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The Never-Ending Homework Debate

Academic InsightThe Never-Ending Homework Debate

October 12, 2021

“I hate homework,” asserts author and mother Ayelet Waldman in a 2005 opinion piece for Salon titled “Homework hell.”

Similarly strong opinions have swirled around schools for centuries. In 1901, in fact, the state of California banned after-school assignments for any student under fifteen after Edward Bok published a scathing critique of the practice. The ban was eventually lifted, consistent with the ebbs and flows of public opinion surrounding this conversation. During World War I, homework was deemed an essential mental workout for students, but that trend faded in the 1930, reports Harris Cooper—author of The Battle Over Homework—in a 2015 interview with the National Education Association. “In the 1950s,” Cooper continues, “people were worried about falling behind the communists, so more homework was needed as a way to speed up our education and technology. During the 1960s, homework fell out of favor because many thought it inflicted too much stress on kids. In the 1970s and 1980s, we needed more homework to keep up with the Japanese economically. More recently, ...homework has come into question again.”

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It’s How We Do Homework That Matters

Critics of homework from Bok onward have cited concerns including interference with family time, undue stress on children and parents, and matters of equity related to uneven home environments for students. Robert Marzano and Deborah Pickering, however, argue convincingly that the discussion around homework needs to focus on improving its implementation rather than debating its existence. “Certainly, inappropriate homework may produce little or no benefit,” they concede. “If a district or school discards homework altogether, however, it will be throwing away a powerful instructional tool.” Harris Cooper’s landmark 1989 study demonstrated just how powerful homework can be. Cooper analyzed nearly 120 studies on the topic and found a significant link between homework and academic performance at the secondary level. “The evidence is clear,” concludes Harris. “Homework has substantial positive effects on the achievement of high school students. Junior high students also benefit from homework but only about half as much.” Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University has demonstrated similar links for elementary-aged students in her studies.

Center for American Progress Study

In the context of compelling evidence for its advantages and heated debate about its very existence, the Center for American Progress conducted an important nation-wide study in 2018 to measure the quality of homework assignments across a broad range of school districts. The researchers analyzed a sample of 187 homework assignments and concluded that, while homework assignments are largely aligned to Common Core standards, they tend to focus on low-level skills and fail to challenge students. Their report concludes: “In education, homework reform is low-hanging fruit. Research shows that quality homework and increasing student achievement are positively correlated; and yet, the authors’ analysis shows that some schools may not be taking advantage of a valuable opportunity to support student achievement. Instead of mirroring the cognitive demand in rigorous content standards, homework assigned to students is often weak or rote.”

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Yup Can Power Your Homework Program

As the Center for American Progress study demonstrates, landing on the right approach to homework stands to benefit students of all ages. Districts would be wise to enlist support as they evolve their homework programs. When it comes to accelerating the development of young mathematicians, Yup’s High Dosage Tutoring programs represent an ideal tool to support students at home in ways that mesh neatly with key recommendations from the CAP study, specifically those related to homework rigor and the incorporation of technology, as detailed in the chart below.

Key Recs from Center for American ProgressHow Yup Can Support!
Schools and districts should develop homework policies that emphasize strategic, rigorous homeworkAs schools work to heighten the rigor level for at-home assignments, students will benefit from access to Yup’s on demand tutors, who are there to help students build long-term understanding as they tackle challenging standards outside of class time.
Schools and districts should provide access to technology and other supports that make it easier for students to complete homework.Parents know that time and expertise are at a premium during the after-school hours. Yup connects students with expert tutors via web browser or phone app in less than 30 seconds, offering just-in-time support that can accelerate student learning at any time of day.

Administrators: See how Yup’s services accelerate Math learning. Yup will collaborate with leadership teams to integrate High Dosage Tutoring into the school day and curriculum.

Teachers: Check out what other educators are saying about Yup.

Contact partnerships@yup.com to learn more about bringing Yup to your school or district.


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