ERIC Identifier: ED256473
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Eddy, Yvonne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Developing Homework Policies. ERIC Digest.
Recent reports on excellence in education recommend that teachers increase
the amount of homework they assign and that school administrators establish
demanding homework requirements.
This Digest discusses various types of homework assignments and examines
research findings concerning the effectiveness and amount of homework assigned
to American schoolchildren. It also examines some of the policies presently
being discussed by school districts.
WHAT IS HOMEWORK?
Homework is the out-of-class tasks that a student is assigned as an extension
of classroom work. Three types are commonly assigned in the United States:
practice, preparation, and extension (LaConte 1981).
Practice assignments reinforce newly acquired skills or knowledge. Students
who have learned about a particular chemical reaction, for instance, may be
asked to find examples of the reaction in their own environment. These
assignments are most effective when carefully evaluated by the teacher, when
matched to the ability and background of the individual student, and when
students are asked to apply recent learning directly and personally.
Intended to provide background information, these assignments can include
readings in the class text, library research, collecting materials for a class
demonstration, and other activities requiring the gathering or organizing of
information before a class discussion or demonstration.
Effective preparation includes guidelines on why and how the assignment
should be completed. In addition, accurately estimating a task's level of
difficulty and coordinating the assignment of difficult homework among various
courses may help teachers avoid overburdening students.
These assignments encourage individualized and creative learning by
emphasizing student initiative and research. Frequently long-term, continuing
projects that parallel classwork, extension assignments require students to
apply previous learnings.
HOW USEFUL IS HOMEWORK?
The literature examining the relationship between homework and academic
achievement is basically inconclusive. No studies have been able to control the
many variables that affect this relationship (LaConte 1981; Knorr 1981; and
McDermott and others 1984). Nevertheless, reviews of students', teachers', and
parents' perceptions reveal that all believe homework helps students achieve
In addition, some recent studies have uncovered a more positive relationship
between homework and student performance. For example,
--Increased homework time resulted in higher grades for high school seniors
of all ability levels. Moreover, through increased study, lower ability students
achieved grades commensurate with those of brighter peers (Keith 1982)
--One to two hours of homework a day were associated with the highest levels
of reading performance for 13-year-olds. For 17-year-olds, reading performance
increased as the amount of time spent on homework increased. Students spending
more than two hours a night on homework showed the highest performance levels
(Ward and others 1983)
--Schools that assigned homework frequently showed higher student achievement
levels than did schools that made little use of homework (Rutter and others
Rather than rely on conflicting research findings, school districts might
more profitably determine whether homework, as they define and construct it,
meets school and district educational objectives (Knorr 1981).
HOW MUCH HOMEWORK IS ASSIGNED/COMPLETED?
Although researchers generally agree that the amount of homework increases
significantly as students progress through school, their findings do not agree
about the number of homework hours assigned or completed by American students.
The issue is further complicated because the amount of homework assigned or
performed varies according to gender and grade level of student and according to
type of school.
Many homework studies focus on the upper grade levels. However, a recent
survey conducted by the United States Bureau of the Census (1984) reports that
public elementary school students spend 4.9 hours and private school elementary
students spend 5.5 hours a week on homework. The survey also reported that girls
do more homework than boys, and that Blacks and Hispanics do more than Whites.
High school students reported doing almost seven hours of homework a week,
ranging from 6.5 hours for public school students to 14.2 hours for private
school students. The report attributes the difference to the college preparatory
orientation of many private schools and the more diverse nature of public
schools (United States Bureau of the Census 1984).
HOW ARE SOME SCHOOL DISTRICTS IMPLEMENTING THE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INCREASED
Many school districts have developed local programs and policies to answer
the call for increased homework issued by education commissions.
For example, Frank J. Macchiarola, Chancellor of the New York City Schools,
presented a citywide homework policy to principals and community school
superintendents. The chancellor's regulation set a minimum nightly homework
policy to be monitored by principals. These nightly minimums range from 20
minutes for first and second grades to two hours for ninth through twelfth
grades. The objective of the policy is to reinforce the lessons taught in the
classroom, stimulate further interest in the topics taught, and develop
independent study skills ("Homework Minimum Set for Schools" 1983).
On the other hand, the Montgomery County School Board of Education rejected a
proposal to increase the time high school students spend on homework. The
proposal would have required a minimum of three hours of homework a week in all
classes. Those voting against the proposal objected that no numbers were
available on the amount of homework Montgomery County students were assigned and
said that the teacher, not the school board, should decide how much homework to
assign ("Montgomery County School Board Flunks Increased-Homework Plan" 1984).
WHAT ISSUES SHOULD BE CONSIDERED WHEN DEVELOPING HOMEWORK POLICIES?
The homework issue raises many recurring questions, among them the following:
--What kind of homework is most effective?
--How much homework is appropriate?
--At what age level is homework a useful learning tool?
--Who is responsible for deciding how much homework to assign?
--Who is responsible for monitoring homework?
While these questions are unlikely to be answered in the same way in all
schools and school districts, what can be said is that individualized homework
assigned to appropriate grade levels seems to help students develop the
disciplined study habits that result in increased scholastic achievement.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
"Homework Minimum Set for Schools," NEW YORK TIMES, February 10, 1983,
Section B, page 3.
Keith, Timothy Z. "Time Spent on Homework and High School Grades: A
Large-Sample Path Analysis." JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 74
Knorr, Cynthia L. A SYNTHESIS OF HOMEWORK RESEARCH AND RELATED LITERATURE.
Paper presented to the Lehigh Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, Bethlehem, PA, January
24, 1981. ED 199 933.
LaConte, Ronald T. HOMEWORK AS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE. WHAT RESEARCH SAYS TO
THE TEACHER. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association, 1981.
McDermott, R. P., and others. "When School Goes Home: Some Problems in the
Organization of Homework." TEACHERS COLLEGE RECORD 85 (Spring 1984):391-409.
"Montgomery County School Board Flunks Increased-Homework Plan," WASHINGTON
POST, March 14, 1984, Section C, page 3.
Rutter, Michael, and others. FIFTEEN THOUSAND HOURS: SECONDARY SCHOOLS AND
THEIR EFFECTS ON CHILDREN. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.
United States Bureau of the Census. SCHOOL ENROLLMENT--SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC
CHARACTERISTICS OF STUDENTS: OCTOBER 1983. Washington, D.C.: United States
Government Printing Office, 1984.
Ward, Barbara, and others. THE RELATIONSHIP OF STUDENTS' ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
TO TELEVISION WATCHING, LEISURE TIME READING AND HOMEWORK. Denver, CO: Education
Commission of the States, 1983. ED 236 249.