At its basic level, homework consists of tasks assigned to students by school teachers that are meant to be carried out during nonschool hours. In most schools across the nation, the daily assignment of homework is as predictable an event as the afternoon dismissal bell. Yet this deeply rooted and quite ordinary aspect of children's schooling is fraught with controversy over its purpose and benefits. Whereas teachers, parents, and even students agree that homework should play some role in schooling, both the amount assigned and the time students should be expected to devote to schoolwork after school remain vexing issues. Research on the extent to which homework boosts academic achievement has yielded contradictory findings, and this has served to fuel the recent antihomework movement of the 1990s. Fortunately, methodological advances in data analysis, as well as theoretical advances in social cognition, have allowed for a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the effects homework on students' learning and motivation.
Studying the impact of homework on academic achievement may seem relatively straightforward, but it is, in fact, multifaceted. According to the model proposed by Harris Cooper, a prominent researcher of homework, the effectiveness of homework varies as a function of (a) exogenous variables (student grade, subject matter, motivation), (b) assignment characteristics (e.g., amount and purpose of homework), (c) classroom factors (e.g., available resources), (d) home-community factors (e.g., whether students have space andmaterials), and (e) classroom follow-up factors (e.g., teacher feedback). The effects of homework on achievement can be measured through grades received or on the basis of whether an assignment is completed at all. Such outcomes can be positive or negative, assessed in the short or long term, and can include nonacademic factors, such as whether students are developing more efficient study skills or are experiencing less leisure time. Viewed in this light, the study of homework emerges as rather complex, and the research literature reflects this complexity.
This entry provides an overview of the current state of researchers' knowledge on the benefits of homework, both academically and motivationally. In addition, this entry describes the historical and contemporary context around the practice of homework, considers the relationship between homework and school achievement, addresses motivation in learning—and more specifically, the literature on the relationship between children's beliefs about learning and their school achievement—and examines research on the relationship between homework and motivation.
Perceptions of Homework, Then and Now
The practice of homework went relatively unchallenged for most of the 19th century. With the professionalization of the child study and child health movements in the late 19th century, experts argued that homework, with its focus on drill, memorization, and recitation, was compromising both mental and physical health. In particular, parents and progressive educators were united in the view that homework deprived children of valuable time for play and other worthy extracurricular activities. Indeed, relatively few high school students (8%) reported having 2 or more hours of nightly homework.
With the launch of the Russian spaceship Sputnik in the 1950s, serious concerns about American underachievement heralded the advent of the academic excellence movement. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, homework was seen as a central means to overcome American students' perceived academic deficiencies. By the 1980s, alarming levels of underachievement inAmerican schoolchildren became apparent in both national and international studies of academic performance, and educators continued to emphasize homework as central to fostering academic achievement.
As the 20th century came to a close, widespread media coverage of parental complaints about homework's intrusion on family time prompted renewed debate on homework's effectiveness. Some educators and parent groups seized on contradictory findings of homework's benefits at the elementary school level and argued that the practice should be abandoned altogether. Anecdotal stories of exhausted children, frustrated parents, and beleaguered teachers appeared with some frequency in the print and television media. Interestingly, however, these reports belied national survey data and empirical findings on perceptions of homework. For example, a national survey of parents whose children attended public schools revealed that only 10% believed their children were assigned too much homework. Even if they have difficulty helping their children, most parents agree that this is a natural and expected aspect of parenting and believe that homework helps to advance their children's learning. Teachers welcome parental involvement because it fosters both home–school connections and school success. At all ages, students acknowledge the role that homework plays in helping them learn, a belief that is particularly strong at the high school level. By this time, parents, students, and teachers agree that there is a relationship between completing homework assignments and school achievement. Indeed, more than 75% of teenagers believe that they would learn more if their teachers enforced homework policies.
