The Cooper School Daily

The Homework Myth

Dear Families,

Recently I have been reading an interesting book, Overloaded and Underprepared, by Denise Pope, Maureen Brown and Sarah Miles. The mental health of young students is of great interest to us at The Cooper School, and studies are beginning to show that academics are the leading cause of stress for nine to thirteen year olds (National Association of Health Education Centers, 2005). This book addresses something we are mindful of here at TCS, homework. I thought I would share with you some of the research from this book, validating what we have known to be true. Our homework policy is researched based and is in keeping with what is best for young children.

The argument for loads of homework typically goes something like this: homework teaches kids to be responsible, creates a strong work ethic, and is the sign of a rigorous curriculum and a strong teacher. According to Pope, Brown and Miles, however, there has been no concrete, research based evidence that points to hours of homework as an indicator of a rigorous curriculum, a sign of a good teacher, or as an effective way to develop responsible youth. Additionally, Harris Cooper, one of the leading researchers on homework, has found no link for students in elementary school between the amount of time spent on homework and student achievement. In middle school, there was a moderate correlation, but after an hour of homework this correlation faded. As for test scores, in a 2005 study of math scores across multiple countries, no positive link was found between student math achievement and the frequency or amount of homework given (Baker & LeTendre, 2005). Another study found that countries that give students more math homework actually had lower overall math scores than those that gave students less math homework ( Mikki, 2006). Homework may not only not be helpful, it may be detrimental. A study in 2013 found that too much time spent on homework can lead to stress, exhaustion, headaches, and student disengagement (Galloway et al., 2013).

So what does all this mean? At The Cooper School, we have always viewed homework critically. It is difficult to isolate the effects of homework, and when and where it is completed. Some parents help, and some do not (although a review of over 50 studies found little evidence to support any benefit to students whose parents were involved in homework (Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2001)). Additionally, the research behind homework is complex, involving many variables: the student, the teacher, the curriculum, the level of stakes, the tasks involved, and the authenticity of the work. Homework also remains one of the few times home and school meet, and parents value having what they perceive as a “window” into what their children are working on in the classroom.

When we created our homework policy, we knew we couldn’t eliminate homework altogether. Therefore, we aligned ourselves with the research that iterates for us the characteristics of meaningful homework assignments. We believe that homework can be purposeful when it is:

  • Clear – clear directions are given, students understand the purpose of the assignment and can do the work independently
  • Differentiated – developmentally appropriate and individualized based on student needs
  • Authentic – relevant and real; students feel they are doing tasks that will play a part in the real world
  • Connected – homework should connect to a big idea or key understanding from the unit of study, and the students should understand the connection
  • Efficient – adheres to he “10 minute rule” created by the National Education Association indicating that homework should be 10 minutes multiplied by the student’s grade level (Grade 3 x 10 = 30 minutes).

Homework is a topic that is often discussed with great emotion. National movements exist to eliminate homework, and national movements exist to preserve homework. At The Cooper School, our main focus is the quality of the homework, and the connection between homework and the broader curriculum.


Franci Bell
Director of Instruction and Operations