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- NEA Foundation
If Elementary Schools Say No to Homework, What Takes Its Place?
Last April, Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher in Texas, sent a short note to her students' parents informing them that she would not assign any homework for the remainder of the school year. An approving parent posted the letter on her Facebook page and it quickly went viral, eliciting scores of supportive comments from parents, educators, and, of course, students. There were a few dissenters, but the buzz the letter generated was the latest and perhaps strongest sign yet that homework - a stalwart tradition of K-12 education in the United States - was in the doghouse.
Long before Young's letter, however, many schools had already begun to question the assumptions behind homework, namely its academic value and overall appropriateness for students in elementary school.
A 2015 study published in The American Journal of Family Therapy suggested that elementary students were being assigned significantly more homework than what is recommended. (The National Education Association and the National Parent Teachers Association endorse the "10-minute rule," which states that that students should do no more than 10 minutes a night per grade leve l.) Other studies have identified homework as a major source of stress for all students - a repercussion educators and parents have been calling attention to for years.
As to its impact on student achievement, the research is at best mixed. Evidence that homework is beneficial to elementary school students is virtually non-existent. Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and author of "The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents," says homework can lead to improvements in student learning in higher grades if it is designed and implemented properly. But too much can do more harm than good.
"We really need more work on subject matter, on homework quality, on the level of inquisitiveness that it engenders and the way it motivates," says Cooper, who believes high school students need some homework because it can help them learn how to study independently if they move onto college.
Many high schools are getting the message about student stress and are looking for ways to lighten the homework load. The so-called "no homework" movement is focused on elementary grades, but framing the choice as "no homework vs. homework" is misguided, according to Maurice Elias of Rutgers University and co-author of Emotionally Intelligent Parenting and The Joys and Oys of Parenting.
"Ideally, we want children to understand that they are always learners. In school, we refer to them as 'students,' but outside of school, as children, they are still learners," Elias explains. "So advertising a 'no homework' policy in a school sends the wrong message. The policy should be something like, 'no time-wasting, rote, repetitive tasks with no clear instructional or learning purpose will be assigned.'"
Whether it's called "homework," "continued learning," or something else altogether, the key is to make reading, writing, and performing arithmetic a part of everyday family interactions. "Educators can and should provide developmental guidance to parents on how to to do this," says Elias.
Taking Away the Anxiety of Learning at Home
The lack of research supporting formal homework in lower grades gave Jake Toomey, principal of Discovery School at Four Corners in Gilbert, Mass., the confidence to move forward with new homework guidelines in October. The change grew out of discussions between Toomey and two other elementary school principals in the district.
"We were all hearing the same thing about homework," Toomey recalls. "There were inconsistent practices and we heard from some parents about the workload. And then we checked the research and found there wasn’t a correlation between elementary students who do homework and academic success."
My students are coming to school feeling way more positive about what they are able to accomplish at home with their parents. There's valuable data in that as well" - Bharati Winston, teacher
Homework just seemed to be a chore for all involved - the student, teacher and parent.
In October, Four Corners implemented new guidelines that permitted teachers to end formally assigned homework, along with the tracking, logging, and accountability procedures that went with it. The task was to design a new approach that engaged parents and reinforced student learning without this baggage. No more homework? Not strictly-speaking, but definitely "less drama and tears," Toomey says.
Teachers at Four Corners now collaborate with parents on activities children do at home that incorporate lessons covered during the day.
"We give suggestions to parents on enrichment activities they can do with their kids," explains second grade teacher Bharati Winston. "They can be fun. I'll suggest apps on smartphones or tablets that are educational. There are guidelines and expectations. There should, for example, be some level of reading, some sort of math, but there's no homework log and much less pressure."
Teachers check-in regularly with the parents, and Winston sends out a weekly email featuring new suggestions for activities.
If a student is struggling with a particular lesson, "we still might provide an enrichment activity for home practice," says Winston. "We always take the academic pulse of each child so a more formal style of homework may be necessary. It's a case-by-case basis."
The new guidelines have been in place only for a few months, but the feedback from parents and educators has so far been very positive. At the end of the school year, educators will take a more formal look at how the new guidelines affected student learning.
"In education, we tend put a lot of clout in the data for academics," Winston cautions. "But I can tell you I have seen no tears or anxiety in my students this year, compared to last year when I would see it maybe once a month over a missed or incomplete homework assignment. So my students are coming to school feeling way more positive about what they able to accomplish at home with their parents. There's valuable data in that as well."
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Our No Homework Policy
At The Country School, children have no homework until the second trimester of 5th grade. There is no evidence of a clear connection between homework, improved test scores and academic achievement in the lower grades. Traditional homework also limits valuable family time, and may even be detrimental to students’ mental health. Once homework is introduced in the latter part of 5th grade, teachers are conscientious about balancing the homework load, teaching students the skills to manage the work, and making sure that the homework assigned always serves a purpose and is connected to helping students achieve the highest academic standards
We want kids to spend their afternoons playing, exploring and getting recharged for the next day. We want to give our students their lives back, and our parents their kids back. This is a bold move, and we have our work cut out for us, but we don’t want to spend another minute tied to traditional ways of doing things when we know they are not right for our kids. With our roots firmly planted in progressive education, we place an emphasis on learning by doing, through hands on projects and teachers who engage students in understanding and experiencing – rather than just memorizing and regurgitating for tests. I believe this approach creates students with a lifelong love of learning, and the skills and confidence to succeed both inside and outside the classroom – academically, socially, and emotionally.
The Parent/School Partnership
Learning should still take place at home with or without homework. Our policy gives families the freedom to let their interests and passions guide their learning. Science experiments, playing outside, cooking and reading books together become an equally important part of a child’s development, along with the curriculum they learn at school. At the elementary level, it is expected that parents will support their child’s learning through nightly reading, reviewing math facts, practicing spelling words, etc. Teachers are happy to help provide ideas and resources for continuing the learning at home if needed.
Our no homework policy in lower grades allows you to be a partner in your child’s education. While our rigorous academic standards are fostered in the classroom, your family is empowered to explore and create your own path for learning at home.
VDA’s No Homework Policy
by Lisa VanDamme
Every year, dozens of parents sit at my desk and describe to me the intense frustration they feel as they watch their children churned through the public schools. One of the refrains of their complaints: endless homework.
And no wonder:
- The work itself is largely pointless. Students must complete countless contrived worksheets meant primarily to satisfy state standards for homework volume.
- Their children are overwhelmed, trying to cram this busywork into car rides, between afterschool activities.
- Parents do not know the material themselves. They are often unable to help, and sometimes they even hinder the children with their own confused instruction.
- There is no sacred family time. Instead, the time for bonding between parents and children is compromised by battles over homework.
- There is no sacred free time; the time the child should be allowed to rest, play, spend time with family and pursue personal interests is compromised by the looming responsibility of performing hours of homework drudgery.
VanDamme Academy has a policy of no homework
Yes, you read that correctly.
At VanDamme Academy, the only daily, on-going responsibility given the children outside school hours is to read. Reading is an activity best done alone, in the quiet of the child’s own bedroom. It is a very independent and personal task, and—if it is the right book and taught properly—a very pleasurable one, too.
Math practice is done in math class. We give students ample time to learn, practice, and master new concepts under the close supervision of the teacher. Essays are written in writing class. Writing, which is one of the most challenging and comprehensive skills a student must learn, demands the constant monitoring and assistance of the teacher.
That such disciplines are neglected during the day—and then sent home in a mad-dash effort to get the kids up to speed for standardized testing—is criminal.
It is not surprising that our policy does wonders for parents’ relationships with their children. I will never forget when a parent sat at my desk one day and told me, with tears in his eyes: “You have given back our family life.”
