Stanford study finds homework counterproductive, ineffective

Study shows homework generates social, physical issues like stress

Conducted by Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Education and a published author in the “Journal of Experimental Education”, research has found students experience more stress, more physical health problems, a lack of balance and even social isolation when assigned too much homework.

The research used a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle class California communities where the median household income exceeded $90,000. 93 percent of the students at these high schools went on to either two- or four-year colleges and had an average of 3.1 hours of homework per night.

Using a survey with open-ended response questions, the research examined students’ perceptions about homework, students’ well-being and their behavioral engagement.

“Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good,” Denise Pope said, according to Stanford Daily. “The findings address how current homework practices in privileged, high-performing schools sustain students’ advantage in competitive climates yet hinder learning, full engagement and well-being.”

Pope’s findings question the value of homework, and Pope argues that homework should not be assigned in large amounts or as a simple routine practice. This directly conflicts with many of the homework policies held by many of the higher-level classes, especially honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses, where homework is given both regularly and in rigorous amounts.

Pope and researchers found that many students felt their homework was “pointless” or “mindless”, and there was no relationship between the time spent on homework and how much they liked it. Many said they only did their homework in order to keep their grades up.

“This kind of busy work, by its very nature, discourages learning and instead promotes doing homework simply to get points,” Pope said. “Rather, any homework assigned should have a purpose and benefit, and it should be designed to cultivate learning and development.”

Along with that, Pope and researchers have found that too much homework can be ineffective and even counterproductive. They cite prior research that shows that homework’s benefit plateaus at about two hours per night. The researchers believe that 90 minutes to two and a half hours a night is how much homework a high school student should have, but for many students at Paly, especially those in higher-level classes, this is considered an easy homework load.

Their study finds that too much homework is associated with greater stress, health issues and overall less time for extracurricular pursuits. In the survey data, 56 percent of students considered homework their primary source of stress, while 43 percent attributed this to tests and 33 percent to the pressure to get good grades. Less than one percent said homework was not a factor in their stress.

In the open-ended response questions, many students said homework led to a loss of sleep and other health-related issues including headaches and exhaustion.

Homework was also proven to detract time from friends and family, from extracurricular activities and from the development of “critical life skills.” In both the survey and the open-ended responses, students indicated that they were more likely to drop classes, not see friends or family and not pursue hobbies because of too much time spent on homework.

Researchers also concluded that too much homework was associated with less time to foster personal responsibility skills. Many students felt forced to choose homework over their extracurricular activities and social time.

“Young people are spending more time alone, which means less time for family and fewer opportunities to engage in their communities,” researchers said.