New Study: Piling on Homework Doesn’t Work

According to a study released in mid-August by researchers at Binghamton University and the University of Nevada, math homework may not be useful for average achieving students. While it may help high and low achievers, homework for the bulk of students is a waste of time. Here’s what the press release states:

Published in the July issue of the Econometrics Journal, researchers found that although assigning more homework tends to have a larger and more significant impact on mathematics test scores for high and low achievers, it is less effective for average achievers.

“We found that if a teacher has a high achieving group of students, pushing them harder by giving them more homework could be beneficial,” said Daniel Henderson, associate professor of economics at Binghamton University. “Similarly, if a teacher has a low ability class, assigning more homework may help since they may not have been pushed hard enough. But for the average achieving classes, who may have been given too much homework in an attempt to equate them with the high achieving classes, educators could be better served by using other methods to improve student achievement. Given these students’ abilities and time constraints, learning by doing may be a more effective tool for improvement.”

According to co-author Ozkan Eren, assistant professor of economics at the University of Nevada, the study examined an area previously unexplored, namely the connection between test scores and extra homework.

“There has been an extensive amount of research examining the influences of students’ achievement, but it has been primarily focused on financial inputs such as class size or teachers’ credentials,” said Eren. “Our study examined the affect that additional homework has on test scores.” While past studies suggest that nearly all students benefit from being assigned more homework Henderson and Eren discovered that only about 40% of the students surveyed would significantly benefit from an additional hour of homework each night.

According to Henderson, the findings should be of particular interest to schools who have responded to the increased pressures to pass state-mandated tests by forcing students to hit the books even harder. “This does not mean that homework is unimportant for average achievers,“ says Henderson. “But it does mean that this population may also benefit from other activities such as sports, art or music, rather than additional hours of math homework.”

So what can teachers take away from the study? Henderson points out that every student is unique and while umbrella policies may benefit some, they generally cannot be applied to all.

“In my own personal experience I see that each semester requires a different approach,” says Henderson. “This is even true when I teach the same course twice in a semester. Different times of the day or lengths of classes require different methods. Just as different quality students require different approaches.”

Henderson also points out that repetition has been proven effective for some but not all subjects and what may have worked one academic year may need to be altered the next.
“Teachers should consider quality over quantity when it comes to homework assignments,” he says. “In the end it should be up to the individual teacher to decide how to motivate and educate their students.”

According to Henderson, the learning process needs to remain a rich, broad experience.

“One of the most beautiful things about America to me is the creativity that we instill in our primary and secondary schools,” says Henderson. “I know that we lag behind many countries in test scores, but I believe we also produce some of the most creative, enthusiastic students in the world.”

9 thoughts on “New Study: Piling on Homework Doesn’t Work

  1. “creative, enthusiastic students”? I wish this was true! In our district, the first casualties are creativity and enthusiasm.


  2. From the intro:

    although assigning more homework tends to have a larger and more significant impact on mathematics test scores for high and low achievers,


    The impact on high achievers is largely exaggerated too. I’m thinking of the teen attending the science math magnet whose guest entry we read here last week. So I’ll combine the two posts and then respond to the senior later, directly off her post.

    My daughter attends a selective science math magnet too. I’m one of those rare parents at this school, it seems, who has been privately decrying homework overload for years. As we noted some months ago, it’s really oppressive in the gifted programs. Our children need the challenge, the acceleration, the intellectual peers which is why they are there but they do not need to be worked to death. All that will do is burn out our best and brightest. Is this “Redemption Through Suffering?” as Alfie Kohn noted in his marvelous essay, “The Cult of Rigor and the Loss of Joy?”

    Back to piling on math homework. Okay, I’ll be sanguine for the sake of argument. Supposing much more math homework really does have a beneficial effect on the advanced mathematics student? My daughter is studying Calculus as a high school junior, the typical two years ahead math track for advanced math students. But…that student is also receiving voluminous homework in all her other subjects. Whatever gains could be argued are obliterated when these students stay up very late completing assignments and arrive at school the next morning very seriously sleep deprived. Less truly is more in this scenario.

    I as a parent can dictate that my child not stay up late, it’s my home, and believe me, I do. But when your child is a junior in high school, you can’t exactly send in a note to the teacher from Mommy. Regardless, on occasion I have to. Remember also that teens have a very hard time falling asleep if homework is undone, they are under enormous pressure.

    I urge parents of students in these pressure-cooker environments to speak up and not be afraid. Diplomatically, with intelligence and research, please make your principal aware that serious concerns about your teen’s homework load in rigorous programs does not signal that you are anti-education. On the contrary. You care about burnout and loss of passion. Less homework doesn’t mean learning ends. Less homework means more time to read classics, attend an arts workshop and a symphony outdoor concert.

    There are so many writing asisgnments in these programs. But how creative can our teens be, if they are either in school or doing homework? Without a rich inner life outside of school, from where do they draw inspiration? I’m a writer and I’ve always told my daughter, to be a good writer, you have to have experiences, you have to be out there. A good writer is observant, drinking in every detail in her environment. Here’s where creativity and ADD are an asset, you notice everything!

    How can you take a walk in the woods and daydream if you have far more homework than hours on the weekend? Even if you worked every minute. Again, we know that less is more. But schools want to be number one in everything; Number of AP exams taken, trophies, awards.

    Schools aren’t thinking long term because they don’t have to. Your kid will be out of their hair long before the effects roll in. You, the parent, will have to cope if your teen arrives back at your doorstep, mid-college, severely depressed. Is this a trend or what? I’m seeing and hearing a lot about this. Some of the more common side effects of young adult burnout are depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome. Not to mention the extinguishing of a spark.

    Back to the math study — I saw one recently that indicated the opposite, actually, particularly for Visual-Spatial learners, as opposed to Auditory Sequential. The study showed that once the student “got” it and mastered the concept, endless repetition actually became counterproductive and the student became less adept, not more. But I didn’t need a study to tell me that. I see it in my living room. It’s not just that the student grows tired. Something about the way visual spatial learners make brain connections and how they compute and process information. They tend to learn things permanently and too much review is anathema. At best, it’s a waste of time.



  3. i have done my own little study and mine has shown that more home work makes the student more stressed out and acheves less. yes i have a teacher that asinges a larg amout of home work and i decided to look into if it “help me”, i cept track of other studint and myself, and i found out home work only help out about 20% of the kids. there for i think home work should be a lighter thing and not somthing tht is forced onto the children.


  4. Yeah, apparently it didn’t help. Try spell check. Sorry but there are too many mistakes in that one paragraph (I counted nine in all if you count the making of two words out of one, ex: homework). Not to mention the capitalization errors.
    I agree with the posters too. I am a teacher, and I try to reduce the amount of homework I give my students. My problem is that I still have parents who come to me and complain because I’m not giving their students enough homework…


  5. I personally feel that sometimes the teacher sends work home so the parents have to be the ones to actually “teach” so it will be less on them at school. I feel there should never be homework and if there is then it should be a bad reflection on the teacher!


  6. Everybody is stressed; everybody is sleep-deprived; and everybody is miserable. I long for the days of summer when we had time to take a walk after dinner or play a board game as a family. Instead, we’re all freaking out over homework.


  7. Teachers are now giving students a shit ton of classwork and whatever they don’t finish is to be homework. Then, when students aren’t able to finish it because they were studying, the teacher gives you this bs that you had time to do it in class. They should have children study there notes for a certain amount of time, not giving homework. Studying an hour a night would be much more effective.


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