The constantly questioning society of 2012 continues to debate an age-old question: Is homework helpful or harmful. Whereas the importance of education is indubitable, each component of education, including homework, is observed to create the highest performing students possible. Because homework is one of the most controversial constituent in educational debate and a widely used tool to recognize student achievement, it is important to investigate the actual effectiveness of homework. As a very busy high school senior involved in many extracurricular activities, including school organizations, drama, and multiple part-time jobs, as well as a student with a rigorous course load, I can testify as to how homework has influenced my schedule the past four years. Despite the constant complaints from high school students regarding homework, homework in moderation is actually beneficial to students at the secondary level.
Homework, defined by Harris Cooper as "tasks assigned to students by schoolteachers that are meant to be carried out during non-instructional time" (qtd. in Bembenutty 185), in the secondary level may range from outlining a chapter from a Biology textbook to writing a summary of a passage read in English class to completing math problems using skills learned in Calculus that day. Since the amount of work assigned and the average amount of time required to complete homework varies greatly across classrooms, it is critical to establish an agreeable definition of homework in a "moderate" amount. Moderate should be evaluated as enough homework to give pupils sufficient practice in grasping educational concepts, but no more than that. Just as a single practice math problem on a difficult concept isn't ample homework, assigning a student to work one night on a project that could take up to three hours is in fact detrimental. Core class teachers (classes with objectives required for every student, not interest-based) should establish homework schedules with twenty to thirty minutes of problems, only a couple times a week, in order to spread out the homework load of high-achieving students. Where most high school students are taking three to five core classes, about an hour of homework a night is extremely helpful to each student, yet not asking too much.
Homework nay sayers deny that homework has a positive influence on student achievement, but many studies prove otherwise. Harris Cooper, "the nation's leading expert on the relationship between homework and achievement" (Bembenutty 185), observes study results that signify a clearly positive relationship between homework completion and student achievement at the high school level specifically. In one set of studies, student achievement was compared solely based on whether the students received homework or not. Of the 20 studies produced, 14 favored homework, whereas only 6 did not. The studies revealed that at the high school level, an average student (at the 50th percentile) from a class receiving homework would outperform 69 percent of students in a perfectly similar class receiving no homework. Cooper examined another set of studies correlating "the amount of time students reported spending on homework with their achievement levels" (36). Although correlation does not necessarily mean causation, it's impressive to note that of the 50 studies, 43 correlations indicated that students doing more homework had better achievement scores, while only 7 studies indicated the opposite (35-36).
Darshanand Ramdass and Barry Zimmerman discuss that in addition to having an effect on academic achievement, homework allows students to engage in a range of imperative self-regulation processes. Defined as "a proactive process whereby individuals consistently organize and manage their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and environment in order to attain academic goals" (198), self-regulation skills transfer into students' adult life. Among the self-regulation skills developed during homework are time management, setting goals, hindering distractions, persisting at difficult tasks, overcoming unwanted emotions, and self-monitoring performance. Whereas teachers play a large role in regulating students' learning in the early grades, they acknowledge the importance of self-regulation skills as they wean off of the hand-holding in later grades, allowing students to transition into independency (Ramdass and Zimmerman 196-199).
As I complete my final year of high school and experience this greater independence, I anticipate my future and I value the importance of being successful. I notice that among my peers in this ambitious generation and nation, there are few students who don't have at least broad career and life goals. Certainly none of them plan to live in their parents' basement the rest of their life. Because of this collective aspiration, students should acknowledge the role homework has in creating their successful future, and utilize the self-regulating skills that homework can teach them.
Many who find homework harmful argue that it is too time-consuming and doesn't allow time for exploring other interests (Cooper 35). With moderate homework, time shouldn't be that great of an issue. I have observed that people with jam-packed schedules, myself included, have found time to complete assigned homework promptly and maintain above satisfactory GPA and ACT scores. Not only that, but the discipline homework teaches students translates into their other interests. There is a need for self-regulating skills in every activity outside of school. For example, I have personally found that I can concentrate better when I'm working on leadership responsibilities, manage my activities more effectively, and handle high-stress situations in a more mature manner.
My local high school (Holyoke High School) implemented a grading pilot in the fall of 2011, aimed at improving student achievement by not allowing students to fail. The pilot incorporated an after school homework center required for junior high and high school students receiving a grade lower than 70 on a paper or students with late work. In the initial article in my local newspaper, The Holyoke Enterprise, that introduced the pilot program, it was described that "Students who oftentimes or always missed work were cited for lower CSAP [Colorado Student Assessment Program] scores and lower grades. It became obvious teachers can't give students relevant feedback if the work is late or missing." The school board executed the academic opportunity center based on the belief and proof that homework improves student achievement, allowing that fact to overpower the time and monetary costs of the center (Brandt).
Bret Miles, superintendent of schools, emphasized in a personal column in The Holyoke Enterprise on the academic opportunity center that not only is achievement affected by homework, but "students who do well on daily work in schoolâ€¦ [eventually] have more opportunities available to them through colleges and universities and also the work force" (Miles.) Through the chain of cause-and-effect, homework eventually impacts a students' career.
In interviewing Susan Ortner, the principal of my school, it became apparent that the Academic Opportunity Center has greatly influenced student achievement, both on and off paper. Ortner stated that upon evaluating the pilot year of the program, the overwhelming comments from staff members involved how much more material the teachers were able to cover compared to previous years or how much more in-depth they were able to discuss the material with students. Ortner also discussed numerical proof behind the effectiveness of the Academic Opportunity Center regarding the ineligibility list that our school reports weekly, deeming students with grades at or lower than 70% or incomplete work ineligible for activities. In November of 2010, 81 high school and junior high students were on the ineligibility list in 158 classes. Just one year later after the academic opportunity center was instituted, the list dropped down to 31 students in 40 classes; and in November 2012 after a successful year of the center, the list only consisted of 10 students in 18 classes. Between staff observations and numerical data, students truly are growing academically now that they must complete their homework.
Not only have researchers discovered positive results between the correlation of homework and academic achievement, but they've made many valid points regarding the development of self-regulation through homework. My high school has clearly demonstrated a positive effect of homework through data and staff observation, and I have seen this theme continuously throughout my own observances. Next time you want to complain about the homework you receive or doubt its effectiveness, think about the relevance homework has in creating your future and take the time to finish it.