Quality homework shapes students’ learning beliefs and behaviors

Especially for disadvantaged students, homework is a tool for long-term success

Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 10, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Are U.S. students assigned too much homework, or not enough? On average, high school students report spending less than an hour a day on homework, and only 42 percent say they do so five days per week. In a new article for Education Next, Janine Bempechat of Boston University argues that, rather than being a burden, developmentally appropriate homework plays a critical role in the formation of positive learning beliefs and behaviors. Furthermore, for the 21 percent of students who live in poverty—nearly 11 million ages 5–17—high-quality homework can help narrow the achievement gap.

Though most research on the homework-achievement connection is corre­lational, researchers find that in middle and high school, homework completion is strongly and positively associated with high academic achievement (findings at the elementary-school level are mixed). Beyond academic achievement, however, homework can prepare children to confront increasingly complex tasks, develop resilience in the face of difficulty, and learn to embrace challenges.

Bempechat reports that homework is most advantageous when:

  • It is assigned in proportion to grade level. Harris M. Cooper of Duke University, the leading researcher on homework, proposes that daily homework be limited to 10 minutes per grade level with a maximum of two and a half hours for high-schoolers.
  • Parents offer guidance, not control. Parents who allow their children room to learn and struggle on their own, stepping in with informational feedback and hints, do their children a much better service than those who seek to control the learning process. Children are also more likely to do better in school when their parents are focused on mastery rather than how well their child is doing relative to peers.
  • Families provide structure, even in absence of academic support. Even when parents are unable to provide direct homework support—due to language barriers, work schedules, or other stressors—parents can provide their children with the structure necessary for completing homework by assigning other family members or friends as mentors, designating a time or place for homework, or identifying role models for their children to emulate.
  • Assignments are high-quality. High-quality homework fosters students’ perceptions of their own competence by focusing them on tasks they can accomplish without help, differentiating tasks so as to allow even struggling students to experience success, and carefully modeling methods for approaching lengthy or complex tasks.

According to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, the difference in time spent on homework between advantaged and disadvantaged students in the U.S. exceeds three hours weekly. “Reducing or eliminating homework, though it may be desirable in some advantaged communities,” says Bempechat, “would deprive poorer children of a crucial and empowering learning experience. It would also eradicate a fertile opportunity to help close the achievement gap.”

For more details, read “The Case for (Quality) Homework: Why it improves learning, and how parents can help” available now on educationnext.org.

About the Author: Janine Bempechat is a clinical professor of human development at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit educationnext.org.



Most Students Spend Less Than One Hour on Homework Daily.
The total amount of time American students spend on homework is relatively modest, with only about a third of 17-year-olds reporting in 2012 that they spent more than one hour on homework the day before they were surveyed.

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