The Homework On Homework: What Is The Right Amount Of Schoolwork At Home?

You’d be hard-pressed to find a student that enjoys homework, from elementary school to higher education. As it turns out, their sentiments, though for different reasons, may be valid.

The debate

The discussion about homework is populated by two schools of thought. On the anti-homework side, such schoolwork is often viewed as overburdensome and ineffective. These  naysayers claim that excessive at-home work negatively affects student morale and that the correlation between efficiency and homework has yet to be proven.

On the other side, some consider after-school assignments as a necessity, commissioned in hopes of improving students’ test scores (which proven by some academic research). Additionally, many of the proponents argue that anti-homework research often fails to compare students of similar academic achievement which may skew results.

Disagreements aside, what does the research say?

The research

Though there have been plenty of studies attempting to assess the value of homework, many researchers still debate over the data. Luckily, there has been some review on the research–Doctor of Social Psychology Harris Cooper did his own homework, analyzing dozens of different studies–this is what he found:

  • When similar students were compared (one was assigned after-school work, and one was not) the student with the extra work had a better average test score than the student who did not

  • The average amount of time spent on after-school work correlated significantly with secondary school students, but not as much with elementary students

  • The optimal amount of at-home study differs in relation to a number of variables–K-2 did well with 10-20 minutes of work, grades 3-6 can handle 30-60 minutes, and high school students varied by subject matter (about 30 mins per subject)

  • For high school students, working at home for  over 150 minutes resulted in diminished returns on the work assigned

A more recent study, however, paints a less glowing portrait of homework–showing that homework may have little to no effect on achievement. In this international study of school systems, research shows little to no correlation between more homework and greater achievement.

Additionally, hesitancy to accept the homework status quo has been amplified by an increase of homework time, from about two hours and 40 minutes in 1981 to nearly four hours in 2004.  A 2017 study by a researcher at Stanford University found that students at high achieving U.S. high schools spent 3.5 hours on homework.

Scaling down

In Cooper’s analysis, an efficiently designed school curriculum will keep homework on the agenda, but most importantly, it will regulate the amount in accordance to the pre-existing studies.

Advocates of  claim that schoolwork after-hours positively affects the efficiency of students’ study habits, it increases understanding of the academic workload, and in some cases where parental help is involved, it can even be a positive bonding experience between parents and children.

When it comes to after-school work, and at the risk of being cliché, moderation seems to be key. Sorry kids, unless you come up with a more compelling analysis, those science worksheets and tricky math problems are being ordered to-go.

Below is a graph representing what Cooper has laid out as  proper amounts of at-home work in relation to grade level:


Like most things in life, the burden of after-school work may be easily optimized by just a touch of moderation. The research shows, through careful guidance, cumbersome after-school sessions of work could be whittled down to efficient and consumable bits of practice (and to the benefit of students all over)

Cover photo by Sean via Flickr modified by Curiousmatic 


We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
James Pero