Does Homework Have a Greater Negative or Positive Effect on Students?

Homework can have a positive effect on students if used appropriately.
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Homework is a ubiquitous activity that helps students learn material outside of the classroom. Since homework increases the likelihood that students will remember and apply what they have learned, it comes as a surprise to many that homework can have a detrimental impact on learning. If approached correctly, however, homework ultimately has a more positive effect on student achievement, academic outcomes and nonacademic pursuits.

1 The Benefits of Homework

In the most comprehensive study of homework to date, the Review of Educational Research found that homework is positively correlated with classroom achievement, measured through test scores. In addition, the report found that homework improved students' study habits, problem-solving skills, self-discipline and views toward school, among others. A stronger correlation between homework and classroom achievement was observed when the student, rather than the parent, worked on homework. In addition, the correlation between homework and academic achievement was stronger among students in high school than students in grades K–6.

Homework can also have nonacademic benefits. As noted in the academic journal Theory Into Practice, homework helps children "develop positive beliefs about achievement, as well as strategies for coping with mistakes, difficulties, and setbacks." Especially relevant for younger students, homework can help learners stay on task and prepare them for more demanding assignments that require a great deal of focus. In addition, homework can help students develop time-management skills and assume more demanding responsibilities.

2 The Drawbacks of Homework

Homework is so entrenched in education that many fail to see its weaknesses. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development notes that despite its near-universal acceptance in American culture, homework can increase students' stress levels and lower their overall physical and emotional health. Some researchers believe that homework that goes beyond the "10-minute rule" – from 10 minutes in first grade to two hours in high school – can have an adverse impact on student achievement and learning.

This concern is supported by research from the Journal of Experimental Education, which found that too much homework can lead to increased academic stress, poorer physical health and an uneven school-life balance. According to the report, which studied students averaging 3.1 hours of homework per night at high-performing high schools, more than half of the students (56 percent) mentioned homework being one of their primary sources of stress. In addition, many students in the study claimed that that the amount of homework they received led to sleep deprivation and other health issues.

3 Finding the Balance

Homework has both academic and nonacademic benefits when it is assigned properly. Too little can lead to a poor understanding of material and outlook on learning, but too much can lead to increased academic stress and poorer health. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 10-minute rule; that is, a first-grader's homework should take no longer than 10 minutes, a second-grader's homework should take no longer than 20 minutes, and so on, adding 10 minutes for each grade level. When used in moderation, homework can be an excellent tool for students to gain knowledge and obtain essential skill sets.

Tim Zimmer is an Associate Consultant at Manhattan Strategy Group (MSG), a management and social services consulting firm that works with Federal, State, and local government agencies.