Susan Huff

Susan Huff, EdD, has retired as principal of Spanish Oaks Elementary School in Utah after 34 years in public education. Previously, she was principal of Santaquin Elementary and Westside Elementary.

The Battle Over Homework

Last night we held parent/teacher conferences at our elementary school.  I’ve been a principal at three different elementary schools over the past 13 years, and before that I was a classroom teacher for 18 years.  Homework has always been a hot topic at parent/teacher conferences, and last night was no exception.  Homework is an emotional issue, but emotion peaks when it is time to review student progress, celebrate the child, and set new goals. Why is homework–the tasks that are assigned to students by teachers that are intended to be completed during non-school hours–such a point of controversy?  Harris Cooper (2007) explains:

Homework is a source of complaint and friction between home and school more often than any other teaching activity.  Parents protest that assignments are too long or too short, too hard or too easy, and too ambiguous.  Teachers complain about a lack of training, a lack of time to prepare effective assignments, and a lack of support from parents and administrators.  Students gripe about the time homework takes from their leisure activities, if they understand its value at all.  (p. ix)

Cooper (2007) concisely nailed the controversy over homework with his book title: The Battle Over Homework.  There are many battles over homework raging in schools everywhere—battles in a real sense that precious resources of time, people, and money are directed towards homework—battles in the sense that there are many front-line casualties in relation to homework: parent casualities, student casualities, and teacher casualities.

Parents may become casualties in the battle over homework.

Because of work responsibilities, some parents honestly do not have time to help their children with homework.  When families are in survival mode, the responsibility for homework completion is left entirely to the child.  Many single parents struggle to balance work and family responsibilities, including finding time to help children with homework.  Some parents do not speak English so they are unable to help with homework.

Some parents value after-school hours for family chores, for dance and music lessons and practice, for accelerated sports team participation or community sports and recreation, for gymnastics, for martial arts, for drama, for swim team—all sorts of activities to develop the whole child.  Parents work to balance time spent on homework with extra curricular activities and family responsibilities.

There are some parents who may not value education for themselves or for their children.  They are less likely to support and encourage homework completion by their children.  But even when parents want to help their children with homework, they may not have the content knowledge or necessary skills to do this.  I have had parents tell me that they are not able to help their children with math, for example, after 3rd or 4th grade because they themselves don’t understand the concepts.  So what happens in junior high and high school?  Parents who want to help, but don’t know how, often experience frustration over their children’s homework and become disenfranchised from school, thus becoming a casualty of homework.

Teachers may become casualties in the batle over homework.

Teachers often struggle with the idea of how much and what type of homework they should assign.  Conflict can result that affects working relationships when members within a team have differing opinions about homework.  When teachers value and assign homework, they often battle within themselves over the time it takes to give effective feedback to students. They struggle with how to motivate students to complete the work and how to respond when they don’t.  They are conflicted about if, how, and what to grade and how to manage record keeping and reporting to students and parents.  Teachers may become discouraged in the battle over homework as they work to positively impact student learning, while keeping the peace with all stake holders (students, parents, administration, and other teachers).

Students may become casualties in the battle over homework.

Increased student learning is the expected outcome from assigned homework.  In addition to increased learning, students, even at an early age, can learn responsibility through completion of assigned homework.  However, there are situations where homework actually hinders student growth and development.  The old adage that “practice makes perfect” in reality should state “practice makes permanent.”  If students do not receive guidance or corrective feedback on homework, they may practice the wrong answer, the wrong idea, the wrong application-- until it becomes permanent and then must be “unlearned.”  Students may learn mediocrity when homework goes uninspected.  If minimal effort, inaccurate answers, or sloppy work remain unchecked, poor habits are nurtured.  When “zeros” are permitted for homework not completed or turned in, students learn they do not have to be accountable.  A decrease in student motivation, self-esteem, work ethic, and responsibility may be unintended consequences of assigned homework.  Frustration grows to disillusionment when students need help with homework and cannot find that help at home or at school.  The goal of increased student learning may be ambushed when homework conditions are not right.

Optimal homework conditions promote student learning.

The charge for thoughtful, dedicated teachers and school leaders is to minimize–no, eliminate–casualties in the battle over homework by paying attention to key principles of effective homework.

