Is homework worth it? Kids say so

Jessica Lahey hates homework, but she assigns it — if it passes the Ben test, she writes on a New York Times parenting blog. “If an assignment is not worthy of my own (middle-school) son’s time, I’m dumping it. Based on a quick look at my assignment book from last year, about a quarter of my assignments won’t make the cut.”

Parents are complaining about “horrible homework” burdens, Lahey writes. In Race to Nowhere, which is very popular with affluent parents, filmmaker Vicki Abeles “claims that today’s untenable and increasing homework load drives students to cheating, mental illness and suicide.”

I asked my students whether, if homework were to completely disappear, they would be able achieve the same mastery of the material. The answer was a unanimous — if reluctant — “No.”

Most echoed my son Ben’s sentiments: “If I didn’t have homework, I don’t think I’d do very well. It’s practice for what we learn in school.” But, they all stressed, that’s only true of some homework.

Teachers should be careful not to assign busy work, Lahey writes. “Children need time to be quiet, play, read and imagine.”


About Joanne


  1. One of the things needing to be dumped is the out-of-school group project, which was a frequent feature of my younger kids’ MS. The school comprised the attendance areas of 5 suburban elementary schools, so parent drivers were almost always necessary. My kids were in honors classes, so it was a given that all of their classmates had significant extracurriculars, mostly at very serious levels, so scheduling was a nightmare. To finish off the disaster, most of the projects were far more artsy-crafty than academic; the very definition of WASTE OF TIME. A teacher friend said she used to love to assign such projects, until her kid was old enough to have them; no more such assignments. None of my kids had any artsy-crafty project/homework of any significant academic benefit; I’d love to see them banned completely – certainly beyond ES.

  2. News flash: Kids tell grownups what they think grownups want to hear!

    You learned it here first, folks!

    • Funny…there’s a significant correlation in my classes between homework completion, assessment scores, and overall grade ( homework is a token 10%). Ditto for the teachers I work with.
      I’ve actually been thinking of bumping HW to 25% to force students to do it.

      • Peace Corps says:

        I’ve messed with my percentages every year I’ve taught. Generally the students end up with the grades distributed as expected. This year I have 15% to homework, 15% to classwork, 70% to tests. When it looked like this was creating a little grade creep, I just started making my tests a little bit tougher.

        At the same time I starting assigning fewer homework problems. Most of the time it shouldn’t take a student that followed the lesson more than 10 minutes to complete the homework.

      • Does homework make students better, or are better students the ones most likely to complete their homework?

        Frankly, there is value in practice and, in most subjects, even in overlearning. Good homework policies should help with that. Flat policies of “each child must have X minutes of homework per night,” though, seem to encourage the assignment of busy work simply to meet the arbitrary criterion.

      • SuperSub, have you ever read Drive, by Daniel Pink? It is fascinating and a quick read. Give it a go, and I promise, you won’t increase the value of your homework. In fact, you’ll be much more likely to eliminate it completely.

    • Some homework is very helpful, some is a waste of time. But that’s not the point. The point is that about the best way to get worthless data is to ask a bunch of school children in a captive setting to tell you what they think about it, when they either know or can easily figure out what you want to hear, and that’s even more the case if you are or are associated with an authority figure.

      “Homework is not a waste of time because I asked some children and that’s what they told me,” is a weak approach to validating the benefit of homework. Crafting a homework policy and seeing how it affects kids actual performance? It’s harder, and if not done correctly can potentially be misleading (for example, and keeping it simple for the sake of illustration as opposed to suggesting this is representational, the teacher who uses the same test every year attributes improvement to homework as opposed to a growing population of students who have an advance copy of their test), but it’s a much better approach.

  3. Maybe you are one of the growing number of parents who resent school personnel deciding how you will spend your family time. Perhaps you have noticed a severe drop in your child’s love of learning.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Working with refugees on ninth-grade stuff. Some of it they didn’t get at school and somebody had to help them at home and without homework assignments it would be difficult to see what they were being taught and what they didn’t know.
    Clearly, repetitious practice is useful up to a point. That it’s not useful after that point is irrelevant.
    Not sure where the kid who almost gets it in school, or gets it in school but loses it on the way home would be without homework.

  5. Stay tuned for part II of my Motherlode homework piece; in which I discuss the reality behind reports of “skyrocketing” homework loads, disparate experiences with homework depending on socioeconomics, and more. Coming soon. Thanks for reading!

  6. Thanks Joanne for sharing this thought-provoking post. It does my heart good to know that there are other teachers who are willing to evaluate their methods even after more than a decade of doing it the old-fashioned way. I love that Lahey listens to her students.

    The research Lahey cites is still the most reliable evidence on the negative effects of homework. Rather than dismiss it, as so many of your readers do, I’m wondering how many are willing to actually review it and consider it.

    This is what I did. A former homework enthusiast, I read the research Lahey cites and other material and quickly realized that homework is nothing more than a crutch, used as part of the traditional teacher handbook that says education consists of lecture, worksheet, homework, test.