Why Homework Matters

As an elementary/middle school teacher, I hear constant complaints about the issue of homework. There are valid points against overdoing it and even studies that suggest, in some cases, it doesn’t always help. There’s a big difference between busy work and assignments that are meaningful. Some researchers, like Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, propose that homework is a hidden cause of childhood obesity. Others, like Alfie Kohn, believe that the quality and quantity of assignments done at home should be addressed, pronto. So, why do students today still have to do this archaic activity?


Homework: Good or Bad?

Although some teachers assign busy work, that is not always the case. Often times, the assignments students bring home are not only continuations of what was done in class, but are activities that help apply the knowledge learned earlier in the day. Homework does, in many cases, offer some benefits:

  • Some at-home assignments are enrichment activities that will nurture the creative side of children.
  • It allows parents to see firsthand what their child is doing in school, and gives them an opportunity to connect or communicate with their child on a different level, seeing where they stand academically.
  • Even if it’s studying or reviewing what was covered in class, it is an important reinforcement activity. This can eventually lead to information being stored into long-term memory.
  • Research conducted by Harris Cooper (2006) suggests that students who complete homework tend to have higher scores on content related tests, than do students who have not completed content related homework.
  • It can teach a child responsibility, which in turn will form into a good work ethic that will be useful for the rest of his/her life.
  • Time management skills will develop and students will learn the valuable lesson about procrastination.
  • It will allow students the opportunity to teach themselves, and learn how to manage schoolwork independently.

Homework is Likely Sticking Around

Although there is an ongoing debate about the merits and necessity of homework, the bottom line is that it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. Sure, parents should question teachers and make sure that the homework is relevant and not going to last five hours, but the best possible action a student can take at the elementary age is to accept its inevitability. This will lead to time management strategies, allowing them to learn how to juggle a variety of activities on a daily basis, just like parents and all other adults do every day.

Studies at Duke University under Harris Cooper found a positive connection between test scores and homework. “The results of such studies suggest that homework can improve students’ scores on the class tests that come at the end of a topic. Students assigned homework in 2nd grade did better on math, 3rd and 4th graders did better on English skills and vocabulary, 5th graders on social studies, 9th through 12th graders on American history, and 12th graders on Shakespeare.” Of course, when it is overloaded, there’s the case of diminishing returns.

Life in the working world is more competitive than ever before. Children need to learn the methods that will allow them to be successful in the life that’s just ahead. Kohn suggests that homework doesn’t help elementary school students, when research states otherwise. He is also a proponent of eliminating grades. Kohn’s ideas generate excellent debate topics, but are not practical in a world that uses rankings for everything. So, even if you don’t buy into the fact that homework will make a child a higher academic achiever in the short term (even though research states otherwise), realize that it just might create a human being with good habits, a rich work ethic, and a success later on in the world outside academia.


  1. Sean J. O'Neil

    July 29, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Wow. You just wrote “accept its inevitability” and “positive connection between test scores and homework” in the same article. Crazy or brave. What I’d like to see is a shift in terminology from “homework” to “independent practice” or some such. The location of the practice varies based on many factors (many socio-economic) and it’s a lot tougher to argue against practice than it is against an emotionally loaded idea like “homework.”

  2. Mark Lamont (@Lamont_Mark)

    July 30, 2014 at 8:32 am

    You can tell a classroom by the homework it generates. Fix the classroom and the homework problem goes away.

    On a side issue raised in the article, some school systems eliminate grades, replacing them with statements of student performance and competence – like industry does, and industry preparedness rates, right? Statements are more rigorous and meaningful. Perhaps the following article will shed more light on the real homework issue, and it is not a matter of taking sides: yhk.li/h3w31

  3. Kim

    July 30, 2014 at 10:58 am

    I have taught 4th grade for 8 years, and last year I gave up homework, for the most part. It was great! Iat Open House I told parents I assign very little homework, and there was an audible sigh of relief heard. I was relieved that they were relieved. Class time was more productive, and I was able to give support to students who needed me at that moment, not 5 hours from now. I choose independent practice more carefully and could utilize more manipulatives, games and projects into that practice. This was well received by students.

    The homework I did give was word study assignments that took no longer than 15-20 minutes. I had very few problems with uncomplete homework assignments and rarely had to contact parents about homework issues. It was all a relief.

  4. Ruth A Stiles

    August 6, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    I think homework is a good idea. It is a great way for teachers to monitor a student’s learning and knowledge of a particular subject or content area. I agree that homework needs to be meaningful and academic, however everyone can benefit from becoming better at a task and improving ones skills. I like the ideas of flipped classrooms, but I have not explored them much or experienced one first hand.
    I believe homework is here to stay…it is a natural process of learning. The key to homework is the word home. I think all kids need a zone to work in…just like we as adults have a zone to work in. Students need to be taught time management and organization skills – these are not something they are genetically born with. In order for homework to be more meaningful the teacher and the parent/guardian need to collaborate for each child specifically…there is no one size fits all when it comes to homework.