The research relied on by those who oppose homework has actually found it has a modest positive effect at the middle and high school levels—just not in elementary school.
But for the most part, the studies haven’t looked at whether it matters what kind of homework is assigned or whether there are different effects for different demographic student groups.
For example, there’s something called “retrieval practice,” which means trying to recall information you’ve already learned.
The optimal time to engage in retrieval practice is not immediately after you’ve acquired information but after you’ve forgotten it a bit—like, perhaps, after school.
Well-educated parents are better able to provide help, the argument goes, and it’s easier for affluent parents to provide a quiet space for kids to work in—along with a computer and internet access.
While those things may be true, assigning homework—or assigning ineffective homework—can end up privileging advantaged students even more.After I expressed surprise that none of the kids I was working with had completed a brief writing assignment, a teacher told me, “Oh yeah—I should have told you.Our students don’t really homework.” If and when disadvantaged students get to college, their relative lack of study skills and good homework habits can present a serious handicap.These are things that schools of education and teacher-prep programs typically don’t teach.So it’s quite possible that much of the homework teachers assign just isn’t particularly effective for many students.Focusing on those distinctions could be illuminating.A study that looked specifically at math homework, for example, found it boosted achievement in elementary school than in middle school—just the opposite of the findings on homework in general.One study found that lower-income ninth-graders “consistently described receiving minimal homework—perhaps one or two worksheets or textbook pages, the occasional project, and 30 minutes of reading per night.” And if they didn’t complete assignments, there were few consequences.I discovered this myself when trying to tutor students in writing at a high-poverty high school.Even if teachers do manage to assign effective homework, it may not show up on the measures of achievement used by researchers—for example, standardized reading test scores.Those tests are designed to measure general reading comprehension skills, not to assess how much students have learned in specific classes.