But, you might ask, how do VanDamme Academy students fare when they are sent off to high school with their homework-laden peers?
Well, consider this typical comment by a non-VDA parent at a high school attended by several VanDamme Academy graduates—each of whom had several homework-free years: “Do you have to be a complete genius to go to that school?” You don’t have to be a genius to go to our school or learn from our courses—but the level of knowledge and caliber of thinking that our curriculum instills can make our graduates seem like geniuses.
Our students shine because we make efficient use of the school day, focusing on those subjects which are most essential to the cognitive development of the child—because we give students careful supervision in the development of academic skills instead of shunting that task off to parents—because we revere and enjoy the work itself, and do not feel compelled to "jazz it up" with treats and distractions—because we present the material in a careful, systematic, hierarchical manner, one which allows the child to grasp and keep the knowledge presented—and because the effect of all of this is intelligent, driven students who love to learn.
read testimonials about our policy from VDA Alumni →
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No Homework Policy: One Year Later
.Last school year was a really big year in my classroom. We started flexible seating (you can read more about that adventure HERE ), we implemented a Bring Your Own Device program, and we did away with homework. Like I said– BIG year!
While each of those three changes contributed to a very different feel in my classroom than years prior, I was particularly nervous about doing away with homework. I know that homework has its place, and I know there are concepts and skills (especially in 4th grade!) that require repetition to really grasp. Yet, I still felt like the reasons to do away with homework were more important than the benefits of homework itself.
Throughout the school year, I had many colleagues pop in and ask how our no-homework policy was going. “It's going well!” I would respond, but I wouldn't give many details. Now, after a full school year without it, I definitely have some reflections on how it went, what changes I would make, and if I would do it again!
After a Full Year of No Homework
You can see that we didn't COMPLETELY do away with homework, but we did do away with 99% of it. We still STRONGLY encouraged students to be reading each night, and they were required to have a novel in progress at all times. We also continued our weekly letter writing, where students had to respond to us in letter form by the end of the week. You can read more about that idea HERE . I'll never have a classroom where I don't do it!
We also had a disclaimer that if students did not complete their classwork in a reasonable period of time or were excessively off task during an assignment, they would need to bring it home to complete it.
How I Broke The News To My Students
Of course, when we first told students about this change, there was hooting and hollering and cheers galore! I let them have their moment and then gently pulled them back together. I reassured them that it was totally possible that they wouldn't have homework, but that it would mean they had to give me their all every. single. minute of every. single. day. Their eyes got big, they sat up taller, and an air of confidence washed over them. “We've got this, Mrs. M.!” I remember one kiddo saying. In the beginning, it was as if they would do anything to keep this privilege. We floated on clouds of no-homework bliss for a solid week…
And then here's what really happened when I did away with homework…
I expected more from my students than ever before.
When I was planning my lessons this year, I packed in more than I ever had before. While that might send like a negative effect of this little experiment, it was actually one of the best parts for me.
The Monster That Is Math
In math, in particular, this was a game changer for me. I knew that my students needed to deeply and fully understand these concepts and be able to compute with automaticity. I also knew they wouldn't be going home and doing 20 extra problems each night like they had in the past. This meant that 1) I had to make sure they understood the concept like the back of their hand and 2) They could apply that understanding to a wide variety of problems…. Of course, these are two non-negotiables that any math classroom should have, but I was going to be doing it with less practice and repetition than before.
Therefore, when I was planning, I ended up with FAR more inquiry-based lessons and practice (so that they would really get the meat of the concept), and far less direct teacher instruction. I jammed as much as I could into my whole group time (10-15 minutes a day) and then jammed even more into their workshop time. Kids were collaborating, practicing, and learning more than ever… Simply because I had this sense of urgency that I was missing before.
But What About Spelling
A few people have asked about spelling and how this worked without homework and studying at home. We use a word study philosophy, similar to Words Their Way , which means that students are studying patterns in words rather than the words themselves. I incorporated this into my reading rotations and would occasionally devote some of our writing to it, and I would highly recommend it!
Another option to fit in what would have previously been homework is to rethink your morning routine. I usually use my Think It Through critical thinking packet as morning work, and when I did away with homework this year and had to give them some more “intense” morning work, I started using the packet during Morning Meeting instead. I used our morning work time this year to review and reteach grammar concepts some days and math skills other days. It was the perfect balance!
This brought out the best in some kids
When I say it brought out the best in them, I mean it changed their study habits permanently. They created habits that I hope will continue on with them for years and years to come. They knew that in order to continue having no homework, they truly had to give me their all during the day. It wasn't easy. They had to not only complete their assignments, but complete them well. We had very, very little down time, and I expected more from this group of kids than ever before. Some rose to the challenge and THRIVED under the challenge…
…and some kids didn't care.
I did have a handful of students who were not at all motivated by a lack of homework. These were the kids who repeatedly ended up taking work home because they weren't completing it in class. Usually due to them being distracted and not on-task. Some kids learned quickly that this isn't what they wanted, and a few kids never did quite learn.
Some parents loved it. Others hated it.
On Back to School Night, when we handed out this homework policy, the general consensus was all the praise hands in the world! Parents thanked us for giving them FREEDOM in the evenings to take their kids to gymnastics without worrying about homework and some parents thanked us for eliminating the nightly homework battle they had fought for the past few years.
We also had a small number of parents who wanted their kids to have homework. They worried that they would become accustomed to not having homework and have a difficult time next year when their teacher required it again. They worried they wouldn't get enough skill practice. These were valid concerns, and we reassured parents that, if they requested it, we would send home supplemental practice. Not one of the parents who initially expressed concern over the policy ever ended up asking for homework.
…but some KIDS asked for homework!
I'll never forget the first time one of my kids ASKED for homework! It was about a month into the school year, and we were working on Error Analysis in small groups. One of my students looked up and said, “I LOVE this. Can you PLEASE give us some more to do at home!?” How could I deny them that opportunity!? 🙂 The rest of the kids in the small group chimed in that they wanted to bring some home too. During my lunch break, I printed a few more tasks out for those kids, and guess what? Every single student in that group brought it home and returned it the next day– BY CHOICE!
This happened multiple times throughout the year, primarily with my math projects and error analysis tasks. I never, ever denied them when they asked to bring something home for homework.
Some kids NEED homework.
Usually, these aren't the kids who were requesting the extra homework, but I had another handful of students who needed homework. They needed skill practice, they needed reading fluency practice, and they needed fact practice. I talked to each of those students individually and contacted those parents privately. They (both students and parents) understood why I needed to send supplemental work home. Once a quarter, I put together packets based on those kids' needs. I gave them free reign to complete it at any time throughout the quarter, and every single packet came back completed by the end of the quarter.
I would do it all over again.
At the end of the year, I had parents come up to me and thank me for this policy, telling me how they had enjoyed a better relationship with their student this year without the nightly homework battle. They had taken more walks, participated in more after school activities, and were generally so thankful for the reprieve.
As a teacher, I saw happy kids coming in every day and relaxed kids leaving every afternoon. There were no battles over missing homework, and kids worked hard to keep the privilege. I had no noticeable (anecdotally or with data) drop in achievement or growth over the course of the year. I felt like a better teacher because I worked even harder during the school day to make sure they were getting exactly what they needed while they were with me.
…Oh, and I had a lot less grading to do, too! 🙂 🙂
I would do it again a heartbeat!
We strongly believe in the power of play and the importance of letting children be children. Further, research does not indicate significant benefits of homework at the elementary level. We believe that when students give us all of their day, they deserve to have all of their night. Therefore, we have eliminated the majority of our standing homework assignments. Eat dinner as a family and ask them how their day was, enjoy your child’s extracurricular activities without worrying about homework, and know that your child is working hard at school each day and has earned their evening playtime!
