Homework: Does it Help or Hurt?

After a summer off from the nightly grind of homework, you and your child may be bracing for another year of tearful fits or late-night cramming.


The debate over homework is also taking place on a larger stage, with parents, educators and advocates for children weighing in on the value of out-of-school assignments, questioning their usefulness and asking how much is too much. Many public and private schools across the country are reassessing homework policies or even waiving homework in exchange for free reading time.


Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, a renowned researcher on the effects of homework, supports the “10-minute rule,” which advises 10 minutes of homework a night multiplied by the child’s grade level. Thus, a first-grader would have 10 minutes of homework per night, a second-grader 20 minutes, and homework time would increase by grade level up to two hours for a high-school senior. The National PTA and National Education Association (NEA) endorsed the 10-minute rule in the mid-1990s, but it’s not widely followed.


Guidance for Parents

If you believe that your child is receiving more homework than he can reasonably handle, talk to his teacher. But before you complain that he’s spending three hours a night on homework, make sure that it’s time “on task,” and not spent texting, chatting on the phone or surfing the Internet.


If your child is consistently struggling, her teacher may be willing to make accommodations, from setting time limits for at-home assignments to reducing the workload.


But if the problems seem widespread among your child’s classmates, Alfie Kohn, a Boston-based longtime critic of homework, competition and rewards for kids, advises researching your school’s homework policy and organizing with other parents to speak with school officials about what changes can be made.


Challenge Success, a Stanford University School of Education project that advocates for positive change in the education system, offers these tips for parents:

  • Act as cheerleaders, not homework police. Provide necessary supplies and express interest, but let the teacher intervene if the child struggles to finish homework or do it correctly.
  • When scheduling after-school activities, keep in mind your child’s homework load. Work with your child to determine a schedule that allows for homework, studying, adequate sleep and play.
  • Recognize that children have different learning and work styles. Some kids can get it done all at once; others need breaks. Some like quiet spaces while others prefer music. Discuss with your child what works best for her.
  • Advocate for better homework policies. Start by communicating with your own child’s teacher.
  • Let children make mistakes and experience “successful failures.” Help your kids organize their work, but regularly rescuing them may hinder their resilience.


Janine DeFao is an associate editor with Dominion Parenting Media.

Education Hot Topics School Age Tweens & Teens