Prevention Corner: Is Homework Helpful?

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.

As the school year progresses, the number of letters that we have received concerning school problems has multiplied tremendously. The letter chosen today highlights a problem that has been an issue of concern between parents and schools for many years: Is homework actually helpful? How much is too much? In the past several years, the question of homework has also become a topic of study by many researchers as well. Researchers are asking: Is homework harmful?

Editorial Question Posed

Dear Prevention Corner: 

I’m at my wits end. My teenager has been up every night past midnight doing homework. The school says that homework will help raise test scores and help my son prepare for college. He’s worn-out, and says, “That if this is what college is like, he doesn’t want to go.” I think the school is pushing too hard. What should I as a parent do? Am I wrong? Is four hours of homework a night normal?

In Need of Help


Dear In Need Of Help:

As a parent of three grown children, I certainly understand your problem and your concerns. This subject of homework is being discussed by more than just parents and schools. Many researchers are stepping forward to say that there is no correlation between homework and classroom improvement in academics for elementary age children (Cooper, 2006). Only a tiny bit of improvement has been shown from homework in middle school. While research has supported benefits from homework in high school, researchers also caution that too much homework can backfire and create more problems than benefits (Cooper & Valentine, 2001; Cooper, Robertson, & Patall, 2006). So, why do schools still insist on more homework? It’s been estimated that the homework load has increased about 40% for students (Cooper, 2006). As you indicated in your letter, some students are being assigned as much as four hours of homework a night. Still other schools are totally banishing homework. Some schools are suggesting that web-based applications for online teaching opportunities actually benefit students more than paper and pencil homework.

One of the age old problems with homework is that if a student does not know how to work a math problem correctly, practicing the problem incorrectly for homework, will not teach the student the correct procedure for working the problem. Practicing a mistake does not make the mistake go away. Research shows that math scores do not necessarily improve with homework. On the other hand, if online teaching was incorporated, then the student could learn and practice the problem correctly.

Trying to improve test scores by loading on additional homework has also not proven to be successful. Excessive homework and the results of incomplete homework have even been listed as one of the reasons that some students give for dropping out of school before graduation. Homework is supposed to help students learn, improve study skills and organization of time, and teach responsibility. Unfortunately, researchers are finding that too much homework actually reduces its effectiveness and that when students consider homework simply “busy work,” such homework discourages learning (Kalish & Bennett, 2006).

We have worked for years from the premise that “homework is good.” New research is showing that too much homework actually has negative effects on well-being and behavior. If a student sacrifices sleep to study for a test or complete homework assignments, they are going to have more trouble the next day in school and miss out on new material being discussed in class (Gillen-O’Neal, Huynh, & Fuligni, 2013). Students who consume energy drinks in order to stay awake at night also increase their risk of becoming too reliant upon stimulants and other drugs. Excessive homework (over 2 hours a night in high school) can lead to sleep deprivation, headaches, exhaustion, stomach problems, weight loss, and even depression (Galloway, Conner, & Pope, 2013).

When students are assigned too much homework, such homework assignments create stress (Pressman et al., 2015). High levels of stress can lead to physical as well as mental health problems. Homework needs to have a purpose that benefits the student’s overall education and well-being. In a recent survey, 90% of the students surveyed said that homework created stress in their daily life.

Since homework has not necessarily led to better grades or higher test scores and has been found to be a major source of stress for many students, what should a parent do?

  1. Talk with the teacher. See if you can reach a compromise on the amount of homework being assigned.
  2. If your child is exhibiting signs of stress, talk with a school counselor.
  3. If you’re still unable to negotiate a “healthy” homework level, talk with your school principal and/or a member of the school board.

Nancy Kalish and Sara Bennett (2006) state in their book, The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can do About It, that we need to find new educational alternatives to homework. We also need to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

I do not have simple or easy answers for you, but going to the school and intervening on behalf of your child may be the best prevention that you can provide to alleviate problems in the future. No one is saying that your child should just sit around and watch TV or play computer games, but sometimes a student may need a more individualized approach to homework and learning in the classroom. You definitely want to make the teacher and school aware of stress and other concerns. Never be afraid to be your child’s advocate.

Let me know if I can be of further assistance, and watch for our next column when we will turn to some educational policy experts to see if they can offer some suggestions for how to change the schools.

If you would like to join this discussion, let us hear from you. We welcome your participation. We invite psychologists, counselors, prevention programmers, graduate students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other mental health practitioners working with groups to network together, share ideas, problems, and become more involved. Please send comments, questions, and group prevention concerns to Elaine Clanton Harpine at


Bennett, S., & Kalish, N. (2006). The case against homework: How homework is hurting our children and what we can do about it. New York: Harmony Books.

Cooper, H. (2006). The battle over homework: Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents, 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin press.

Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76, 1–6.

Cooper, H., & Valentine, J. C. (2001). Using research to answer practical questions about homework. Educational Psychologist, 36, 143–153.

Galloway, G., Conner, J., & Pope, D. (2013). Nonacademic effects of homework in pivileged, high-performing high schools, The Journal of Experimental Education, 81, 490-510. doi: 10.1080/00220973.2012.745469

Gillen-O’Neal, C., Huynh, V., & Fuligni, A. J. (2013). To study or to sleep? The academic cost of extra studying at the expense of sleep. Child Development, 84, 133-142.   doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01834x

Pressman, R. M., Sugarman, D. B., Nemon, M. L., Desjarlais, J., Owens, J. A., & Schettini-Evans, A. (2015). Homework and family Stress: With consideration of parents’ self-confidence, educational level, and cultural background, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 43, 297-313. doi: 10.1080/01926187.2015.1061407

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