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Monday, January 25, 2010

What's the Right Amount of Homework?

When I ran for election to my local school board, one of my campaign planks was to promote homework. I lost. Many parents objected to my platform, often because homework would interfere with their kids' extracurricular activities or with their part-time job. One parent said to me, "We don't want any homework. My son needs that time to work at his job." I asked, "Why does he need to work?" She said, "Well, to pay for his truck for one thing." "Why does he need a truck?" I asked. Her reply: "Well, you dufus, to get to his job!"

A Duke University neuroscientist, Harris Cooper, posted in The Sacremento Bee on Jan. 17, 2010 some of his findings from research on this topic. He pointed out that an earlier Associated Press poll found that 57% of parents thought their kids got about the right amount of homework. Another 23% thought there was too little homework and 19% thought there was too much.

Harris was interested, not so much in parent opinion, but about the question of whether or not homework helps test performance. When he and his helpers looked at various published homework studies, they found that the effect varied by grade level. Comparing students who were assigned homework with students assigned no homework but who were similar in other ways suggested that homework can improve students' scores on the class tests that come at the end of a topic. Students assigned homework in second grade did better on math, third- and fourth-graders did better on English skills and vocabulary, fifth-graders on social studies, ninth- through 12th-graders on American history and 12th-graders on Shakespeare.

He finds that practice assignments do improve scores on class tests at all grade levels. A little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits. Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes a night. For high school students, the positive line continues to climb until between 90 minutes and 2 1/2 hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.

What nobody seems to have studied is the question of what kind of homework is most effective. Options include busy work such as filling out work sheets, problems to solve, projects to complete, Web quests, essays to write, and various other kinds of tasks. I would expect that the nature of the homework makes a big difference in the effectiveness of learning and in attitude about school.

All forms of homework can help memory formation. Rehearsal of learned material soon after it is learned is a key to efficient memory formation. In my opinion, failure of a teacher to assign homework is educational malpractice.


  1. Anonymous9:57 PM

    It is certainly interesting for me to read that post. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and anything connected to this matter. I would like to read a bit more soon.

  2. Anonymous12:37 AM

    Technology truly is an inescapable aspect of our daily lives, and I am fairly confident when I say that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

    I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as memory gets cheaper, the possibility of transferring our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could see in my lifetime.

    (Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i[/url] DS SysBro)

  3. I got a comment to this post, but it does not show. I saw it when I tried to make a comment. Anybody know why?

    Bill Klemm

  4. Anonymous4:34 PM

    My friend and I were recently talking about how modern society has evolved to become so integrated with technology. Reading this post makes me think back to that discussion we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

    I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further innovates, the possibility of copying our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could experience in my lifetime.

    (Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i SDHC[/url] DS FPost)

  5. Anonymous1:04 AM

    What a great resource!

  6. Anonymous4:12 PM

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  7. Anonymous5:15 AM

    Nice story as for me. It would be great to read a bit more about that matter. Thnx for sharing that information.

  8. As i achild i would find anything to but my homework. This is probably why my memory is so poor as an adult. However i have since found other ways of improving my memory. interesting read, thanks.

  9. Anonymous6:18 PM

    There is very mixed evidence for the effectiveness of homework. A recent review (06) by Cooper et al. found that most homework studies had design flaws and there was little evidence for the claims that homework is effective. I dont have time to look it up, but I read a while back that there is actually evidence for a longer school day offering greater returns than large amounts of homework. Obviously, their appears to be a median amount that may be effective. More research is necessary. Neat blog, I love your topics....

  10. Anonymous6:57 PM

    Rather interesting place you've got here. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon.

    Truly yours

  11. Anonymous6:32 AM

    What a great resource!

  12. Growing up, I was a studious kid. I was always busy with my homework. No time to watch TV or play with friends in the neighborhood during weekdays. But my memory wasn't as great as my other smarter friends. I do believe that there are other ways of developing and improving memory.Some of which are: to eat memory enhancing foods like berries, have enough rest, drink enough water and keep learning new things.

  13. Anonymous1:08 AM

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