To foster community and self-reflection, your student will have a weekly letter from their teacher (more about that below!) to respond to, and we highly encourage you to read a book of choice with your child each evening. Please Note: If a student exhibits off-task behaviors during the school day and fails to complete an assignment, the assignment will be sent home for completion.
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Teacher creates no-homework policy so students can enjoy family time
Teacher creates no homework policy so students can enjoy family time
GODLEY, Texas -- Kids across the country are heading back to school, but in a small Texas town, one second-grade teacher is making a big promise.
Brandy Young, a teacher at Godley Elementary school, says this year, her students will have no homework.
Not tonight. Not any night.
Young passed out a letter to every parent at "Meet the Teacher Night" before school started to explain her no-homework policy.
The letter reads:
"After much research this summer, I am trying something new. Homework will only consist of work that your student did not finish during the school day. There will be no formally assigned homework this year. Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance. Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early."
Samantha Gallagher's 7-year-old daughter Brooke is in Young's class. The mom posted the teacher's letter to Facebook with the caption, "Brooke is loving her new teacher already!"
"I am very grateful Brooke has an innovative teacher who is willing to adopt new policies for the benefit of her students and their families," Gallagher said.
The note is opening up a great conversation about education, our kids and our future.
Gallagher says her family is thrilled by the new homework policy - especially little Brooke.
Dozens of parents in the Godley school district and outside the district praised Young's policy on Facebook. Gallagher's post has since been shared more than 67,000 times.
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This school without grades or homework has a 98% college acceptance rate
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How’s that saying go again…too many cooks?
That’s what Diane Tavenner, co-founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, discovered was happening in her own kitchen.
Tavenner and her husband initially had a great idea: have their teenage son, Rett, cook one of the family’s meals per week. This would give them a night off and help Rett gain a pretty important life skill.
But, being pretty good cooks themselves, they soon found themselves not so much guiding Rett through the cooking process as much as doing things for him.
“We forgot what it was to be a novice,” Tavenner says, “and so, he would ask a simple question, and next thing you know, one of us is in the kitchen doing it for him. And he’s sort of standing back and on the side, and we realize we just took over, we weren’t actually supporting. We were just doing it for him.”
Pulling back, they gave Rett tips, but let him take charge.
“I had to take the initiative,” Rett says.
Sure, there were burnt dishes and some undercooked dishes, but there was also the chance to learn how to learn; a chance to improve by building off his mistakes.
As the weeks progressed, Rett saw his skills develop. He returned to recipes he cooked in the past, and saw how his techniques had gotten better— this family chore had turned into a real-world, edible aptitude test.
Tavenner, a former teacher, saw this “spoon-fed” approach to learning as being a problem not just in her family kitchen, but in the American educational system.
So, she created Summit Public Schools, a charter school system with a new approach to education: students have numerous opportunities to improve their grade.
What they don’t have? Assigned homework.
A New Recipe
It begins with the will to start something new.
“If we want to truly prepare our kids to have a chance to live their best life, we need to radically rethink the education we grew up with, and the message it’s sending,” Tavenner says.
To keep it in the kitchen, think of the traditional public education system as handing students a recipe and the ingredients.
The message is: here’s what you need to know and if you’re successful, you’ll get an “A” on your first test.
But in the real world, things aren’t so straight forward — so, Summit takes a different approach.
Students “have the ingredients, but we must learn how to make the recipe,” Rett, who was also a student at Summit, says.
“People can help you along the way with learning the recipes, but ultimately you must take center stage. That is what self-directed learning is.”
At Summit, students are given the opportunity to change a grade over time if they show continuous improvement.
By allowing students to continue working on subjects to improve their grades, Summit builds in the chance to “fail forward” — to learn from your mistakes. (Like, say, making sure to grease a pan the next time you cook.)
Each student is mentored weekly by an assigned teacher. The mentors stay with students throughout their academic career, providing continued support and offering parents a constant point of contact. According to Tavenner, research has found that mentoring improves a student’s sense of belonging and success beyond grade school.
Those mentors help kids actively engage in their hands-on, project-based work. Through these projects, students may design a house to put principles of geometry to work, grow their own plants, or build a model rocket.
“Project-based learning is real world learning,” Tavenner says. “Authentic learning. It’s the type of learning where kids are getting really hands-on. They’re asking big questions.”
In addition to its regular curriculum, Summit offers an eight week guided learning program where the students choose the field they’re interested in and get to ask the big questions they want to ask — a freedom not always found in the current public education system.
The foundation of all of this is giving students agency and autonomy in their educational journey.
“When you give kids responsibility, they become invested because they actually know that what they are doing means something and that it’s dependable and accountable and all of that leads to growth,” Rett says.
Finding the Ingredients
While attending Summit, Rett felt he had space to learn — the ability, and responsibility, to shape his learning in ways that best fit him.
Learning how to learn was one of the central aspects of my learning environment.
That environment allowed him to explore one of his passions: history. In one class, Rett and his classmates were split into eight groups representing different countries on the eve of World War I. Each country had its needs, goals, and certain rules to follow, but the students had the freedom to interact among themselves.
Pushing and pulling against each other made the events come alive: it stopped being just events and dates on a textbook page.
“I think I remember the causes and effects of World War I…far better than I would have if I were in a traditional environment,” he says.
Summit’s ten West Coast campuses have drawn plaudits from the tech industry, and earned her a seat on the board of trustees at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The public charter schools are free to attend, with enrollments on a rolling basis.
Summit’s approach to education may not work for every student — and Tavenner says that’s ok. She says asking whether an approach to learning can be applied across the board to all students isn’t the right question to be asking.
“The question we should be asking ourselves is, ‘does what work? For whom? Under what circumstances?’” Tavenner says.
“And the power of those three questions is actually asking about each individual student.”
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Center for American Progress
Homework and Higher Standards
- Report PDF (736 KB)
How Homework Stacks Up to the Common Core
CAP analysis found that homework is generally aligned to Common Core State Standards, but additional policy changes would make it more valuable.
Education, Education, K-12, Modernizing and Elevating the Teaching Profession
Vice President, Communications
Director, Federal Affairs
Associate Director, State and Local Government Affairs
In this article
Introduction and summary
For as long as homework has been a part of school life in the United States, so too has the debate over its value. In 1900, a prominent magazine published an article on the evils of homework titled, “A National Crime at the Feet of Parents.” 1 The author, Edward Bok, believed that homework or too much school learning outside the classroom deprived children of critical time to play or participate in other activities at home. The very next year, California, influenced by those concerns, enacted a statewide prohibition on homework for students under the age of 15. 2 In 1917, the state lifted the ban, which has often been the case as districts have continually swung back and forth on the issue. 3
InProgress Stay informed on the most pressing issues of our time.
