Does Homework Serve a Purpose?

Finding the right balance between school work and home life.

Posted Nov 05, 2018

Olga Zaretska/Deposit Photos
Source: Olga Zaretska/Deposit Photos

Homework - a dreaded word that means more work and less play. The mere thought of doing additional work after a seven-hour day (that begins extremely early) can be gruesome. Not too mention, many teens have other commitments after the school day ends.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau nearly 57 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 years old, participate in at least one after-school extracurricular activity. And that’s a good thing because youth extracurricular involvement comes with benefits such as boosting academic performance, reducing risky behaviors (i.e., drug use and drinking), promoting physical health, and providing a safe structured environment. However, tag these extracurricular activities onto the end of a school day and you’ll find that many teens don’t get home until it's dark outside.

What about the teen who works a 15 to 20-hour job on top of an extracurricular activity? The US Department of Labor reports that one in five high school students have a part-time job, and those jobs too can come with added benefits. Teens who work often learn the value of a hard earned dollar. They learn how to manage their money, learn to problem solve and most importantly they learn how to work with people. Plus, a job in high school is a great way to add valuable experience to a resume.

With so many after school opportunities available for teens, it can be extremely difficult for them to balance homework with their other commitments. Oftentimes, active kids simply don’t have enough time in a day to get all that’s asked of them finished. When it comes homework, in all my years of working in the public school system, I have never seen a student jump for joy when homework was assigned. Of course, there are some who were anxious to complete the assignment, but that was more to get it off their busy plate. Which brings us to the essential question - does homework serve a purpose?

There are those who stand firm and back the claim that homework does serve a purpose. They often cite that homework helps prepare students for standardized tests, that it helps supplement and reinforce what’s being taught in class and that it helps teach fundamental skills such as time management, organization, task completion, as well as responsibility (extracurricular activities and work experience can also teach those fundamental skills). Another argument for homework is that having students complete work independently shows that they can demonstrate mastery of the material without the assistance of a teacher. Additionally, there have been numerous studies supporting homework, like a recent study that shows using online systems to assign math homework, has been linked to a statistically significant boost in test scores. So, there you have it, homework has a lot of perks and one of those involves higher test scores, particularly in math but don’t form your opinion just yet.

Although many people rally for and support homework, there is another school of thought that homework should be decreased or better yet abolished. Those who join this group often cite studies linking academic stress to health risks. For example, one study in the Journal of Educational Psychology showed that when middle school students were assigned more than 90 to 100 minutes of daily homework, their math and science test scores began to decline.

Antonio Guillem Fernández/Deposit Photos
Source: Antonio Guillem Fernández/Deposit Photos

The Journal of Experimental Education published researching indicating that when high school students were assigned too much homework, they were more susceptible to serious mental and physical health problems, high-stress levels and sleep deprivation. Stanford University also did a study that showed more than a couple of hours of homework a night was counterproductive. Think about it - teens spend an entire day at school, followed by extracurricular activities and possibly work, and then they get to end their day with two to three hours of homework. Now that’s a long day! No wonder so many of our teens are sleep deprived and addicted to caffeine? On average most teens only get about 7.4 hours of sleep per night but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, they need 8 to 10 hours.

Regardless of where you stand on the homework debate, a few things are certain, if homework is given it should be a tool that’s used to enhance learning. Also, teachers should take into account the financial requirements of assignments, electronic accessibility, and they should be familiar with student needs as well as their other commitments. For example, not all students have equal opportunities to finish their homework, so incomplete work may not be a true reflection of their ability—it may be the result of other issues they face outside of school.

Many of today's teens are taking college-level courses as early as the ninth and tenth grade. With the push of programs such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Early College Programs, and Dual Enrollment, today’s teens are carrying academic loads that surpass past generations. The result of this push for rigor can lead to high levels of stress, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, and early burnout. Too many teens are already running on empty. With more than half of teens reporting school and homework as a primary source of their stress, it’s evident that academic pressure is becoming a burden. 

On the flip side, not all students spend a lot of time doing homework. What takes one student an hour to complete may take another three hours. Too often educators don’t take this into account when assigning homework. According to the University of Phoenix College of Education teacher survey, high school students can get assigned up to 17.5 hours of homework each week. To top it off a Today article reported that teachers often underestimate the amount of homework they assign by as much as 50%. Now that’s a huge miscalculation and our nation's youth have to make up for the consequences of those errors.

Jasminko Ibrakovic/Deposit Photos
Source: Jasminko Ibrakovic/Deposit Photos

There are definitely pros and cons to doing homework. I think the bigger question that educators need to address is “what’s the purpose of the assignment?” Is it merely a way to show parents and administration what's going on in the class? Is it a means to help keep students grades afloat by giving a grade for completion or is the assignment being graded for accuracy? Does the assignment enhance and supplement the learning experience? Furthermore, is it meaningful or busy work?

The homework debate will likely continue until we take a good hard look at our current policies and practices. What side of the line do you stand on when it comes to homework? Perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle? Please weigh in with your thoughts. I am always eager to hear students’ voices in this discussion. If you are a student please share what’s on your plate and how much time you spend doing homework each night.

References

Challenge Success White Paper: http://www.challengesuccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/ChallengeSuccess-Homework-WhitePaper.pdf

Cooper, H., et al. (meta analysis): https://www.jstor.org/stable/3700582?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Marzano, R., et al.: http://www.marzanocenter.com/2013/01/17/have-you-done-your-homework-on-homework-marzano-model-stresses-timing-and-q/

NEA (National Education Association): http://www.nea.org/tools/16938.htm

Pope, Brown, and Miles (2015), Overloaded and Underprepared. (Brief synopsis here: https://www.learningandthebrain.com/blog/overloaded-and-underprepared-strategies-for-stronger-schools-and-healthy-successful-kids-by-denise-pope-maureen-brown-and-sarah-miles/)