Tips for Teachers

  1. Purpose - The purpose of homework should be for practice and preparation of previously taught skills.  Avoid homework assignments on content which has not been previously taught or introduced. Unfinished class assignments become homework so that students are prepared for the next lesson.
  2. Time - Research suggests the right amount of homework is about 10 minutes per grade (10 minutes for 1st grade, 20 for second grade, and so forth).  At our school we add home reading and math fact practice on top of this.  Don’t overload kids with homework; it can ruin motivation.The NEA/PTA publication gives these homework guidelines:
  • 10-20 minutes per day for students in grades K-2
  • 30-60 minutes per day for students in grades 3-6
  • In junior and senior high school the amount of homework will vary by subject.
  1. Training - Cooper (2007) found that training parents of elementary students can have a positive impact on higher rates of homework completion, fewer homework problems, and improved academic performance. 
  2. Procedures - In Harry Wong’s (1998) First Days of School, he details the importance of teaching students procedures for submitting homework, procedures for labeling name and class period on all homework and assignments, as well as procedures that will be followed by teachers in returning student work and providing feedback.  Assignments must be clear and precise with a consistent and familiar format that students can recognize as their homework.  Tell students precisely what you want accomplished, then give them procedures to help them do it.
  3. Difficulty - Intersperse easy and hard problems throughout an assignment.
  4. Choice - Consider giving students choices and varying assignments according to students’ learning styles.
  5. Frequency - More frequent shorter assignments are better than fewer but longer assignments.
  6. Feedback - Do not grade or comment on every homework assignment, but still look for indicators of students’ learning difficulties or misconceptions even if the homework is not graded.
  7. Policy - Consider a school-wide homework policy that communicates to parents and students increasing homework expectations as students move from one grade to the next.  The policy should include information on where students can go to receive help with homework.
  8. Completion - Make homework meaningful with a purpose; avoid redundancy and busy work.  Then make homework required–not optional.  Homework is optional if there is no consequence for uncompleted homework.  Homework is optional if zeros are permitted.  Create a system of support where students are required to complete the work.  At our school, if a student comes unprepared today, there is an immediate consequence so that students do not get more than one day behind:  loss of privilege, referral to skills class to complete the work during a lesser essential instructional block.


Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework: Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Wong, H.K. & Wong, R.T. (1998).  The first days of school:  How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.


Toni O'Connor

Hi! A very nice article. My opinion is that homework is very necessary for students of any country because it teaches them responsibility and to respect deadlines. But, frankly speaking, many students perform not so good when it comes to writing, because they don’t have enough time to research. Statistically, about 70 to 80 percent of college students are earning money while studying. This situation requires them to use different "Write my paper" online services like or something. They entrust their assignment works to different online specialists who complete their papers for a very affordable price. As for me, we cannot judge students for their ability to use helpful services online, because this is almost impossible to complete all the jobs required in time. And what's your opinion?

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Danielle Lake

This was just a concern/issue that was brought up in a discussion with a few teachers in my county. It is a really difficult subject to discuss. I have realized everybody has differing opinions on what is the best way to handle homework. I have parents asking for more challenging homework for their children, and other parents asking for less. I have also shared with other colleagues examples of my homework packet, and every school had a different set up for homework. At my school, the students have a writing journal each week and also worksheets that are review from math and phonics. They have a week to complete it. Other schools have a monthly calendar or some have a week to do list with simple directions of read a book and discuss the characters.
I think having a school wide homework policy would be beneficial for parents and students to understand the importance of it!

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I appreciate the candid conversation on the topic of homework. A few years back, I read the book, "The Homework Myth" by Alfie Kohn in which he attempts to debunk the "homework myth" that homework is a must and good thing for students. Although I think he has some valid and definitely thought provoking arguments as to why homework, as it is often set up, is not helpful to student learning, I still feel that homework has its place in student learning if done properly. Your post tips were helpful in giving good perimeters for homework. I teach at an international school and often, if I do not give homework, my student's parent will give them homework. Recently, I had a conversation with one of my Asian 7th graders and she told me that her parents make her stay up until 11:00 PM every night doing "productive" things. Most of my Asian students have academies after school into the evening and are always doing work of some kind. This is the environment I teach in. On the one hand, I feel obligated to assign homework because of expectations and on the other hand, I don't want to assign homework because I know all pressures my students face. Another added element, most of my students are second language learners and often need extra help on their homework. If the homework is for practice and students have already learned the skill and procedures, this is a much more successful homework assignment for my second language learners. In middle school at my school, every core subject teacher is not allowed to give more than 20 minutes of homework a night. This aligns well with the time requirements you mentioned in your post. As a teacher, this has been a good boundary. I think a key in assigning homework is, what is the purpose in this assignment? If it's just to kill time, it's probably better to just ditch the homework. If it is to practice a skill or get the creative juices flowing for the upcoming day's assignment by writing a journal entry, then by all means, assign it. Homework isn't a bad thing. It just needs a bit of tender loving care to make it something that benefits student learning instead of causing "battles" to rage in all parties surrounding it.