More than 100 years later, homework remains a contentious issue, and the debate over its value rages on, with scholars coming down on both sides of the argument. Homework skeptic Alfie Kohn has questioned the benefit of homework, arguing that its positive effects are mythical, and in fact, it can disrupt the family dynamic. 4 He questions why teachers continue to assign homework given its mixed research base. Taking the opposite view, researchers Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering have voiced their support for purposeful homework that reinforces learning outside of school hours but still leaves time for other activities. 5
In 1989, prominent homework scholar Harris Cooper published a meta-analysis of more than 100 studies on homework in a survey that found a correlation between homework and performance on standardized tests, but only for certain grade levels. According to Cooper’s research, for students in late-elementary grades through high-school, there was a link between homework and improved standardized test performance. However, there was no evidence of the same correlation for younger students. 6 Even without a connection to academic achievement, Cooper still recommended assigning homework to younger students because it helps “develop good study habits, foster positive attitudes toward school, and communicate to students the idea that learning takes work at home as well as school.” 7
Far from academia, parents—not surprisingly—are some of homework’s most ardent supporters and, also, its most vocal critics. For better or worse, many parents help or are involved in their child’s homework in some way. As a result, homework can shape family dynamics and weeknight schedules. If a child receives too much homework, or only busywork, it can cause stress within families and resentment among parents. 8 Some parents report spending hours each night helping their children. For instance, a 2013 article in The Atlantic detailed a writer’s attempt to complete his 13-year-old daughter’s homework for a week. The headline simply read: “My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me.” 9 The father reported falling asleep trying to thoughtfully complete homework, which took around three hours per night. 10 On the other hand, some parents appreciate the glimpse into their child’s daily instruction and value homework’s ability to build positive learning habits.
It is no surprise that the debate over homework often spills onto the pages of newspapers and magazines, with calls to abolish homework regularly appearing in the headlines. In 2017, the superintendent of Marion County Public Schools in Florida joined districts in Massachusetts and Vermont in announcing a homework ban. To justify his decision, he used research from the University of Tennessee that showed that homework does not improve student achievement. 11 Most recently, in December 2018, The Wall Street Journal published a piece that argued that districts were “Down With Homework”—banning it, placing time caps or limiting it to certain days, or no longer grading it—in order to give students more time to sleep, read, and spend time with family. 12
Given the controversy long surrounding the issue of homework, in late spring 2018, the Center for American Progress conducted an online survey investigating the quality of students’ homework. The survey sought to better understand the nature of homework as well as whether the homework assigned was aligned to rigorous academic standards. Based on the best knowledge of the authors, the CAP survey and this report represent the first-ever national study of homework rigor and alignment to the Common Core State Standards—rigorous academic standards developed in a state-led process in 2010, which are currently in place in 41 states and Washington, D.C. The CAP study adds to existing research on homework by focusing on the quality of assignments rather than the overall value of homework of any type. There are previous studies that considered parental involvement and the potential stress on parents related to homework, but the authors believe that this report represents the first national study of parent attitudes toward homework. 13
For the CAP study, the authors used the Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) online survey tool to collect from parents their child’s actual homework assignments. Specifically, as part of the survey, the authors asked parents to submit a sample of their child’s most recent math or language arts homework assignment and have the child complete questions to gauge if the assignment was challenging, as well as how long it took to complete the assignment. In all, 372 parents responded to the survey, with CAP analyzing 187 homework assignments.
Admittedly, the methodological approach has limitations. For one, it’s a convenience sample, which means people were not selected randomly; and broadly speaking, the population on the MTurk site is younger and whiter than the U.S. population as a whole. However, research has shown that MTurk yields high-quality, nationally representative results, with data that are at least as reliable as those obtained via traditional methods. 14
In addition, the homework sample is not from a single classroom or school over the course of a year; rather, it is a snapshot of homework across many classrooms during the span of a few weeks in May 2018. The assumption is that looking at assignments from many classrooms over a short period of time helps to construct a composite picture of mathematics and language arts homework.
Moreover, the design of the CAP study has clear advantages. Many of the previous existing studies evaluated homework in a single district, whereas the CAP study draws from a national sample, and despite its limitations, the authors believe that the findings are robust and contribute significantly to the existing research on homework.
Three key findings from the CAP survey:
- Homework is largely aligned to the Common Core standards. The authors found that the homework submitted is mostly aligned to Common Core standards content. The alignment index that the authors used evaluated both topic and skill. As previously noted, the analysis is a snapshot of homework and, therefore, does not allow the authors to determine if homework over the course of a year covered all the topics represented in the standards.
- Homework is often focused on low-level skills in the Common Core standards, particularly in the earlier grades. While the authors’ analysis shows that there was significant alignment between Common Core and the topics represented in the homework studied, most of the assignments were fairly rote and often did not require students to demonstrate the full depth of knowledge required of the content standards. There was clear emphasis on procedural knowledge, and an even stronger emphasis on memorization and recall in language arts. Common Core content standards, on the other hand, require students to demonstrate deeper knowledge skills, such as the ability to analyze, conceptualize, or generate. 15
- Homework frequently fails to challenge students. Nearly half of the parents who responded to the CAP survey reported that homework is too easy for their child. In particular, parents of primary-grade children were most likely to agree or strongly agree that the homework assignment they submitted was too easy for their child.
Based on these key findings, CAP recommends that states, districts, and schools improve the quality of homework and increase opportunities for students to practice rigorous grade-level content at home. Specifically, the authors—drawing from this survey and other existing research on homework—recommend the following actions to improve the role of homework in education:
- Schools and districts should develop homework policies that emphasize strategic, rigorous homework. In many cases, the homework debate is limited and short-sighted. Currently, many arguments focus on whether or not students should have homework at all, and there are entire school districts that have simply banned homework. Instead of debating the merits of banning homework, reformers and practitioners should focus on improving the rigor and effectiveness of all instructional materials, including
Districts, schools, and teachers should ensure that the total amount of homework students receive does not exceed the 10-minute rule—that is to say, no more than 10 minutes of homework multiplied by the student’s grade level. 16 According to research, any more than that can be counterproductive. 17 Also, too much homework may be an unnecessary burden on families and parents. Homework should be engaging and aligned to Common Core standards, which allow students to develop deeper-level learning skills—such as analysis or conceptualization—that help them increase retention of content.
- Districts and schools should periodically audit homework to make sure it is challenging and aligned to standards. Rather than implementing homework bans, district policymakers and school principals should regularly review examples of homework assignments to ensure that it is aligned to grade-level standards and requires students to demonstrate conceptual learning. In instances where the district or school finds that homework assignments are not aligned or take too much or too little time to complete, they should help teachers improve homework assignments by recommending instructional materials that may make it easier for them to identify appropriate, grade-level homework assignments.
- Schools and districts should provide access to technology and other supports that can make it easier for students to complete rigorous schoolwork at home. Technology can also provide additional support or scaffolding at home, allowing more students to complete homework without help from adults or older siblings. For instance, programs such as the Khan Academy can give students rigorous homework that’s aligned to Common Core standards. 18 Unfortunately, many households across the nation still do not have adequate access to devices or internet at home. Schools and districts should consider options to ensure that all students can benefit from technology and broadband. Greater access to technology can help more students benefit from continual innovation and new tools. While most of these technologies are not yet research-based, and the use of devices may not be appropriate for younger children, incorporating new tools into homework may be a low-cost method to improve the quality of student learning.
- Curriculum reform and instructional redesign should focus on homework. There are many states and districts that are reforming curriculum or adopting different approaches to instruction, including personalized learning. Curriculum reform and personalized learning are tied to greater academic outcomes and an increase in motivation. Homework should also be a focus of these and other efforts; states and districts should consider how textbooks or other instructional materials can provide resources or examples to help teachers assign meaningful homework that will complement regular instruction.
The findings and recommendations of this study are discussed in detail below.
Homework must be rigorous and aligned to content standards
All homework is not created equal. The CAP study sought to evaluate homework quality—specifically, if homework is aligned to rigorous content standards. The authors believe that access to grade-level content at home will increase the positive impact of adopting more rigorous content standards, and they sought to examine if homework is aligned to the topics and skill level in the content standards.