Data collected as part of the ongoing studies of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, conducted at regular intervals by the U.S. Department of Education, reveals information regarding how much time students spend on homework and how this varies as a function of age. While the percentage of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds who report having no homework has decreased since the 1980s, 20% of 9- and 13-year-olds and more than 25% of 17-yearolds in 2004 affirmed that they are assigned no homework at all. At all three age levels, the proportion reporting having less than 1 hour of homework has increased since the 1980s (from 41% to 59% of 9-year-olds, 32% to 40% of 13-year-olds, and from 24% to 28% of 17-year-olds). At the same time, there has been virtually no increase in the proportion of students at any age reporting either 1 to 2, or more than 2 hours of homework. In fact, reports of more than 2 hours of nightly homework are at their lowest since such data have been available (4% of 9-yearolds, 8% of 13-year-olds, and 11% of 17-year-olds). Although these figures may not suggest that American schoolchildren are overly burdened with homework, it
is important to examine the relationship between homework and school achievement.
Relationship Between Homework and Academic Achievement
Overall, there is a strong and positive relationship between homework completion and academic achievement. In general, students who do more homework have higher grades, even controlling for prior grades, demographic background, and a variety of after-school activities. This relationship is particularly strong at the secondary school level. Among younger children (second through fourth grades), however, there tends to be a negative relationship between the amount of time spent on homework and academic achievement. As mentioned earlier, this finding has led some parents and educators to argue that homework should not be assigned to younger children.
Why should homework benefit older, but not younger, children? It appears that teachers adhere to different beliefs about the value of homework for students at different ages. Elementary and secondary school teachers alike report that they assign homework to help students learn and to foster study and time management skills. Relative to secondary school teachers, however, elementary school teachers place greater emphasis on homework's value in fostering time management. This suggests that, in the younger grades, homework may be viewed as more useful for the development of skills that will pay off in the long run, and its effects on school grades may not necessarily be observed in the short run. Additionally, younger children may be less skilled at ignoring distractions and focusing their attention on their homework when they are at home, and they may also have less effective study habits. Thus, at younger ages, the benefits of homework may be ''in the making'' and nonacademic in nature.
Responding to concerns over the lack of clarity between homework and academic achievement, researchers have suggested that methodological weaknesses and problematic operational definitions of achievement and homework have contributed to contradictory findings on homework's effectiveness. For example, many experimental and quasi-experimental studies, in which students or classes are assigned to homework or no-homework conditions, have not employed randomization techniques. Furthermore, it is problematic to compare grades across classes when teachers differ in the amount of homework they assign. Finally, time on homework, a major variable in the research, is determined differently by different students, depending, for example, on how motivated or conscientious students are. Of course, the demonstrated associations between homework and achievement outcomes do not speak to the issue of causality. Does homework foster academic achievement, or do stronger, more motivated students choose to do their homework? In a metaanalysis (an analysis of many studies on this topic), Cooper and his colleagues examined research conducted over a 16-year period in which investigators tested the causal relationship between homework and achievement. Their analysis included studies that used four different research designs: (1) random assignment of classrooms, or students within classrooms, to homework and no-homework conditions; (2) naturalistic, cross-sectional studies of classrooms in which homework was assigned; (3) naturalistic studies of the amount of homework students do and its relationship to achievement outcomes, controlling for other influential variables; and (4) structural equation models that used naturalistic data from the High School and Beyond national database.
Most of the included studies found a significant causal relationship between the amount of homework students report completing and their school achievement. Cooper noted, however, that each of these studies was problematic in some way, which calls into question the claim of causality. At the same time, he noted that this wide range of studies was not flawed in the same way, rendering it likely that the studies do support a causal relationship between homework and achievement. In other words, multiple empirical studies, conducted through diverse research designs and across multiple school subjects, have found a strong and positive relationship between the amount of homework students do and their school achievement. In addition to its apparent academic benefit, homework also serves a motivational benefit, in the sense that it has the potential to foster adaptive skills that become more critical as children advance into their middle and high school years.