When is Homework Worth the Time? Evaluating the Association Between Homework and Achievement in High School Science and Math
Adam V. Maltese
Robert H. Tai
University of Virginia
University of Macau
Even with the history of debate over the merits of homework, there are significant gaps in the research record regarding its benefit to students. The focus of this study is on the association between time spent on homework and academic performance in science and math by assessing survey and transcript data from two nationally representative samples of high school students collected in 1990 and 2002. Using multiple linear regressions and controlling for students’ background, motivation, and prior achievement, we investigated how much variance in science and math course grades and achievement test scores could be explained by time spent on homework in those classes. The results indicate that there is no consistent significant relationship between time spent on homework and grades, but a consistently positive significant relationship between homework and performance on standardized exams.
Debate over the merits of homework has been a part of educational culture in the U.S. since the mid-1800s (Gill & Schlossman, 2004). Recently, the debate has centered more directly on the amount of time students are devoting to completing homework. Articles in major news sources (e.g., Hu, 2011; Keates, 2007; Mehta, 2009; Wallis, 2006) discuss how many schools have reduced the amount of homework done by students, often by limiting the number of days students can be assigned homework or the length of assignments they are expected to complete. These stories cited statistics that demonstrate a growth in the amount of homework reported by American students since the early 1980s. The authors often mentioned that nations traditionally ranking higher than the U.S. on international tests assign much less homework than teachers here. Conversely, a recent documentary compared teenagers in China, India, and the U.S. and tried to demonstrate how students from India and China spend a much greater proportion of out-of-school time devoted to homework and academic preparation (Heeter & Raney, 2007). In addition, President Obama has repeatedly urged students to complete their homework—even those assignments that are not “completely relevant”— during his ‘Back to School’ addresses to students (Obama, 2009; 2011). With homework a © 2012 The University of North Carolina Press
Association Between Homework and Achievement
ubiquitous part of the American educational experience for decades, has it not been established that it is beneficial to student learning? History of the Debate
Although proponents espouse the numerous benefits of homework assignments, for more than a century critics have challenged the role and merit of homework in educating American students. Gill and Schlossman (2004) presented an excellent summary of the homework debate in the U.S. from the 1800s until present day – a recapitulation of that work follows. According to the authors, there was little dispute about the role of homework in education in the 19th century. During that time, the age at which students could voluntarily leave school (14) was lower, meaning that students in high school attended by their own volition. Therefore, any assigned work was considered part of the duties they accepted upon enrollment. In the first half of the 20th century, homework came under fire from many in the educational community. Most arguments centered on the amount of homework given to pre-secondary students and questioned its value, writ large. Although much of the research done during the first half of the 1900s concluded that homework had little effect on student learning, surveys of parents generally showed their support for homework and their belief that students should complete...
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