The 10-minute rule
According to Harris Cooper, homework is a valuable tool, but there is such a thing as too much. In 2006, Cooper and his colleagues argued that spending a lot of time on homework can be counterproductive. He believes that research supports the 10-minute rule—that students should be able to complete their homework in no more than 10 minutes multiplied by their grade. For example, this would amount to 20 minutes for a second-grade student, 50 minutes for a fifth-grade student, and so on. 19
The Common Core, developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, established a set of benchmarks for “what students should know and be able to do” in math and language arts by the end of the academic year in kindergarten through high school. 20 The math standards focus on fewer concepts but in more depth and ask students to develop different approaches to solve similar problems. In language arts, the standards moved students away from narrative-based assignments, instead concentrating on using evidence to build arguments and reading more nonfiction.
The Common Core is not silent in the cognitive demand needed to demonstrate mastery for each standard. 21 For example, a second grade math standard is “[s]olve word problems involving dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies, using $ and ¢ symbols appropriately.” For this standard, a second-grader has not mastered the standard if they are only able to identifying the name and value of every.
Remember, apply, integrate: Levels of cognitive demand or depth of knowledge
There are numerous frameworks to describe levels of cognitive skills. One of the most prominent of these models, Bloom’s taxonomy, identifies six categories of cognition. The original levels and terms were knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation; however, these terms have changed slightly over time. 22 Learning does not necessarily follow a linear process, and certainly, all levels of cognitive demand are important. Yet these categories require individuals to demonstrate a different level of working knowledge of a topic. With the advent of standards-based reform, the role of cognitive skill—particularly in the area of assessment—has become a much more explicit component of curriculum materials.
Over the past two decades, cognitive science has shown that individuals of any age retain information longer when they demonstrate deeper learning and make their own meaning with the content—using skills such as the abilities to conjecture, generalize, prove, and more—as opposed to only committing ideas to memory or performing rote procedures, using skills such as the ability to memorize or recall.
In essence, Common Core created rigorous expectations to guide the instruction of students in all states that chose to adopt its standards. These standards aimed to increase college preparedness and make students more competitive in the workforce. Policymakers, advocates, and practitioners hoped that Common Core would create greater consistency in academic rigor across states. In addition, with the classroom and homework aligned to these standards, many anticipated that students would graduate from high school prepared for college or career. As of 2017, 41 states and the District of Columbia have adopted and are working to implement the standards, although many of these states have modified them slightly. 23
In this study, the authors evaluated homework to determine if it was aligned to Common Core standards in two ways: First, does it reflect grade-level content standards; second, does it require students to use skills similar to those required to demonstrate proficiency in a content area. This multitiered approach is critical to evaluating alignment between standards and instruction—in this case homework. Instruction must teach content and help students develop necessary levels of cognitive skill. Curricula for each grade should include instructional materials that are sequenced and rigorous, thus enabling students to develop an understanding of all content standards.
In spring 2018, the Center for American Progress used Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) to administer a survey. MTurk is a crowdsourcing marketplace managed by Amazon; it allows organizations to virtually administer surveys for a diverse sample. 24 The CAP survey asked parents to submit a sample of their child’s most recent math or language arts homework assignment and complete a few questions to gauge if the assignment was challenging, as well as how long it took for the student to complete the assignment. A total of 372 parents responded to the survey, and CAP analyzed 187 homework assignments.
Of the 372 parents who participated in the survey, 202, or about 54 percent of respondents, submitted samples of their child’s homework assignment. The researchers dropped a total of 15 homework submissions from analysis either because the subject matter was not math or language arts—but rather, science, music, or social studies—or because the authors could not examine the specific content, for example, in cases where parents only provided a copy of the cover of a textbook. Of the remaining homework samples submitted, 72 percent (134 samples) focused on mathematics content, while the remaining 28 percent (53 samples) represented language arts content.
Of the 372 responding parents, 234—or 63 percent—were female, and 126—or 37 percent—were male. Forty-eight percent of parents responding to the survey were under the age of 34, while almost 90 percent of respondents were under the age of 45. There was an unequal distribution of parents representing elementary and secondary grade levels. Seventy-one percent of the total sample were parents with students in primary (K-2) and elementary (3-5) grades. (See Methodology section below)
Based on the analysis, the authors’ drew the following conclusions:
Homework is largely aligned to Common Core standards, especially the topics in the standards
The authors found that the submitted homework, for the most part, was aligned to Common Core standards content or within the so-called “good” range based on content expert evaluations. As described in the Methodology, the authors used an alignment index that does not require a homework assignment to exactly mirror the content standards—both topic and skill level—for evaluators to note that it is within a good range. For context, the study’s alignment index has a range of 0.00 to 1.00, where 0.00 indicates no content in common whatsoever between the two descriptions—perfect misalignment—and 1.00 indicates complete agreement between the two descriptions—perfect alignment. Generally speaking, what one might call “good” alignment for instruction tends to range on the alignment index between 0.4 and 0.6, with a measure of 0.5 serving as a median indicator of good alignment.
The analysis is a snapshot of homework and, therefore, does not allow the authors to determine if homework over the course of a year covered all required standards. In other words, it is difficult to say how many of the standards for a given grade are covered across a full school year, simply because of the limited sample of assignments.
The alignment index evaluates both topic and skill, but there was particular alignment in topic areas. For instance, there was a strong emphasis in the topic areas of number sense and operations for primary math homework. When combined with the third-most emphasized topic, measurement, these three areas accounted for more than 90 percent of primary mathematics homework content. The actual math content standards for the primary grades also placed heavy emphasis on the topic areas of number sense, operations, and measurement—though they accounted for only about 80 percent of primary math content.
In general, across all age groups, math homework was more closely aligned to content standards—both topic and skill level—than language arts. The alignment results for middle school math were particularly strong, at 0.56, based on 27 homework samples. The stronger alignment among math homework samples may be in part due to the fact that there were more math assignments in the sample than language arts assignments. Larger samples offer more opportunities to show alignment. As a result, smaller samples may underestimate alignment.
The table below presents the alignment indices, which were calculated using the homework samples collected for each grade band.
Homework is often focused on low-level skills in the standards, particularly in younger grades
While the authors’ analysis shows that there was significant alignment in the topic of standards and homework assignments, most of the homework did not require students to demonstrate the full depth of knowledge required of content standards. The analysis uncovered an emphasis on procedural knowledge, with an even stronger emphasis on memorization and recall in language arts. Content standards, on the other hand, require students to demonstrate deeper-knowledge skills, such as the ability to analyze, conceptualize, or generate.
Of five performance expectation categories across math and language arts that the authors used to measure alignment between standards and homework, there was a disproportionate emphasis on skills that require a lower level of knowledge or understanding. In grades K-2, for instance, the content standards emphasize the performance expectations of “procedures,” or computation, and “demonstrate,” or understanding, but the homework samples submitted primarily emphasized the procedures level of performance expectation. Similarly, homework for grades three through five focused almost entirely on the performance expectation of procedures, rather than standards that emphasized both procedures and demonstrate. 25
As seen with the middle school grades, high school math standards—despite a continued emphasis on procedures—show increased emphasis on the more challenging performance expectations of “demonstrate understanding” and “conjecture, generalize, prove.” Interestingly, this shift toward more challenging performance expectations is most visible for the topic areas of geometric concepts and functions, in both the standards and the homework samples submitted by parents of high school students.
Parents report that homework frequently does not challenge students
Nearly half of parents that participated in the survey reported that homework does not challenge their child. In particular, parents of primary-grade children were most likely to agree or strongly agree that the homework assignment they submitted was too easy for their child—58 percent for language arts and 55 percent for math.
Parents’ opinions about homework difficulty varied between mathematics and language arts assignments. Forty-eight percent of parents who submitted a mathematics assignment and 44 percent of parents who submitted a language arts assignment reported that it was too easy for their child. There was some variance across grade spans as well. As noted above, parents of primary-grade children were most likely to find the homework assignments too easy for their child. Meanwhile, parents that submitted high school math homework were also more likely to agree or strongly agree that the assignments were too easy, with 50 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing and only 33 percent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the statement. While there were clear trends in parent opinions, it is important to acknowledge that the sample size for each subset was small.
