than one hour a day, four days a week, for upper elementary and junior high school students; and approximately one and one-half hours a night for senior high school students.
In the 1980s, policymakers continued to encourage educators to increase the amount of homework given. In 1983 the government's document, A Nation at Risk, declared that much of what ailed the U.S. economy could be attributed to the inadequacies of the schools and stressed the need for more homework and a longer school day. Even though researcher Harris Cooper reported in 1989 that his extensive studies indicated the amount of homework done in the elementary grades has little or no effect on later academic achievement, homework's value at all levels was continually supported by the vast majority of educators. Comparisons to the educational approaches, school hours, and the amount of homework assigned by other countries became prevalent. Although ongoing re-search is inconclusive, studies have indicated that students in other countries (whether they are assigned more homework than U.S. students or not) still outperform U.S. students on tests in math and science. This would bring into question the value of increasing homework for students in U.S. schools.
The debate continues. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, new questions and concerns about homework and approaches to homework have evolved. Among them: "Is a more intensified approach to education, including a great deal of homework, necessary for us as a nation to compete in a global marketplace?" and "Is it fair and healthy for the schools to impose more work on families who are generally overworked and who already have their free time overtaxed?"
Studies done at Carnegie-Mellon University show that real competence is the result of extensive practice. An additional finding from the 1999 National Assessment for Educational Progress concludes that 17-year-olds who typically spend more that two hours a day doing homework have higher average reading scores than those who spend less than an hour per day or no time at all on homework.
Experts perceive that homework is a good way to review, reinforce, and practice what has been taught. Homework is also considered to be a good way to assimilate new information related to what has been studied. In addition, homework is judged as an avenue that allows teachers to assess students' understanding of what has been presented. It is also seen as a method of preparation for the next day's work and a valuable way to study for tests. In addition, it is purported to teach direction following, organizational skills, time management, and re-search skills, as well as supporting the communication between parents and the school. Some feel that homework builds character.
Negative arguments include that homework suppresses creativity and chokes the desire to learn. Many also observe that it creates unnecessary anxiety for the child and the family and can have a negative impact on the family as a whole. Others feel that assigning homework is unfair without support available to children whose families have little time or little knowledge about the technology taught and the approaches to teaching that are considered valuable today.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, homework was given in greater quantities than in the past, in part due to the increased difficulty in getting into top colleges and the more challenging job market that faced graduates. The resources available to students who wished support with their homework also grew. Homework hotlines were available, as were special homework tutors and tutorial programs offered in learning centers. In addition, numerous Internet nodes offered homework support, and many schools had after school programs where time was set aside for children to work on their homework under supervision.
Cooper, Harris M. The Battle over Homework. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 1994.
Kralovec, Etta, and John Buell. The End of Homework. Boston. Beacon Press. 2000.
National Center for Educational Statistics. The Condition of Education 2001. Washington, D.C.: Department of Education, 2001.
See alsoEducation .
Homework is a tool for reinforcing and expanding on concepts introduced in the classroom. It can help foster independence, self-discipline, and a love of learning in younger children and can improve an older child's performance on standardized tests. Critics of homework say that it overburdens children and can adversely affect a child's development by cutting in on leisure time and creating tension in the home. In addition, some children may be at a disadvantage if their parents are ill prepared to assist with homework because of their work schedules or their inability to comprehend the subject matter. Some education experts have also pointed out that studies have never conclusively proven that homework improves overall academic performance among grade-school children.
Despite these criticisms, many believe that homework has a place in a child's education. Homework is most effective when assignments are meaningful, have a clear purpose and instructions, and are well matched to a student's abilities.
See also:HOME SCHOOLING
"Helping with Homework: A Parent's Guide to Information Problem-Solving." ERIC Digest (November 1996).
Kralovec, Etta, and John Buell. The End of Homework. Boston: Beacon Press, 2000.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development."How Do Children Spend Their Time? Children's Activities, School Achievement, and Well-Being." Research on Today's Issues 11 (August 2000).
home·work / ˈhōmˌwərk/ • n. schoolwork that a student is required to do at home. ∎ work or study done in preparation for a certain event or situation: he had evidently done his homework and read his predecessor's reports. ∎ paid work carried out in one's own home, esp. low-paid piecework.