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Research Says Elementary School Homework Does Not Improve Academic Performance

Harris Cooper, the well-regarded homework researcher at Duke University, recently made the blanket statement that “[t]here is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

The statement is a strong one, especially as it completely challenges the orthodoxy that elementary school homework is necessary to the learning experience of children. Many parents complain about hours spent on homework for children as young as 7 years old, but few actually argue that homework should be completely abolished. However, if parents were aware of the latest research of homework for young people, they might be inclined to agree with Dr. Cooper.

Research concludes that when children study in class, they learn best, whereas homework does nothing to advance learning. When children reach middle school, the findings question the efficacy of homework. The correlation between academic success and homework is tenuous for middle schoolers. By high school, numerous studies conclude that homework does give a moderate academic benefit. However, there is a limit to how much extra work actually helps students. There appears to be a two-hour limit before the homework turns useless.

However, at the elementary school level, research is clear, according to Etta Kralovec, a professor of education at the University of Arizona. “There’s no benefit at the elementary school level,” she says, in full agreement with Dr. Cooper.

Dr. Cooper’s studies encompass many schools and eras. He did 120 studies in 1989 and 60 more studies almost 25 years later in 2006. The cumulative analysis of the multiple studies over 25 years has found absolutely no evidence that students in elementary school benefit academically from homework. What the research did find is that homework was harmful to kids because it caused them to have negative feelings about school itself.

The education experts are speaking out because of the evidence that homework at the elementary level makes kids turn against school, hurting their perception of themselves and the learning environment. Homework also has destructive impacts on the relationships between parents and children, who engage in nightly struggles over completion of homework assignments. Some elementary school homework assignments can take hours, which places significant time demands on adults, who must help their young children make it through their at-home schoolwork.

Since children are too young to do their assignments themselves, it undermines one of the supposed benefits of homework, teaching kids personal responsibility. That’s because the children are just too young to focus on several more hours of homework after an already-long school day.

Those who support homework for elementary students claim that it is necessary to reinforce the lessons from the classroom. They also believe it creates a positive link between the school, parents and children. Detractors of homework argue in response that parents don’t need hours of homework to actively participate in their children’s learning experience. There are also other ways to teach responsibility that may be more age-appropriate, like making the bed each morning or feeding the pets.

Advocates for the abolishment of elementary homework say that reinforcement of classroom lessons happens in a variety of ways. Getting a good night’s sleep, having an outlet for physical energy such as playtime, and having unstructured time all reinforce learning that takes place during the day. This kind of balance has been shown to help children learn to focus more acutely and to have better memories.

Although most school districts are a long way from banning elementary school homework, parents and concerned educators are starting to create a new environment, where parents can opt out of homework, where homework is optional, and where parents are encouraged to read instead. Since there is no academic benefit to homework, advocates hope to convince school districts to take an evidence-based view of homework for all ages.

5 Comments

  1. Gary Shevell says:

    “Those who support homework for elementary students claim that it is necessary to reinforce the lessons from the classroom.” Do they have any evidence to back up this claim? Our school abolished traditional homework last March. My experience suggests that the main reason people object to abolishing homework is fear; fear that someone else’s children are getting and advantage by doing mounds of homework, fear that we are not doing enough for our children, etc…

  2. Miranda says:

    Totally agree. My kids have 3 hours of homework for 3rd grade.

    • Really????? says:

      Really?

      • BBucks says:

        my kids have experienced this they have less now and they are in high school!

  3. Pingback: The Role of Homework in the Flipped Classroom | Balefire Labs

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