What are the issues?
Homework has been the topic of
spirited debate for more than 100
years. During this time, public atti-
tude has shifted dramatically— from
positive to negative and back again.
In the early 20
was considered a key schooling
strategy, an important means of dis-
ciplining the child’s mind through
memorization. That changed in the
1940’s as the emphasis in education
shifted from learning through
memorization and drill to develop-
ing student problem-solving ability
and initiative. But by the late
1950’s, after the launch of Sputnik,
homework, again, grew in popular-
ity. Worried that education in the
United States lacked rigor, the pub-
lic felt homework might speed up
knowledge acquisition. Homework
continued in favor until the mid-
1960’s, when the pendulum swung
the other way. Homework came to
be seen as putting needless pressure
on students and a possible cause of
rising mental health problems. That
way of thinking came to an abrupt
end with the 1983 wake-up call
A Nation at Risk
Homework was back in style, and it
has been on education’s front burner
Today, homework is a pervasive
teaching strategy accounting for 20
percent of the total time American
students spend on academic tasks.
Studies indicate, moreover, that the
amount of homework assigned is
increasing, with the biggest jump
occurring for children six to
eight years of age. Between
1981 and 1997, for example, the
amount of homework given to
these children nearly tripled
from 44 minutes to more than
two hours a week. Nationally,
the average amount of home-
work time ranges from two
hours and fifteen minutes a
week at the elementary level, to
between six and seven hours a
week at the high school level.
For all its prominence, however,
homework is one of the least
studied topics in education.
What’s more, surprisingly little
attention is paid to the topic in
teacher education programs. For
many teachers, homework is a
major source of anxiety. And for
many students and parents it is a
major source of struggle.
This issue of the
examines what we know about
homework. Our summary fo-
cuses on five questions:
Is homework effective?
What kind works best?
At what age is it a useful tool?
How much is appropriate?
What role should parents
We begin by examining the
views of advocates on both
sides of the issue. And we con-
clude with a series of recom-
mendations for administrators,
teachers, and parents.
Volume 6, June 2002
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