HomeHealth TopicChildren's Health

Should Homework Be Banned?

Karen Hovav, MD, FAAPSophie Vergnaud, MD
Published on January 18, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Doing homework is linked to better academic achievement in high school and middle school. But no significant link has been found for elementary school students. 

  • Spending more time than recommended on homework has actually been linked to lower test scores and higher rates of anxiety and depression.

  • Helping your child with their homework does not seem to lead to better school performance. In fact, parental involvement can be associated with worse grades in school. 

Family at the dining table doing homework. Both parents are standing and waiting by to help out while two children do their assignments.
Ridofranz/iStock via Getty Images

Most of us think of homework as a necessary part of a school-based education. But is homework actually useful? Does it help children become better students? 

It turns out the answer isn’t so clear. The idea of banning homework has been hotly debated for over a century. Educators have disagreed about how much (if any) homework is needed to teach children well. Some parents wish their children would get less or no homework, while other parents worry their child isn’t getting enough. So what do we know about homework?

The benefit of homework depends on how old the student is, what kind of homework is given, and how much. Find out what we know about homework and what the evidence shows.  

Are students getting more homework than they used to?

Yes. The average teenager now spends about twice as much time on homework as teenagers did in the 1990s. And some studies show that even kindergarteners are spending up to 25 minutes each day on homework.

The concept of homework has been hotly debated for over a century. Back in 1901, the anti-homework movement gained such strength that California outlawed homework for all grades below high school. It was argued that homework could be harmful to a child’s health by creating too much stress.

In the 1950s, when the Soviet Union’s Sputnik was launched, the pendulum swung. American educators worried that the lack of homework had caused American students to fall behind other nations. Since then, educators have gone back and forth on the importance of homework. The 21st century has been a trend toward more homework, though the age-old debate continues, with some schools or school districts experimenting with getting rid of homework altogether.

Does homework lead to improved achievement? 

It depends. In high school, doing homework is linked to better performance, according to one of the largest studies looking at the matter. In middle school, that link is weaker and the benefits of homework depend on the type of homework and how much.

In elementary school, there is no clear link between homework and academic achievement. That might seem surprising, since most parents assume that doing homework at that age will help their children get better grades.

One of the factors that makes it hard to tell if homework is helpful is that people have different ideas about what the goal of homework should be. Some feel homework’s purpose is to reinforce concepts a child learns that day and get better grades in school. Others feel that homework is a way to teach good study habits for the future. 

Does the type of homework matter? 

Yes. Generally, the link between homework and achievement scores is stronger for math compared to subjects like English and history. For middle school students especially, math homework can strengthen school performance.

There is not a lot of research into the quality of homework. Most experts agree that homework should be reinforcing what kids learn at school and that quality homework must be appropriate for the grade and age.  

Is daily reading a good idea?

While the research on homework is mixed, one thing that the evidence does show consistently is the benefit of daily reading: Children whose parents read to them or who read on their own routinely perform better in school later on. This is why some school districts have chosen to eliminate homework and instead recommend 20 minutes per day of reading. 

Why is homework good?

Educators and parents who feel homework is important argue that it:

  • Creates good habits: Doing homework can teach children to work independently, develop time-management skills, and learn how to work hard to achieve their goals.

  • Helps students learn topics better: It can reinforce the concepts that students learned in the classroom.

  • Leads to higher achievement: It can lead to better long-term academic success, especially for older students.

  • Allows parents to be involved in a child’s academic life: Parents who are involved can understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses better.  

What are some reasons to ban homework? 

People who feel that homework is unhelpful and should be either eliminated or reduced argue that it: 

  • Creates family stress: Parents may find themselves arguing with children about getting homework done or being frustrated with their inability to teach children.

  • Takes away from other important activities: These include outdoor time, family bonding time, and spontaneous unscheduled play. 

  • Leads to more anxiety: It can also cause more academic stress for students.

  • Doesn’t lead to increased academic achievement for younger students: And for older students, homework has only weak links to better achievement. 