The comments of surveyed parents echoed this finding. One parent noted that “most homework that they are assigned seems like nothing more than busy work.” Another parent said: “The homework is not strong enough to build conceptual knowledge. It assumes that the child already has that knowledge.” Meanwhile, another parent commented: “Homework is way oversimplified and they don’t seem to spend much time on it. It’s a bit sad that English and math don’t seem to require what they used to. I remember much longer and harder worksheets to complete when I was a child.” 26
Weak homework samples
Within the sample of homework assignments, there were some that fell short of rigorous. For instance, one assignment listed 24 pairs of numbers—three and nine, 24 and 21, and so on—and asked the student to circle the smaller number in order to build numbers sense. While homework can be critical when establishing foundational knowledge, repetitive activities such as this often fail to engage students and, instead, overemphasize rote learning. Asking a student to list or name a number of a lesser value, for instance, would make this assignment more interactive.
A second example from kindergarten asked a student to create an uppercase and lowercase letter “f” by filling in dots with paint. The parent who submitted it highlighted the limited utility of the assignment, emphasizing that it does not hold students to high expectations. What’s more, the homework only gave the student two opportunities to practice writing the letter, both in a nonauthentic way. Indeed, the assignment focused more on filling in circles than it did constructing letters. While this task might help build a kindergartener’s hand-eye coordination, it does little to support language arts.
Exemplary homework samples
While many of the assignments submitted focused on procedures and, for math, computation, it is worth acknowledging some of the more exemplary types of homework included in the samples. These offer examples of how homework can challenge students, engage rigorous cognitive processes, and demonstrate that content standards at all levels—not just middle and high school—can support challenging homework that pushes students to think critically.
For example, one math homework assignment asked a student to identify which individuals possessed each of four groups of shapes based on the following description:
Ally, Bob, Carl, and Dana each have a set of shapes.
- Bob has no triangles.
- The number of rectangles that Dana has is the same as the number of triangles that Carl has.
This example is interesting on two counts. First, the assignment goes beyond procedure, requiring the student to analyze the various sets of shapes in order to determine which set belongs to which individual. It is also interesting insofar as it demonstrates a common real-world situation: There is usually more than one way to solve a problem, and sometimes, there is more than one correct answer.
Similarly, another example asked a student to determine actions that would help students beautify the school. The header of the assignment read, “Make a Decision: Keep Our School Beautiful!” The assignment had various boxes, each with a question above, such as, “Should we recycle?” or “Should we make art?” The assignment asked the student to “(1) think about each choice, (2) consider how each choice would affect them and others in the school community, (3) write their ideas in boxes below.” In doing so, it required primary students to analyze and generate ideas—both of which are skills that promote deeper learning.
Homework offers a valuable window into the curricula, assessment practices, and instructional preferences of teachers. It provides insight into classroom learning as well as the types of knowledge and skills the teacher believes will reinforce that instruction at home.
This analysis shows that the content and value of homework varies. While most homework within the sample was aligned to content standards, there is still a significant need to increase the rigor of homework and create opportunities for students to use higher-order skills.
Overall, schools and districts should pay more attention to homework as a reform lever. A growing body of research shows that homework is connected to learning outcomes, and as a result, schools and districts should ensure that policies help teachers provide meaningful assignments. 27 Based on this survey and the existing research on homework quality, the authors identified recommendations that can help increase the quality of homework:
Schools and districts should develop homework policies that emphasize strategic, rigorous homework
In many cases, the current debate over homework is short-sighted. Many arguments focus on whether or not students should have homework. There are entire school districts that have simply banned homework altogether. However, the debate should move beyond the merit of homework. Research shows that homework is linked to better performance on standardized assessments, especially in higher grades. 28 Many homework scholars also believe that a reasonable homework load can help develop important work habits. 29 Therefore, instead of eliminating homework outright, schools, districts, and advocates should focus on improving its rigor and effectiveness. As discussed throughout, homework should be an extension of instruction during the school day. Accordingly, policymakers and schools must make changes to homework that are in concert with curriculum reform.
Like all instruction, homework should be aligned to states’ rigorous content standards and should engage students in order to promote deeper learning and retention. To do this, homework should ask students to use higher-order skills, such as the ability to analyze or evaluate.
However, schools and districts, rather than simply assigning longer, more complicated assignments to make homework seem more challenging, should make strategic shifts. Homework assignments should be thought-provoking. But there is a such thing as too much homework. Districts and schools should ensure that teachers follow the research-supported 10-minute rule. 30 Also, teachers, schools, and districts should consider resources to set all students up for success when faced with more rigorous home assignments; homework should never be a burden or source of stress for families and parents.
Districts and schools should audit homework to make sure it is challenging and aligned to standards
Rather than implementing homework bans, district policymakers and schools should regularly review homework samples to ensure that they are aligned to grade-level standards, are engaging, require students to demonstrate higher-order skills, and adhere to the 10-minute rule. The audit should review multiple homework assignments from each classroom and consider how much time children are receiving from all subject areas, when appropriate. The district or school should ask for ongoing feedback from students, parents, and guardians in order to collect a comprehensive representation of the learning experience at home.
In instances where the district or school principal finds that homework assignments are not aligned to grade-level standards or take too much or too little time to complete, they should help the school or teachers improve them by recommending instructional materials that may make it easier for teachers to identify appropriate, grade-level homework assignments. In addition, if parents or students identify challenges to complete assignments at home, the district or school should identify solutions to ensure that all students have access to the resources and support they need to complete homework.
Schools and districts should provide access to technology and other supports that make it easier for students to complete homework
Technology can go a long way to improve homework and provide additional support or scaffolding at home. For instance, programs such as the Khan Academy—which provides short lessons through YouTube videos and practice exercises—can give students rigorous homework that is aligned to the Common Core standards. Unfortunately, many households across the nation still do not have adequate access to devices or internet at home. A 2017 ACT survey found that 14 percent of students only have access to one technology device at home. 31 Moreover, federal data from 2013 found that about 40 percent of households with school-age children do not have access to broadband. 32 It is likely that the percentage has decreased with time, but internet access remains a significant problem.
Schools and districts should adopt programs to ensure that all students can benefit from technology and broadband. For instance, Salton City, California, installed a Wi-Fi router in a school bus. Every night, the bus parks near a neighborhood with low internet connectivity, serving as a hot spot for students. 33
Moreover, greater access to technology can help more students benefit from new innovative resources. While most of these technologies are not yet research-based, and the use of devices may not be appropriate for younger children, incorporating new tools into homework may be a low-cost option to improve the quality of student learning. For instance, ASSISTments is a free web-based tool that provides immediate feedback as students complete homework or classwork. It has been proven to raise student outcomes. 34 Other online resources can complement classroom learning as well. There are various organizations that offer students free lessons in the form of YouTube videos, while also providing supplementary practice exercises and materials for educators. LearnZillion, for example, provides its users with high-quality lessons that are aligned to the Common Core standards. 35
Curriculum reform and instruction design should focus on homework
There are many states and districts that are engaging in curriculum reform. Many of these recent reform efforts show promise. In an analysis of the curricula and instructional materials used by the nation’s 30 largest school districts, the Center for American Progress found that approximately one-third of materials adopted or recommended by these districts were highly rated and met expectations for alignment. 36
Homework should be a focus of curriculum reform, and states and districts should consider how textbooks or other instructional materials can provide resources or examples to help teachers assign meaningful homework that will complement regular classroom instruction.
