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Math Homework (and Only Math Homework) Seems to Improve Test Scores

Is homework a waste of time? David Brooks points to a new study that says yes—except for math. I have two comments about this study.

First, the researchers look at “hours of homework assigned.” But teachers don’t assign “hours” of homework, they assign worksheets, pages to read, problems to solve, etc. What would be an hour of homework for one student might be two hours for another. I’m not convinced most teachers (myself included) have a clear vision of how long it takes their students to complete the out-of-class readings and assignments they are given. Frankly, there have been nights I would have wished Rebecca’s teacher had assigned her an “hour” of homework—and given her permission to quit when the hour was over!

Second, the study concludes that more math homework tends to improve test scores in math, but that more English, history, etc. homework has a negligible effect. But even with math, where is the point of diminishing return? If one hour of homework is good, then surely two hours is better, right? Well, then what about five or six hours? At what point do children become so burdened down by the weight of their homework assignments that they no longer benefit from more? What if you have a child, as I do, who would really love to read a chapter book, do an art project, perform community service, or even (gasp!) enjoy downtime with family and friends, but often can’t because there is still more homework to do before bedtime?

Until I’m convinced that Rebecca’s teachers put in as many after-class hours as she does preparing for the next day, I remain a homework skeptic.



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