There’s lots of controversy about whether or not teachers should assign homework.   I’ve written about the homework question before. My answer to the homework question is it depends on who the students  are.  New research also concludes it depends, but not on who the students are but on what the subject is the students are taking.  Homework in some subjects has little or no impact.

In an earlier post  about homework I argued

For some high school students, any amount of homework is too much. For others, no amount of homework is too much. I’ve had students tell me that they don’t do homework. They’re at school all day long, and they’re not going to take school work home with them at night. School’s school, and home’s home, and apparently the twain should never meet. I’ve had other students tell me they have no time to do homework. They have to work after school to help support the family. Other students tell me they want homework, the more homework the better. They want to do homework so they can earn those high marks that will enable them to get into the University of their choice and have the life they want.

Teachers are divided on the homework issue as well. Some teachers tell me their students should do lots of homework. There’s lots to learn after all, and there isn’t enough time in school to learn it all; consequently, students need to continue school work at home. Other teachers tell me there’s no point in giving homework to their students. Their students aren’t going to do it anyway, so why create more problems?

What do I say? I say that the amount of homework students should do needs to respect who the students are, their life circumstances and their goals. I don’t think a one-size- fits- all homework policy would be respectful of all students. My students who are disconnected from school and are at risk academically and my students who are headed for university need to have different amounts of homework. Students who are disconnected from school and are in danger of dropping out of school aren’t coming to class or working in class. Giving them homework would be pointless. Consequently,  the answer to the question of how much homework is enough is it depends on who the students are.


While my decision to assign or not to assign homework is informed by my students’ goals and their life circumstances,  research soon to be published in the journal Economics of Education Review suggests  the decision about assigning homework  should be informed by the subject the student is taking. Researchers determined additional math homework had large and statistically significant effects on math test scores but had little or no impact in science, English and history test scores. The study involved grade 8 students in the United States and used a method that controlled student and teacher traits.

What are we to make of this finding?

Some questions immediately spring to mind.

  1. The participants in the study were grade eight students.  Would the findings be the same for students in other grades?
  2. The study concluded homework had or did not have a statistically significant effect on test scores?  Is the only purpose of homework to improve test scores?
  3. The study was conducted on students in the United States.  Would the data be replicated in other countries with participants of  same age?
  4. What is the value of homework in the art, drama, dance or music?


I’m certain there are more questions to be asked. I’m also certain  this study will encourage more research on the  topic of homework.

If you are interested in reading the research paper, you can access it here.

What questions spring to mind as you read these results?



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One Response to “New research concludes homework in some subjects has little or no impact.”

  1. Anthony Persaud on May 29th, 2011 12:37 pm

    Thanks for the article, Elona!

    I have more questions about homework:

    What does math homework look like that leads to more learning, in comparison to science or english homework that doesn’t?

    Do parents support math homework more (as I’ve experienced in my classes)?

    If parents value homework, does that lead to the child valuing homework too?

    I used to get my work (including homework) done in school before leaving class. Does that mean that I should have been assigned more so that I would have “home” work too?

    How does one measure the amount of time it takes to get homework done? Different students (and people) work at different speeds.

    Another fine discussion from you,

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