Let’s Do Some Homework… on Homework


Ask any Harriton student what their biggest source of after-school stress is, and homework will be the answer every time.

As the clock ticks away into the wee hours of the night, many a high schooler across America will find themselves bent, exhausted, over a textbook, scrambling to finish their science notes or memorizing lines for their foreign language dialogue.  

We spend countless hours doing homework, all the while grumbling to our peers that homework is nothing but excessive “busy work,” unessential in our broader search for knowledge. All the while, we carry on, hoping that all these hours spent on homework will one day add up to success and satisfaction later in life.

As such, we high-school students are not surprised by the findings of Stanford Graduate School of Education’s survey of high-performing California high schools: 56% of students indicated homework “a primary source of stress.” (HHS students took an earlier version of this survey during the 2018-19 school year.)

So, is homework worth it? What are the actual facts about homework? Does it actually comprise the yellow-brick road to a happy, successful future? To answer those questions, we need to do some homework on homework. From our research, four central myths have emerged.

Myth #1: The more homework, the better

According to a study done at Duke University, the optimal amount of homework assigned to children, unsurprisingly, is not “as much as possible.” There are health-related limits.

Children from kindergarten to second grade should do only about 10 to 20 minutes of homework per night. Children in grades three through six should do 30 to 60 minutes of homework each night, middle school students should do about 90 minutes, and high schoolers should do 90 to 150 minutes.

These numbers are understandable, as surely we can all recall our younger siblings or cousins, whose attention spans are far shorter than ours. Surpass this number, and the effectiveness, or “academic boost” of homework decreases.

Myth #2: Starting homework early in life improves academic performance.

Professor John Hattie, an educational researcher, found that the benefit of homework for children in elementary schools is negligible. Similarly, the Center for Public Education stresses that “homework appears to provide more academic benefits to older students than to younger students.”

However, the Center also acknowledges that in younger students, homework imparts other benefits, such as improving study skills and teaching about structure and responsibility.

Myth #3:  Homework can’t hurt kids.

According to a Stanford survey of students at high-functioning California high schools, devoting excessive time to homework means that students are deprived of the opportunity to meet their developmental needs or cultivate other “critical life skills” like communication, sharing resources, and reading social cues and negotiating conflicts, all of which are essential to success as adults.

Myth #4: Homework benefits all children equally.

As mentioned before, homework has a greater academic impact on older children. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement emphasizes that homework is not merely a review of the day’s lessons, but an opportunity to establish routine, build life skills, and cultivate parent-child relationships.

Furthermore, parents who help children with homework better understand what their children are learning in school. Homework serves as a bridge to facilitate parental involvement in children’s schoolwork and academic life. Such involvement is a key predictor of future success for the student.

Therefore, students who have help at home from an authority figure, such as a parent, often benefit more from homework than students who do not have help.

How do we justify homework in the first place?

Many of us may dismiss homework as a useless time sink, but in reality it provides unique avenues for growth and learning in both younger and older kids. Psychiatrist, education-reform advocate, and best-selling author Dr. William Glasser believes that humans have two basic needs: connection and contribution.

Homework provides means for fulfilling both of these needs. When children work together on homework projects, they learn how to communicate their differences to forge effective teams and partnerships. In tackling assignments, they learn to ask for and receive help from authority figures such as parents and teachers. This process helps them to learn gratitude. Completing assignments successfully gives them a sense of accomplishment, agency, and pride.

So should we amend the Constitution to declare homework unlawful? The answer is no. Homework is by no means cruel or unusual punishment, nor does it impede students’ quests for life, liberty and happiness. Science points us in a hopeful direction. When thoughtfully selected and apportioned in a developmentally appropriate manner, homework can indeed be the pathway to a bright future.