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I agree with the concept of less is more. As a teacher, and parent myself, I understand the exhaustion of bothsides, but feel the parents struggle assisting both behaviorally and academically when it comes to alot of homework issues.

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During my nine-year teaching experience, homework has been an ongoing battle. Teachers think that not enough homework is given, while parents believe the homework is too much. The idea of mandating homework completion is a good one. Having students complete homework during a recreational activity that is optional is a great idea. I have had parents that really wanted to make an effort to help their children with homework, but work schedule does not permit for the time needed to spend on reviewing assignments with them.

I will be starting a school one day, and one of the things that I plan to implement is an after-school program that includes at least one hour of homework assistance. I intend to encourage parents that may be pressed for time to enroll their children so that the students may benefit from reviewing concepts taught and not falling behind in the subject area.

One of the tactics that I have used while teaching at a private school with block scheduling is to assign minimal classwork so that I am able to assess what the students have grasped. I then give approximately thirty minutes of optional homework completion during class time to allow students to ask questions as needed. This proved beneficial to both the students and their parents.

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It was refreshing to see that my school is not the only place where homework is a battle. My colleagues and I have had countless meetings over this never ending topic of how, how much, why, purpose, etc... We have talked to parents, students, and administration and there never seems to be any answers.

Personally I have always had students finish what was not completed in class for homework assignments. They had the lesson and feedback and guidance so all they had to do was finish the task to be ready for the next days extension of the lesson. I have broken assignments down to manageable chunks and it seems the only students (50% or less) to complete the assignments are those who are in extra curricular activities because they are intrinsically motivated.

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There have been continuous discussions about this particular topic in my school environment. Parents and teachers alike have differing philosophies and expectations about how much homework should be sent home and the amount time that should be spent doing it. The principal for the elementary division has come up with the idea that instead of having separate discussions with both groups, the teachers would do the research on homework and its benefits or lack there of and present these findings to the parents. Discussions held with some parents reveal that some parents want the homework to be sent home, some would like the children to have as much as possible, others do not want to have any homework sent, while a few are willing to do the homework for their children.

In the Middle School/High School division, book clubs were formed to address varying issues, one of which is homework. The parents think that the children are given too much homework and as a result spend too much time in the evenings getting it done. The message that the school wants to send to parents in general is that homework is a way of front loading information; it helps to develop research skills as well practice material that was introduced in class. Cooper (2006) states that purposes of homework can be divided into instructional and non-instructional. He further states the most common instructional purpose of homework is for students to be able to practice or review material that was already presented in class (p. 1).

There is a homework school wide policy that has been in effect but is currently being revisited as a result of the varying concerns presented by teachers and parents alike. Parents also need to realize that they play a major role in helping their children complete their homework and that is, providing an environment that will be conducive for their children to work. This has been an ongoing “battle” in our school environment, but unless parents and teachers understand the benefits, to doing homework, whether, academic or non-academic, there will always be resistance. The impact that homework might have on achievement will vary from student to student and is dependent on how much is assigned or how much the students complete (Cooper, 2006).


Cooper, H., Robinson, J., Patall, E. (2006): Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987-2003. Spring 2006; Vol. 76, No. 1 pp. 1-62

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Homework to me is for review for the lesson we did in class that same day. Some of the parents in my class feel that it takes so little time for their child to finish and therefore not challenging enough. And other parents in my class feel the the homework I give is way too hard and not appropriate. How do you balance out the two? How do you convey that homework is an important tool that teachers use?

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The homework battle is a hot topic in my school too. I am lucky that I work in a district that the majority of my students have a very structured and supportive home. That being said, there are always a handful that do not have an educationally supportive home environment. We have tried many different interventions but non have worked. I am hoping that students will mature and realize how important it is to learn how to priortize what is important in their life.

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Homework in this area is always being battled. Many parents will not permit their child to do homework on Wednesday this church night, Sundays as this is all day church for AM service and dicipleship in the afternoon and PM services. So some of the veteran teachers have agreed. Now what happens when the fair is intown. The students who are showing their animals are excused from homework all week. Many parents don't like this as they are unable to have their child raise an animal. Homework, as I understood, is a reflection on what the day's lesson was, and to practice what was taught. I don't give any homework over the weekend as I feel the students should be free and get a clear mind ready for Monday. I remember my days of doing homework all had to be done before bedtime as my parents would not permit any "burning the midnight" oil even into high school. It paid off as I did have the adequate rest and my grades showed it. Some of today's students don't do it and some copy it form another classmate. As far as the time the 10 minutes per grade (in the elementary level) is okay. Since we have pushed the sixth graders into the middle school they now fall into more time, 30 minutes per period no more. As far as high school 45 minutes per period is more than enough.

