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Research Spotlight on Homework

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From the homework laboratories

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education
What the Research Says
The Case for Homework

Cool and Timothy Z. Keith, "Testing a Model of School Learning: Other research has found little or no correlation between how much homework students report doing and how much homework their parents say they do. To put it the other way around, studies finding the biggest effect are those that capture less of what goes on in the real world by virtue of being so brief.

Even the title of their article reflects this: He had contributed earlier to another study whose results similarly ended up raising questions about the value of homework. Students enrolled in college physics courses were surveyed to determine whether any features of their high school physics courses were now of use to them. At first a very small relationship was found between the amount of homework that students had had in high school and how well they were currently faring.

But once the researchers controlled for other variables, such as the type of classes they had taken, that relationship disappeared, just as it had for Keith see note 2. The researchers then studied a much larger population of students in college science classes - and found the same thing: Sadler and Robert H. Tai, "Success in Introductory College Physics: Da Capo, , an adaptation of which appears as " Abusing Research: On the alleged value of practice, see The Homework Myth , pp.

Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. Even taken on its own terms, the research turns up some findings that must give pause to anyone who thinks homework is valuable. Homework matters less the longer you look. The longer the duration of a homework study, the less of an effect the homework is shown to have. The studies finding the greatest effect were those that captured less of what goes on in the real world by virtue of being so brief. Even where they do exist, positive effects are often quite small.

The same was true of a large-scale high school study from the s. There is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school. The absence of evidence supporting the value of homework before high school is generally acknowledged by experts in the field — even those who are far less critical of the research literature and less troubled by the negative effects of homework than I am.

But this remarkable fact is rarely communicated to the general public. In , Cooper summarized the available research with a sentence that ought to be e-mailed to every parent, teacher, and administrator in the country: It, too, found minuscule correlations between the amount of homework done by sixth graders, on the one hand, and their grades and test scores, on the other. For third graders, the correlations were negative: He was kind enough to offer the citations, and I managed to track them down.

The point was to see whether children who did math homework would perform better on a quiz taken immediately afterward that covered exactly the same content as the homework. The third study tested 64 fifth graders on social studies facts.

All three of these experiments found exactly what you would expect: The kids who had drilled on the material — a process that happened to take place at home — did better on their respective class tests. The final study, a dissertation project, involved teaching a lesson contained in a language arts textbook.

It seems safe to say that these latest four studies offer no reason to revise the earlier summary statement that no meaningful evidence exists of an academic advantage for children in elementary school who do homework. The correlation only spikes at or above grade A large correlation is necessary, in other words, but not sufficient.

Indeed, I believe it would be a mistake to conclude that homework is a meaningful contributor to learning even in high school. Remember that Cooper and his colleagues found a positive effect only when they looked at how much homework high school students actually did as opposed to how much the teacher assigned and only when achievement was measured by the grades given to them by those same teachers. All of the cautions, qualifications, and criticisms in this chapter, for that matter, are relevant to students of all ages.

Students who take this test also answer a series of questions about themselves, sometimes including how much time they spend on homework. For any number of reasons, one might expect to find a reasonably strong association between time spent on homework and test scores.

Yet the most striking result, particularly for elementary students, is precisely the absence of such an association. Consider the results of the math exam. Fourth graders who did no homework got roughly the same score as those who did 30 minutes a night. Remarkably, the scores then declined for those who did 45 minutes, then declined again for those who did an hour or more! In twelfth grade, the scores were about the same regardless of whether students did only 15 minutes or more than an hour.

In the s, year-olds in a dozen nations were tested and also queried about how much they studied. Again, the results were not the same in all countries, even when the focus was limited to the final years of high school where the contribution of homework is thought to be strongest. Usually it turned out that doing some homework had a stronger relationship with achievement than doing none at all, but doing a little homework was also better than doing a lot.

Again they came up empty handed. Our students get significantly less homework than their counterparts across the globe. Every step of this syllogism is either flawed or simply false. Premise 2 has been debunked by a number of analysts and for a number of different reasons. But in fact there is now empirical evidence, not just logic, to challenge the conclusions.

Two researchers looked at TIMSS data from both and in order to be able to compare practices in 50 countries. When they published their findings in , they could scarcely conceal their surprise:. Not only did we fail to find any positive relationships, [but] the overall correlations between national average student achievement and national averages in the frequency, total amount, and percentage of teachers who used homework in grading are all negative!

If these data can be extrapolated to other subjects — a research topic that warrants immediate study, in our opinion — then countries that try to improve their standing in the world rankings of student achievement by raising the amount of homework might actually be undermining their own success. More homework may actually undermine national achievement. Incidental research raises further doubts about homework. Reviews of homework studies tend to overlook investigations that are primarily focused on other topics but just happen to look at homework, among several other variables.

Here are two examples:. First, a pair of Harvard scientists queried almost 2, students enrolled in college physics courses in order to figure out whether any features of their high school physics courses were now of use to them. At first they found a very small relationship between the amount of homework that students had had in high school and how well they were currently doing.

Once the researchers controlled for other variables, such as the type of courses kids had taken, that relationship disappeared. The same researchers then embarked on a similar study of a much larger population of students in college science classes — and found the same thing: She then set out to compare their classroom practices to those of a matched group of other teachers. Are better teachers more apt to question the conventional wisdom in general?

More responsive to its negative effects on children and families? This analysis rings true for Steve Phelps, who teaches math at a high school near Cincinnati. But as I mastered the material, homework ceased to be necessary. And because all the conclusions are tied to that number, all the conclusions may be completely invalid. Did doing it make any difference? The Maltese et al.

Was there a correlation between the amount of homework that high school students reported doing and their scores on standardized math and science tests? Is that really worth the frustration, exhaustion, family conflict, loss of time for other activities, and potential diminution of interest in learning?

But it was grades, not tests, that Maltese and his colleagues really cared about. And the result of this fine-tuned investigation? This result clearly caught the researchers off-guard. Frankly, it surprised me, too. Even if homework were a complete waste of time, how could it not be positively related to course grades?

Even in high school. The study zeroed in on specific course grades, which represents a methodological improvement, and the moral may be:

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AVRAM GOLDSTEIN Stanford University Does Homework Help? A Review of Research This examination of the controver- sial subject of homework was stimu-.

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The average high school student doing homework outperformed 69% of the students in a class with no homework. Homework in middle school was half as effective. In elementary school, there is no measurable correlation between homework and achievement. Despite all the research, homework remains something of a mystery.

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Research suggests that, with two exceptions, homework for elementary children is not beneficial and does not boost achievement levels. The first exception is in the case of a student who is struggling to complete classroom tasks. And the news isn’t much better for children in middle school or junior high school. If the raw correlation between achievement (test scores or grades) and time spent on homework in Cooper’s initial research review is “nearly nonexistent” for grades 3 through 5, it remains extremely low for grades 6 through 9.

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The conflicting nature of the research findings noted in this review reflects the continuing debate surrounding the value of homework. Over the past years, the public's support for homework has waxed and waned on a fairly regular cycle. Second graders, for example, should do about 20 minutes of homework each night. High school seniors should complete about two hours of homework each night. The National PTA and the National Education Association both support that guideline.