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Some schools say no to homework: Is that a good idea?

By September 11, 2014June 13th, 201613 Comments

Father son homeworkHomework is, once again, in the hot seat. A recent Education Week blog post described a new homework policy in an elementary school in Quebec that is giving its students a year off from homework. Just last year, reported that French President Francois Hollande proposed eliminating homework in all French elementary and junior high schools. And, according to the NY Daily News, Townsend Harris High School, a high performing school in Queens, has mandated no homework nights. What does the research tell us about homework and what are the implications for schools?

In Chapter 7 of A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), Bj Stone and I outline four essential homework strategies that are informed by research. First, in general, homework is more effective for older students than for younger students. Second, when learning a skill or process, students need a great deal of practice to achieve mastery, but much of that should be guided practice. Third, teachers should communicate the purpose of homework to students and parents; students should know exactly how the homework they have been assigned is directly connected to the learning objectives in the class. Finally, teachers should provide feedback and comments on homework. Students should know what they have done right, what was wrong, and what they should do next.

On the flip side, Pamela Coutts’ research, published in Theory Into Practice, highlights negative aspects of homework, including disruption of family time, stress, conflicts between student and parent, and restricted access to community and leisure time.

Still, some parents often put pressure on schools to provide an hour or more of homework every night, viewing homework as a way to show rigor. Teachers should resist assigning “busywork” homework just to appease parents. In a previous post on McREL’s blog, I suggested four tips for teachers that aligned with the research on homework:

  1. Always ask, “What learning will result from this homework assignment?” The goal of your instruction should be to design homework that results in meaningful learning.
  2. Assign homework to help students deepen their understanding of content, practice skills in order to become faster or more proficient, or learn new content on a surface level.
  3. Check that students are able to perform required skills and tasks independently before asking them to complete homework assignments.
  4. Consider parents and guardians as your allies when it comes to homework. Understand their constraints, and, when home circumstances present challenges, consider alternative approaches to support students as they complete homework assignments (e.g., before- or after-school programs, additional parent outreach).

Schools often struggle with determining how heavily, or even if, homework should affect a student’s grade. When I surveyed teachers on this issue, responses ranged from zero all the way up to 50% in total grade weight. Considering that teachers really can’t know who actually completes homework assignments, is it good practice to allow homework to potentially account for up to half of a student’s grade? My colleagues at McREL and I recommend that homework should not account for more than 10% of a student’s final grade.

Are schools correct in totally banning homework? Is there a place for homework in your school? Ask yourself the following questions when considering your homework policy. When your students go home to do homework, will there be a quiet place for them to work? What is the time load you are imposing and how will that fit with family time, part-time jobs, and extra-curricular activities? Remember that homework has its place, but think about the research considerations and don’t just assign students homework because “that’s the way we have always done it.”

A former elementary and middle school principal,
Dr. Howard Pitler is McREL’s chief program officer. He is co-author of the second editions of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.) and Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), and was the lead developer of McREL’s Power Walkthrough® classroom observation software. He can be followed on Twitter at @hpitler.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Prabakaran Thirumalai says:

    Homework is not necessary at least till K5 level. Project and assignment given to such students are actually done by parents…

  • A Chestnut says:

    I feel as if the main argument for homework has always been that to learn a skill, children need repeated practice. However as your article states, it should really be mostly guided practice, and there is no guantantee that an adult will be home to assist the child in completeing their assignment. I have always though that the best homework was asking the students to read each night for at least 20 minutes (at their independent level) and to practice their math fact flashcards to improve fluency. These are activities that will see improvement given that repeated practice, and can more easlily be matched with the student’s current level.
    The school day is long and very intensive for children these days, and I think they need a break from it all to relax, unwind, persure their own interests, and play at the end of the day. There are still children after all.

  • best schools in Uppal says:

    Home work is not necessary If students are having study hours in same Schools. But if schools doesn’t have any Study time for students, It is good to give Homework so that they will at least study in Home while completing their assignments. But those assignments should not kill all the time in Home.

  • Joe Adams says:

    One of my teaching colleagues, who is also a parent, quite strongly opposes assigning homework to her second grade students because she feels that time at home should be spend with the family and that homework is a deterrent from this quality family time. I currently teach 5th grade and see benefits to assigning homework to my students, but also want to be respectful of families and their limited time together with busy schedules. I still assign homework (about 30 minutes per night) but I am curious if there are other teachers or parents who have input on this issue.

  • Study MBBS in Philippines says:

    I think home work makes the student to recall the whole day work, and it will help them a lot…

  • A Salinas says:

    I found this article very interesting. Our school has discussed this subject various times for different reasons. Most recently it was due to the paper shortage in our building and not being able to provide the copies for the homework.
    As a 1st grade teacher and also a mom, I have struggled with this issue. Is homework truly necessary? Many families are busy outside of the school day and don’t have time to hold their children accountable in getting their homework done. Is it really reinforcing learned concepts? I have students who are unable to complete their independent work in class yet are able to complete their homework with a near perfect score. Past experience has shown that an older sibling or even a parent is completing it or hand-feeding them all the answers to eliminate the stress.
    “First, in general, homework is more effective for older students than for younger students” is what stands out to me the most. How much of the homework I’m sending home is benefitting my students? I average only a 50% return rate on completed homework which does not show a correlation to improved mastery or level of understanding of those students within the classroom.
    “Remember that homework has its place, but think about the research considerations and don’t just assign students homework because “that’s the way we have always done it.” This has caused reflection in my past and current practices within my classroom. Do things need to change?

  • Heather Jipping says:

    I found this article interesting and informative. I struggle every year with these same homework issues. The information you provided has definitely given me some things to consider before assigning homework.

  • Em Turner says:

    I struggle every year with what my homework policy will be for my students. I have found that many students in our community will not complete homework. It can be a frustrating battle leading to a decline in homework assignments given out. It is hard as a teacher to put so much effort into finding and grading as assignment that will not help those who need it most. I have found many students who do well on assessments complete their homework and many who have unsatisfactory score do not complete homework. Now I go back and give homework that includes pre-skills to support my classroom and have found my students are completing homework more frequently.

  • Online Tutoring says:

    Saying completely no to homework is not such a good thing. Homework helps students building student’s mind, enhance their learning and much more. There must be certain level of asking students to do homework. If you are asking to make report to a kindergarten kid, it doesn’t make sense at all!!

  • Monika says:

    My thinking is home work is most important part for student, and it will help them a lot in exam time…

  • NIsha says:

    If students are having study hours, then Home work is not mandatory. But if schools doesn’t have any time table for study, It is better to give Homework. So that they will study in home to complete assignment as homework. But those assignments should not kill all the time in Home.

  • MBBS in kyrgyzstan says:

    No homework is not such a good thing. HW helps children develop child’s mind, enhance their learning and much more. There Shouldn’t be huge level of asking students to do homework. Home must be taken less time.

  • Anonymous says:

    I personally think that homework would help kids learn more, but homework never helped me learn. I had to either figure it out in class, or I sucked at the subject. Plus, my best friend’s mom works almost all day and he gets homework everyday for hours at a time. He doesn’t get much family time as it is, the homework just adds to his problem.

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