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Homework Guidelines Teachers

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

Found In: teaching strategies

Some researchers are urging schools to take a fresh look at homework and its potential for engaging students and improving student performance. The key, they say, is to take into account grade-specific and developmental factors when determining the amount and kind of homework.

So, what's appropriate? What benefits can be expected? What makes for good homework policies? Research doesn't have all the answers, but a review of some existing data yields some helpful observations and guidance.

How Much Homework Do Students Do?

Survey data and anecdotal evidence show that some students spend hours nightly doing homework. Homework overload is the exception rather than the norm; however, according to research from the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation (see the Brown Center 2003 below). Their researchers analyzed data from a variety of sources and concluded that the majority of U.S. students spend less than an hour a day on homework, regardless of grade level, and this has held true for most of the past 50 years. In the last 20 years, homework has increased only in the lower grade levels, and this increase is associated with neutral (and sometimes negative) effects on student achievement.

How Much Is Appropriate?

The National PTA recommendations fall in line with general guidelines suggested by researcher Harris Cooper: 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth). High school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take (see Review of Educational Research, 2006).

What are the benefits?

Homework usually falls into one of three categories: practice, preparation, or extension. The purpose usually varies by grade. Individualized assignments that tap into students' existing skills or interests can be motivating. At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child's learning. At the secondary school level, student homework is associated with greater academic achievement. (Review of Educational Research, 2006)

What’s good policy?

Experts advise schools or districts to include teachers, parents, and students in any effort to set homework policies. Policies should address the purposes of homework; amount and frequency; school and teacher responsibilities; student responsibilities; and, the role of parents or others who assist students with homework.

References

Related Links

  • A Nation At Rest: The American Way of Homework ( PDF, 439 KB, 19 pgs.)
    Summary and comments from authors) - Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(3) (2003, Fall). Gill, B. P., & Schlossman, S. L.
  • Helping Your Child with Homework ( PDF, 378 KB, 25 pgs.)
    U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Research Spotlight on Best Practices in Education
    A list of NEA Spotlights on best practices.
  • NEA Reports & Statistics
    Research reports reviewing data on educational issues and policy papers concerning NEA members, educators, and the public school community.

Back in the early 1900s, homework was deemed by some to be dangerous to children’s health, and for years some school districts limited or outright banned homework.

More than a century later, homework still drives students, their parents and sometimes their teachers crazy — and debate still swirls about whether homework is helpful or harmful.

Now we have a useful addition to the conversation. Below are three recommendations for healthy homework, written in an effort to realign homework policy and practice with student learning, health and engagement. The authors are the team behind the documentary “Race to Nowhere,” led by director Vicki Abeles, as well as homework experts Etta Kralovec, co-author of “The End of Homework”; Alfie Kohn, author of “The Homework Myth”; and Sara Bennett, author of “The Case Against Homework.”

At a conference over the last few days in San Jose, the National PTA’s Resolutions Committee agreed to review the guidelines, as set forth in a national online petition that has been signed by thousands of parents, educators, health professionals and concerned citizens. The organization is being urged to endorse them at its August governance meeting.

Here are the homework guidelines:

1. HOMEWORK SHOULD ADVANCE A SPIRIT OF LEARNING

Educators at all grade levels should assign homework only when:

• Such assignments demonstrably advance a spirit of learning, curiosity and inquiry among students.

• Such assignments demonstrably provide a unique learning opportunity or experience that cannot be had within the confines of the school setting or school day.

• Such assignments are not intended to enhance rote skill rehearsal or mastery. Rehearsal and repetition assignments should be completed within the confines of the school day, if they are required at all.

• Such assignments are not intended as a disciplinary or punitive measure, nor as a means of fostering competition among or assessment of students.

2. HOMEWORK SHOULD BE STUDENT-DIRECTED

Educators at all grade levels, but particularly in elementary and middle grades, should limit take-home assignments to:

• At-home reading chosen by the student.

• Project-based work chosen by the student.

• Experiential learning that integrates the student’s existing interests and family commitments.

• Work that can be completed without the assistance of a sibling, caregiver or parent.

3. HOMEWORK SHOULD PROMOTE A BALANCED SCHEDULE

Educators at all grade levels should avoid assigning or requiring homework:

• On non-school nights, including weekends, school holidays, or winter or summer breaks.

• On the nights of major or all-school events, concerts, or sports activities.

• When a child is sick or absent from school.

• When it conflicts with a child’s parental, family, religious or community obligations.

We the undersigned acknowledge that the above commitments will ask of school leaders that they provide teachers with professional development support and time to restructure their classroom practices to eliminate an over-reliance on homework.

We believe that such support and restructuring will help us to ensure that homework can better:

• Support learning and engagement among students, regardless of family background, income level, or caregivers’ educational status.

• Narrow the achievement gap by ensuring that instruction, rehearsal, mastery and remediation happens primarily at school and in the classroom, rather than at home, where resources and instructional support are less equitably distributed.

• Enhance family engagement with schools and students by providing parents and caregivers more opportunities to influence and collaborate on homework policy and practice.

• Provide time for students to develop a rich array of extracurricular personal interests and to engage in meaningful family, religious, community, creative or athletic activities outside of school.

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