Homework is effective at boosting learning and reinforcing study habits. Numerous studies have shown that homework is valuable from elementary school through university. Educators' studies have used the scientific method to show the strong correlation between homework and academic achievement.
The quantity of homework given, as well as the usefulness of the assignments, has been a source of controversy. Parents contend that homework is too time-consuming and the work required is meaningless. They point to children's needs to balance overcrowded schedules and complain that the assignments take an inordinate amount of the children's and parents' time.
Educators and researchers have also noted the excessive amount of homework required of schoolchildren. Consequently, they have re-evaluated the rationale for assigning homework. Even though research by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy has shown that students did not increase the amount of time spent on homework between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, parents and educators have become more insistent on modifying the system. The average of one hour a day spent on homework seems excessive to modern parents.
One systemic problem with homework is lack of consistency. Some teachers regularly ply their students with assignments while others rarely or never give homework. From grade to grade, even within the same school, students can find themselves with widely varying amounts of homework. Some school districts set firm homework policies for their teachers, including minimum and maximum time guidelines, while other districts give teachers free rein to decide on homework amounts.
Another widespread problem is that young students, especially those aged 6 to 8, receive much heavier homework loads than junior or senior high school students. Young children are likely to become disaffected toward their schoolwork because of the tediousness and repetitiveness of their drill-like assignments.
Since the advent of the Internet, teachers have anticipated that students will spend less time on their homework as they access the Internet instead of the library to complete their research assignments. In order to compensate for this fact, some teachers assign extra homework to fill students' time.
The departmental system, which calls for different teachers for each subject, precludes teachers' abilities to design multidiscipline projects that set off creative thinking processes in students. Lack of communication among subject teachers also prevents students from developing consistent learning patterns as they do their homework.
Parents' involvement can also be tricky. While teachers want parents to encourage children to complete their homework, they do not intend to have the parents perform the assignments. If children find the homework too difficult, they are likely to turn to their parents for help, often thwarting the goal of having the child build critical thinking skills.
Students who lack adequate time for homework are likely to hand in sloppy, poorly done assignments. Teachers who merely check that students have done the homework, rather than checking the quality of the work, reinforce this behavior. The child learns poor work habits and fails to gain thinking skills and reinforcement of material learned at school.
One solution to the problems mentioned above is to have students complete homework at school. Schools can structure an hour at the end of the school day, during which time teachers can supervise homework activities. That way, teachers can monitor students' progress, and students will complete their assignments thoroughly. Teachers could work together to coordinate assignments, allowing for multidisciplinary projects.
Others suggest designing interactive homework. Teachers can give assignments with clearly assigned roles for the parent and the child. Instead of dreading homework time, parents can view it as an opportunity to spend time working with their child. An example of an assignment that fosters adult involvement and student achievement is asking a parent to help a first-grader find household items to sort according to size. Encouraging appropriate parental involvement can help the student and the teacher. Teachers who communicate with parents are likely to have their requests supported. At the outset of the school year, they should let parents know their expectations regarding assignments. When parents provide supplies and a place in which to do homework, students are likely to complete their assignments.
In addition to motivating children to do homework, parents can be supportive by reinforcing what children have learned at school, rather than teaching new skills. Giving their children leeway to choose their homework environment, such as with or without background music and snacks, will improve their responsiveness to requests to complete their assignments.