Personalized learning—which tailors instruction and learning environments to meet each student’s individual interests and needs—is also gaining traction as a way to increase declining engagement in schools and increase student motivation. 37 These ideas are also relevant to homework quality. A 2010 study found that when students were offered a choice of homework assignment, they were more motivated to do the work, reported greater competence in the assignments, and performed better on unit tests, compared with peers that did not have choice in homework. 38 The study also suggested that offering students a choice improved the rate of completion of assignments. 39 Districts and schools should help implement more student-centered approaches to all instruction—in the classroom and at home.
When it comes to change management, experts often advise to look for low-hanging fruit—the simplest and easiest fixes. 40 In education, homework reform is low-hanging fruit. Research shows that quality homework and increasing student achievement are positively correlated; and yet, the authors’ analysis shows that some schools may not be taking advantage of a valuable opportunity to support student achievement. Instead of mirroring the cognitive demand in rigorous content standards, homework assigned to students is often weak or rote. But it does not have to be this way. More rigorous, insightful homework is out there. Policymakers and schools need to move beyond the debate of whether or not to assign work outside of school hours and do their own due diligence—or, put another way, their own homework—before assigning homework to students in this nation’s schools.
As mentioned above, the authors used the Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) online survey tool to collect from parents their child’s actual homework assignments. Specifically, as part of the survey, the authors asked parents to submit a sample of their child’s most recent math or language arts homework assignment and have the child complete questions to gauge if the assignment was challenging, as well as how long it took to complete the assignment. In all, 372 parents responded to the survey, with CAP analyzing 187 homework assignments. The submissions of samples were analyzed by a group of analysts under the supervision of John L. Smithson, researcher emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The homework samples were reviewed by two teams of content analysts—one for mathematics and one for language arts—who were asked to describe the academic content represented by the submitted homework, as well as the performance expectation. Each team consisted of three analysts who possessed the relevant content expertise and experience in methodology used to gather the descriptive data.
The teams used a taxonomy-based methodology that was developed by education researchers Andrew Porter and John Smithson during Porter’s tenure as director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 41 Researchers both nationally and internationally have subsequently used this approach to content description for decades in order to examine issues of alignment as well as to support program evaluation and inform school improvement efforts.
The U.S. Department of Education also recognizes the validity of this approach. Specifically, the Education Department completes a peer review of states’ annual assessment program’s alignment to state academic content standards. 42 The Porter/Smithson approach is one of a handful of alignment methodologies that has been determined to meet these federal requirements. 43
The Porter/Smithson approach is unique because it defines instructional content as a two-dimensional construct consisting of topic and cognitive demand, or skill. This approach to describing cognitive skill is similar to Bloom’s, which the authors have described above. It has five categories: recall, process, analyze, integrate, and conceptual understanding. The Porter/Smithson approach is the most stringent of alignment indicators, as it looks at both topic and cognitive demand; it is also possibly the most challenging to interpret because the final alignment score considers two dimensions.
The alignment index has a range of 0.00 to 1.00, where 0.00 indicates no content in common whatsoever between the two descriptions—perfect misalignment—and 1.00 indicates complete agreement between the two descriptions—perfect alignment. A measure of 1.00 is exceedingly unlikely, requiring perfect agreement across every cell that makes up the content description. In practice, this is only seen when comparing a document to itself. For instance, very high alignment measures—more than 0.70—have been noted when comparing different test forms used for a particular grade-level state assessment; but those are instances where high alignment is desired. In terms of instructional alignment—in other words, how well instruction is aligned to the standards—a measure of 1.00 is not the goal. For this reason, the authors did not expect any analysis of homework alignment, no matter how well designed, to have a measure of or close to 1.00.
Generally speaking, what one might call “good” alignment for instruction tends to range between 0.4 and 0.6 on the alignment index, with a measure of 0.5 serving as a median indicator of good alignment. The description of the content standards represents the goal of instructional practice—the destination, not the journey. As such, it does not indicate the best path for achieving those goals. The 0.5 indicator measure represents a middle road where teachers are balancing the expectations of the content standards with the immediate learning needs of their students.
The authors acknowledge that the analysis has shortcomings. The sample was relatively small and does not directly mirror the national population of parents of elementary and secondary school students. As such, the sample does not necessarily reflect the views or homework experiences of the larger U.S. population.
Limited sample size
The current study analyzes a snapshot of homework across many classrooms, rather than homework from a single classroom or school. The assumption is that looking at individual homework assignments across many classrooms will help to construct a composite picture of mathematics and language arts homework that will be somewhat reflective of the picture one would get from following many classrooms for many days. If the sample is large enough with a wide enough geographical spread, that assumption serves researchers well enough.
For the current study, however, the number of homework samples available for each grade band were, in some cases, quite small—as low as five assignments each for middle and high school language arts. The largest sample sizes were for primary and elementary math, with 47 and 41 homework assignments collected, respectively. However, even 47 is a fairly small sample size for drawing inferences about a full year of homework.
The respondents that participated in this study were a reasonably diverse group in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity, but there are notable differences between the makeup of the parents represented in the study and the makeup of parents of school-age children more generally. Respondents were predominantly female, with women making up almost two-thirds—63 percent—of the sample. They also tended to be parents of younger school-age children, with 71 percent of the respondents reporting on children from the bottom half of the K-12 system—grades K-5. Finally, in terms of race and ethnicity, the sample overrepresented Asian American families and underrepresented African American families. These groups comprised 14 percent and 8 percent of respondents, respectively, compared with national averages of 6 percent and 12 percent.
Because the sample does not well reflect the population of parents of elementary and secondary students, the authors considered possible selection biases that may help to explain the differences in sample and overall population and that may have affected certain members of the population more than others.
For instance, the authors administered the survey using MTurk, which may have skewed the sample. In general, the population on the site is younger and whiter than the U.S. population as a whole. However, research has shown that MTurk yields high-quality, nationally representative results, with data that are at least as reliable as those obtained via traditional methods. 44 The researchers also targeted California and Texas in order to increase the diversity of the sample.
In addition, accessibility could have led to selection bias. Despite broad internet access in 2018, there remain families in low-income locales where internet access is not readily available for parents. It is also possible that older parents are less likely to be as active on the internet as younger parents, further contributing to selection bias.
About the authors
Ulrich Boser is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He is also the founder and CEO of The Learning Agency.
Meg Benner is a senior consultant at the Center.
John Smithson is the researcher emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The authors would like to thank Sarah Shapiro, a former research assistant at the Center for American Progress, for her support developing the survey. They also appreciate the valuable feedback of Catherine Brown, senior fellow for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress; Tom Loveless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Lisette Partelow, director of K-12 Special Initiatives at the Center; and Scott Sargrad, vice president of K-12 Education Policy at the Center.
Conflicts of interest
The author, Ulrich Boser, has a financial relationship with the creators of the online homework tool ASSISTments.
- Tom Loveless, “How Well Are American Students Learning?” (Washington: Brown Center on Education Policy , 2014), available at https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2014-Brown-Center-Report_FINAL-4.pdf .
- Seema Mehta, “Some schools are cutting back on hoomework,” Los Angeles Times , March 22, 2009, available at http://articles.latimes.com/2009/mar/22/local/me-homework22 .
- Alfie Kohn, “Rethinking Homework,” Principal , January/February 2007, available at https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/rethinking-homework/ .
- Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering, “The Case For and Against Homework,” Educational Leadership 64 (6) (2007): 74–79, available at http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar07/vol64/num06/The-Case-For-and-Against-Homework.aspx .
- Michael Winerip, “Homework Bound,” The New York Times , January 3, 1999, available at https://www.nytimes.com/1999/01/03/education/homework-bound.html .
