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What is the Value of Homework? Research and Reality

What is the Value of Homework in the High School Years?

Research may not demonstrate educational value of homework in the early years, but there is compelling evidence of academic benefits of homework during high school, particularly in the senior grades. 

Parents trying to encourage homework habits in older children might consider research indicating that:

  • in  the early years of high school, there is no academic edge to be gained by completing more than  one hour of homework per night, and  
  • in the senior years, students who do between seven and twelve hours of homework per week (or between one and two hours per night) receive the greatest academic benefit.  

Time spent on homework also affects student well-being. In a study of 496 high school students , Drs Pope and Dr. Mollie Galloway , Director of Research and Assessment for the Graduate School of Education and Counselling at Lewis and Clark College, found that students who did more than three and a half hours of homework per night were more likely to report the following problems than those doing less homework:

  • exhaustion and weight gain,
  • stress-related physical symptoms (including headaches and ulcers) and poor mental health, and
  • dropping of activities they enjoyed because of the amount of time needed to complete schoolwork.  

A separate study conducted in 2006-2008 of 3,645 California high school students (Years 9 to 12) found that lack of sleep was a serious issue, with few students getting close to the nine and a quarter hours sleep recommended by experts: “On average, the respondents reported getting 6.8 hours of sleep each weeknight. Over one-third reported six or fewer hours of sleep each night. Two-thirds indicated that homework or schoolwork often or always kept them from sleeping”.   Dr. Pope recommends that parents put a high priority on sleep for their teens, requiring that they achieve a minimum number of hours to protect both their physical and emotional well-being.

Homework that Works – Quality over Quantity

Pope and Galloway found that it is not only the quantity of homework that impacts students’ wellbeing:
    “When students perceive homework as more useful for their learning and preparation for tests and projects, they report fewer academic worries, fewer stress-related physical symptoms, and more positive mental health … Schools should consider homework policies that strive to eliminate ‘busy work’ and that are explicit about the purposes of homework sent home each night.”

A student in the 2006-2008 study explained: “I’m stressed because I have so many pointless, mundane assignments that take up large amounts of time, without actually [resulting in] learning anything in class. I don’t mind working if I’m actually learning something.”

Parents do not have control over the quantity or quality of homework sent home, especially in the high school years. But parents may be able to help motivate their teen by encouraging them to identify the purpose or relevance of a homework assignment; and supporting them to prioritise homework assignments they perceive as useful and engaging, rather than ‘busywork’.

How do parents know if their children’s homework is contributing to their academic progress or turning them off learning? Education experts have identified a range of approaches that can be considered ‘best practice’ when it comes to homework: