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The great homework debate rages on. The pandemic, in particular, illustrated the challenges associated with learning from home and reignited concerns about homework’s efficacy. Advocates argue it reinforces concepts, fosters responsibility, and prepares students for future academic rigors. Conversely, homework detractors raise alarms about excessive stress, inequality, and the potential to dampen enthusiasm for learning. Is homework harmful? And how much homework is too much? In the post, we will explore the practice, its advantages and disadvantages, and its impact on academic performance and well-being.

What is homework supposed to do?

Generally and ostensively, at-home coursework serves a variety of purposes, including reviewing and practicing concepts to solidify understanding, extending learning through independent exploration and fostering “soft skills,” like personal responsibility, time management, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Additionally, educators often use homework to assess student progress and comprehension and provide feedback to guide individual learning.

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Does it actually do all that?

Well, it depends on who you ask.

The research isn’t unequivocal on the matter. Author Cathy Vatterott quipped that homework has, at this point, “generated enough research so that a study can be found to support almost any position, as long as conflicting studies are ignored.” While some studies suggest benefits for certain students depending on the circumstances, these conflicting findings make it difficult to generalize the data or determine whether at-home assignments contribute to academic success or correlate with it.

What about younger students?

While research indicates some positive outcomes for middle and high school students, these advantages seem less apparent for younger students. Despite recommendations like the “10-minute homework guideline” endorsed by the National PTA and the National Education, assignments frequently lack customization to suit an individual student’s proficiency level. (What might require thirty minutes of effort for one student could easily take another three times as long.) These discrepancies exacerbate disparities, particularly for students from lower-income families and those with learning differences, and raise questions about the alignment between practice and objectives.

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So, we should just get rid of it?

Well, not necessarily. While certain assignments, such as essays and projects, likely require out-of-class participation for completion, the narratives and approaches around homework certainly warrant serious reconsideration. Yes, the usefulness of homework is challenging to quantify, but practicing concepts absolutely helps students learn them.

So, what can we do?

Why must students (and society at large) associate homework with drudgery, and why relegate this practice to the home? Experts like Jill Harrison Berg make distinctions between “good” and “bad” homework. Teachers assign the former with intention and care, giving the appropriate support and guidance along the way.

Some educators, particularly at the high school level, offer after-school “homework clinics” where students learn with peers and the instructor. Providing in-class time for assignments affords similar opportunities for collaboration. These measures help to offset some of the adverse effects, such as burnout, disconnection, and unequal access to resources and time. Another option, such as assigning video lessons with adaptive software, helps meet students at their academic level, increases engagement, and frees up class time for more meaningful exploration.

In short, prioritize quality over the compulsory.

Many experts argue that American schools vacillate between extremes regarding homework, adopting an all-or-nothing strategy that either embraces punishing self-discipline and competition or completely ignores its potential additive value.

Rethinking traditional homework practices aims to adequately prepare all students for the demands of an ever-changing world while affording them time outside the classroom to pursue worthwhile interests and connections.

As always, we’re here to support parents and students during times of academic stress. For more information about homework help and other services, please visit our other blogs or contact us directly.