- Marzano and Pickering, “The Case For and Against Homework.”
- Brian P. Gill and Seven L. Schlossman, “Villain or Savior? The American Discourse on Homework, 1850-2003,” Theory Into Practice 43 (3) (2004): 174–181, available at http://www.history.cmu.edu/docs/schlossman/Villiain-or-Savior.pdf .
- Karl Taro Greenfeld, “My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me,” The Atlantic , October 2013, available at https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/my-daughters-homework-is-killing-me/309514/ .
- Fox News, “Florida students in Marion County will no longer be assigned homework, superintendent says,” July 13, 2017, available at https://www.foxnews.com/us/florida-students-in-marion-county-will-no-longer-be-assigned-homework-superintendent-says ; Kate Edwards, “East Tennessee schools consider ‘no homework policy’,” WJHL, September 13, 2016, available at https://www.wjhl.com/news/east-tennessee-schools-consider-no-homework-policy/871720275 .
- Tawnell D. Hobbs, “Down With Homework, Say U.S. School Districts,” The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2018, available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/no-homework-its-the-new-thing-in-u-s-schools-11544610600 .
- Marzano and Pickering, “The Case For and Against Homework”; Gill and Schlossman, “Villain or savior?”.
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- Common Core requires students to demonstrate conceptual understanding of topics and use the information to analyze and make their own meaning. The abilities to analyze, conceptualize, and generate denote higher-order cognitive skills. The authors describe hierarchies of cognitive skills later in the report. Many of the standards use these verbs to describe what is expected. Common Core State Standards Initiative, “About the Standards,” available at http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/ (last accessed January 2019).
- Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering, “The Case For and Against Homework.”
- Khan Academy, “Common Core,” available at https://www.khanacademy.org/commoncore (last accessed February 2019).
- Common Core State Standards Initiative, “What are educational standards?”, available at http://www.corestandards.org/faq/what-are-educational-standards/ (last accessed January 2019).
- William G. Huitt, “Bloom et al.’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain” (Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University, 2011), available at http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/bloom.pdf .
- Solomon Friedberg and others, “The State of State Standards Post-Common Core” (Washington: Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2018), available at http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/(08.22)%20The%20State%20of%20State%20Standards%20Post-Common%20Core.pdf .
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- Common Core State Standards Initiative, “Read the Standards,” available at http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/ (last accessed February 2019).
- Center for American Progress survey administered on Amazon Mechanical Turk, May 2018, full survey results on file with the authors.
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- TNTP, “The Opportunity Myth” (New York: 2018), available at https://tntp.org/assets/documents/TNTP_The-Opportunity-Myth_Web.pdf ; Gallup, “Gallup Student Poll: Measure What Matters Most for Student Success,” available at https://www.gallup.com/education/233537/gallup-student-poll.aspx?utm_source=link_newsv9&utm_campaign=item_211028&utm_medium=copy&_ga=2.248421390.86741706.1543204564-175832835.1543204564 (last accessed January 2019).
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Florida school district bans homework, replaces it with daily reading
Elementary school students in Marion County, Fla. will have more free time after school this year as the school district implements a controversial "homework ban."
Marion County School District Superintendent Heidi Maier said they decided to implement a "no homework" policy for 31 elementary schools because research shows students perform better when given a break from homework, WKMG-TV reported .
Maier points to research from University of Tennessee professor Richard Allington, which found that reading to a child has more positive effects than homework.
Instead of homework, the school will ask children to read or be read to for 20 minutes each night. The students can choose the books they want to and will be given guidance from teachers and librarians.
David Borer, whose 10-year-old son Maddox spends over two hours on homework each night, agrees with Marion County's superintendent's no homework policy for elementary school kids.
"When they give them too much homework what's it doing? Taking away from them being kids playing," he told WTSP.
The teachers will have the authority to assign occasional take-home work for projects and research papers, according to the school district.
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Fairfax County elementary school principal talks no-homework policy
A year after implementation, we chatted with the administration at Bull Run Elementary School to find out more about its no-homework policy.
By Jess Feldman August 9, 2019
The month of August is a time of preparation for parents, children and, of course, the teachers and administrators across all levels of education in Northern Virginia.
While children approach higher grade levels, the common expectation is that they will receive a larger workload, typically in the form of homework. Yet, at Bull Run Elementary School , in Centreville, homework is no longer a part of the curriculum, and it has been this way since Principal Jason Pensler implemented a no-homework policy before the 2018 academic year began.
A few years ago, research was published on the effects of homework, fueling a debate on whether or not children needed assignments outside of academia from a young age. According to Harris Cooper , a researcher with Duke University, homework has a significant benefit at the high school level, drops off for middle school students and has zero impact on the academic performance of elementary students.
Pensler, an Arlington-native with over 17 years of experience in education, is the only administrator in Fairfax County to put the no-homework belief to the test at the elementary level. Bull Run has around 800 students and 100-plus staff members.
Since its inception, the only assignment outside of school is for children to read. Whether they read for 20 minutes or one hour, aloud or on their own doesn’t matter, so long as the children are reading something. Plus, he has increased his presence on social media in order to share events happening in the community that might be beneficial and enriching for families to attend.
The one-year-old policy is meant to put a stronger focus on the development of the children within the classroom, better preparing them for the future, explains Assistant Principal Rachael Blanchard.
“With our sixth graders, for example, we work with time management,” says Blanchard. “They have all week to work on certain tasks or with long-term projects they’ll have a final due date, which prepares them for what is ahead. We are trying to teach them what assignments look like in real life.”
In lieu of the start of the academic year and the one-year anniversary of Bull Run’s policy, we chatted with Pensler to find out more about life inside the Fairfax County school. Highlights from our conversation are below.
What prompted the change at Bull Run? I think what really prompted it was just my experience as an administrator and a parent. We started looking at the purpose of homework at the elementary level and found that kids were spending countless hours doing this work at home and also a lot of it was done by parents. I also did my research with books, including Ditch That Homework: Practical Strategies to Help Make Homework Obsolete , The Case Against Homework, and spent time looking at people of influence on Twitter. In elementary school, the research predominantly says there isn’t a correlation between academic success and homework.
I’ve been thinking about this for seven years and I felt like it was the right time to implement it. We made it a procedure, a belief, a commitment. Our kids work almost eight hours a day, so we are going to ensure they get the content here and communicate to families what we are doing, but not send them home with work. We want kids to be kids, to be able to go outside and play, participate in extracurricular activities and read.
What has the reaction been like? From families, it was well-received. You’re looking at a small handful of families that have contacted me or Rachel about why we don’t do homework. But it’s our opinion that homework should not be the vehicle for how you communicate about what’s going on in school. When you talk about the why we are doing this, it all comes down to the fact that we want our kids to come to school ready and excited to learn. So, our communication with families is growing to show them what exactly we are doing here.
Feedback from teachers has been the same, though we’ve had a couple who are like, ‘We need to give them homework, what about when they get to middle school?’” But our job is not to prepare them for middle school, it’s to prepare them for life.
Have students retained information in a similar way prior to the start of the policy? Formative and summative assessments are still administered, and our teachers are doing a lot of quick checks. We also incorporate a 30-minute intervention block with the staff, twice a week as a collaborative team where we discuss content and what the kids need to know. The process is looking at what do my kids know and what we need to do while at school. Since we started the policy a year ago, I have not seen any level of understanding dip because they’re not doing homework. I just think it’s so much more than homework, we have to see that progress.
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Marion County School District Superintendent Heidi Maier said they decided to implement a "no homework" policy for 31 elementary schools
A year after implementation, we chatted with Bull Run Elementary School administration to find out more about its no-homework policy.