How much time should kids spend on homework?

The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and National Educational Association recommend that schools use The Rule of 10 to figure out how much time a child should spend doing homework. This means that the ideal amount of homework is 10 minutes per grade, starting in first grade.

Sometimes, teachers don’t know how much time a student is spending on homework. So they may underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete an assignment. This is important because even in grades that show benefit from homework, spending too much time on it can have harmful effects: 

How much should parents help their child with homework?

Not much. While you might think that helping your child with their homework will help them get ahead in school, a large study looking at parental involvement and academic success found that it doesn’t lead to improved test scores. In fact, often, more parental involvement was actually linked to worse performance in school.

It helps to provide your child with a distraction-free zone to complete their homework. But they’re probably better off if you don’t help them complete their assignments.

The National PTA issued a resolution stating that quality homework should be able to be completed without a lot of input from parents. So, if you find that your child cannot complete their homework without your help, it might be a good idea to discuss this with your child’s teacher.

So, how can parents help their children learn? 

Instead of helping your child with that math problem, you can help boost their achievement in other ways:

  • Pick up a book and read to your child. If your child is old enough to read on their own, encourage them to do so. 

  • Don’t forget the power of play! Unstructured playtime helps a child develop problem-solving skills, creativity, and curiosity — all important skills for future academic success. 

  • Teach your child in less traditional ways. Create a garden together. Go stargazing and learn about the solar system together. Even involving your child in repair projects around the home can be an excellent learning experience. 

  • Avoid the temptation to get overly involved with your child’s homework. Instead, facilitate a healthy learning environment by making sure that your child has a designated area to complete projects and do homework. Ideally, the area should be comfortable and free of distractions. You may want to keep snacks handy. 

  • Remain engaged. Ask your child about what they’re learning in school. 

  • Communicate with the child’s teacher. If your child is having academic difficulties, talk with their teacher to find solutions and ways to help. 

The bottom line

Homework continues to be debated around the country. More research is needed to figure out what types of homework are most effective in helping children learn. 

While homework is the norm in most schools, most of the academic benefits are seen in older grades, starting in middle school. Homework in elementary school has not been shown to lead to better achievement in school. And too much homework in the higher grades can lead to worsening grades and increased mental and physical issues. So it’s important to be mindful of how much time your child is spending on it each day. 

Remember: Homework isn’t the only way kids learn. There are many other ways you can support your child’s learning outside the classroom — from unstructured play to fostering curiosity and reading together. 

References

Auld, S. (2022). Reading daily improves comprehension and student performance. Australian Christian College

Cooper, H., et al. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research. 

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Cooper, H., et al. (2000). Homework in the home: How student, family, and parenting-style differences relate to the homework process. Contemporary Educational Psychology.

Cullinan, B., et al. (2000). Independent reading and school achievement. School Library Media Research.

Fernandez-Alonzo, R., et al. (2015). Adolescents’ homework performance in mathematics and science: Personal factors and teaching practices. Journal of Educational Psychology. 

Galloway, M., et al. (2013). Nonacademic effects of homework in privileged, high-performing high schools. The Journal of Experimental Education

Goldstein, D. (2014). Don’t help your kids with their homework. The Atlantic.

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National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). (2016). Resolution on homework: Quality over quantity

Pressman, R., et al. (2015). Homework and family stress: With consideration of parents’ self-confidence, education level, and cultural background. American Journal of Family Therapy.

Roschelle, J., et al. (2016). Online mathematics homework increases student achievement. AERA Open.

Seidel, M. (2019). What is California’s no homework law? Legal Beagle.

Strauss, V. (2017). What happened when one school banned homework  — and asked kids to read and play instead. The Washington Post.

Toppo, G. (2017). Schools ditching homework for younger students in favor of reading, family time. USA Today.

Wexler, N. (2019). Why homework doesn’t seem to boost learning and how it could. Forbes.

Yogman, M., et al. (2018). The power of play: A pediatric role in enhancing development in young children. Pediatrics.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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