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Non-school work has indeed been a hot topic in our educational institutions. A couple of years ago, when I joined my current school, I witnessed the most effective homework policy I’ve ever seen. One of the school’s goals was to produce well-rounded students. As a result, social and extra-curricular activities were promoted greatly – in and out of school. With this, came an adaption to the homework policy. The school wanted students to have more time to participate in recorded curricular activities so they placed a time limit on homework, depending on the age. For the majority of the primary school, 45 minutes was the max. Students had set nights for certain subjects and were to work on their assignments for no more than 45 minutes. Anything after this was to be a personal choice. For homework that was not completed, students were not penalized and were helped with it during registration the following day. At first, I thought that both students and parents might take advantage of this, however, it seemed very productive. There were hardly any cases of student’s not having completed homework, and a significant increase in recorded student activities.

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Homework is a controversial issue across schools in different regions of the world. According to Trautwien et al (2002), there is controversy over homework assignment effects on learning: with researchers arguing that it has a negative effect on parents and learner’s emotions and; that it overburdens the learners. On the other hand, other researchers argue that parents and teachers find homework assignments very effective as it improves learners’ achievement. At the same time, many studies failed to provide the positive effect of homework and its relationship to achievement in schools. However, my school (‘Mabathoana High School in Lesotho) is one of the schools that advocate assignment application. We had the same problem of uninvolved parents for a number of reasons: some couldn’t balance work and family responsibilities; others were not proficient in English, so, even if they wanted to help this posed the problem. Others found concepts of the subjects very difficult and, consequently, failed to help their children while a few tried their best.
The school created two study periods before and after school, where learners sat together and addressed their homework with senior students, their teachers and other teachers of the school, in an attempt to address the homework issue. It had been effective to some extend, but I still believe that getting parents involved in learners’ homework assignments is important as the study periods weren’t enough for middle and high school homework assignments.

• Trautwein, U., Niggli, A., Schnyder, I. and Ludtk, O. (2009). Between-Teacher Differences in Homework Assignment and the Development of Students’ Homework Effort, Homework Emotions, and Achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology: Vol. 101, No. 1, 176-189.
American Psychological Association. Retrieved from,

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Homework is also a hot dicussion amongst my co-workers. Some teachers believe that homework should not be a requirement, while other teachers have homework that makes up 50% of the student's grade. I really like the idea of a school-wide homework policy. This way, teachers and students are all on the same page as far as homework expectations. There are so many opposing views, and I think that having a school-wide policy will minimize much of the tension homework creates.

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I just started my masters online and had this very subject for my last week’s application… it was great to see and read about your suggestions, Susan. I am from Canada and although not as controversial in my neck of the woods, for some, getting homework done is still a debatable issue. I teach at the lower elementary level and although I assign a bit of reading and spelling, the review at home takes up no more than 30 minutes ( much like what you mentioned, the 10 minute rule times the grade level) but to some families, 30 more minutes than many have to spare, so your perspective rang true! What to do when you know that kids could definitely benefit from some additional practice?
I actually incorporated into my early morning routine a bit of time for my students to catch up. If they have done their HW, they may proceed with something I call a Daily Dose (like a dose of medicine) which is a brief 5 question review from the day before… when they get that done, they are free to enjoy some silent reading time or assist as a peer tutor to those who could use a chum to listen to them read or go over spelling or math facts. The ones getting the help may not ever get to the Daily Dose (but I will review those warm-up questions orally later in the morning, so they still will be exposed to it) but they feel that they have their HW done and that makes them proud. The peer helper beams with pride because they have lent a hand to a classmate.

In another community where there was more support at home to complete HW, I still set up safety nets… that group of students really enjoyed having a cooperative chum, so I have set up pairs of peers to get work completed in class; if it does not get done with the help of a peer, then it goes home, but returns finished the next day. While I was researching my paper on HW, I read results of a survey by Wislon and Rhodes (2010) that “an overwhelming 87% (agree or strongly agree) that they would be more than likely to complete their homework if the teachers let them start on it during class” (p.354) and based on that class community, they certainly did… often most got their work completed in class and that was my preferred policy anyway. I work my kids hard in class and want them to enjoy their free time in the evening.

Wilson, J., & Rhodes, J. (2010). Student perspectives on homework. Education, 131(2), 351-358.

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Nicely spoken. My team has wanted to widdle our homework policy down to 20 minutes of reading every night. This is hard for some of my fellow teachers to accept. Our paren organization actually is not happy with this thought, even though they cannot come to consensus about what they would like to see as homework. One of their concerns is about grading homework and using it for a "grade". This will be interesting as grading becomes more authentic and a common core knowledge is developed.

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