Too Much Homework Counterproductive, Study Finds

A senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University has published a study that finds too much nightly homework for high school students is counterproductive.

The survey of over 4,000 students from ten high-performing high schools from upper middle class Californian communities also cited prior studies indicating the benefits of homework plateau at the two-hour mark, with the optimum daily homework time being between ninety minutes and two-and-a-half hours.

Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good

The study, Nonacademic Effects of Homework in Privileged High-Performing High Schools, was published last year in the Journal of Experimental Education. It found students from these upper middle class families regularly did an average of 3.1 hours of homework per night and were chosen for the study because

In upper middle class, advantaged communities, the practice of homework is deeply embedded, as parents who hold political clout and influence view homework as a way to sustain their child’s academic edge and status in the social and economic hierarchy

Findings from the study listed a range of negative effects when significant hours of nightly homework was regularly undertaken, including

  • greater stress
  • reductions in health
  • less time for friends, family and extra-curricular pursuits
  • sleep deprivation
  • headaches
  • weight loss
  • tiredness
  • lack of engagement in class
  • too much solitary time

Researchers noted homework assigned on a routine basis was not beneficial. Stanford University senior lecturer Denise Pope stated

Any homework assigned should have a purpose and a benefit, and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development

While the findings of this study may surprise some educators, there is no shock here. While most teachers understand the nature of Mathematics or English homework, many do not understand what homework in a Drama class can entail. With anything from line-learning and character creation, to essay writing, costume construction and monologue rehearsals, Drama homework is sometimes analytical, often creative, and occasionally both. In a way, we may be fortunate our subject does not lend itself to the need for regular, nightly homework (partly because it is normally not a subject students have class for, every single day). Therefore, Drama homework should always have a specific purpose and only be given when absolutely necessary. I, for one, intend to reduce the amount of homework with my Year 12 Drama class this year in the belief that if my students use class time more effectively than they have done so in the past, they will reap better benefits and be more engaged in their learning.

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2 Responses

  1. Edwina says:

    I totally agree with all of this. After watching a colleague teach the yr 12’s for the past 7 years, I always felt the homework load given was enormous. After taking over the theatre studies class last year, I gave significantly less homework, the students were on top of all elements of the course (and best results in ten years!!) Love these articles Justin- real food for thought.

    • Thanks Edwina. Such an interesting observation you posted here. My goal for 2014 is to get my senior students, in particular, to use class time as efficiently as possible and as a result, set less homework. Surely that’s motivation for any teenager! I’m hoping to run Year 12 Drama ensembles this semester without a single after-school rehearsal. My focus is on quality, not quantity. I’d rather assess a tightly edited and polished 18-minute ensemble performance developed entirely during scheduled classes, than assess a loose 30-minute ensemble performance that needed five after-school rehearsals just to get the task completed.

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