Whether homework helps students — and how much homework is appropriate — has been debated for many years. Homework has been in the headlines again recently and continues to be a topic of controversy, with claims that students and families are suffering under the burden of huge amounts of homework. School board members, educators, and parents may wish to turn to the research for answers to their questions about the benefits and drawbacks of homework. Unfortunately, the research has produced mixed results so far, and more research is needed. Nonetheless, there are some findings that can help to inform decisions about homework.
Cooper conducted a meta-analysis of nearly empirical studies of homework effects on academic achievement and also investigated the relationship between time spent on homework and achievement. Quantitative synthesis techniques were used to review a large amount of literature and to assess the achievement relationship. The meta-analysis comprised of three distinct types of studies. The first type of study compared the achievement of those students who were given homework and those who were not. Cooper found 20 studies related to this in total.
The beginning of a new school year brings with it a reawakening of an old debate regarding the value of homework. Parents who feel their children are overburdened with homework are pitted against educators pressed to improve achievement test scores. Educators should be thrilled with these numbers. Pleasing a majority of parents regarding homework is about as good as they can hope for, even with a fair number of dissenters. But opinions cannot tell us whether homework works; only research can.
Of these purposes, the most valuable in producing measurable academic gains is practice for the purpose of building proficiency, maintaining mastery or both. This is not to say that the other purposes lack legitimacy. However, in existing studies, it is evident that when homework is used to build fluency and maintain proficiency, student performance is most positively affected. Practice can be provided via homework in two ways, single-skill or cumulative. Single-skill assignments are appropriate when students are mastering the taught skill itself; cumulative assignments are valuable when students are learning to determine which skill to use and then applying it.
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