Homework on the Brain

Posted by | Nov 2, 2013

Harry moved the tip of his eagle-feather quill down the page, frowning as he looked for something that would help him write his essay, “Witch Burning in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless - discuss.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

It’s a familiar scenario. After spending six hours in the classroom and another two hours on the field or in the rink, your son or daughter sits down to open their backpack, plug in their headphones, and plunge into another protracted round of homework. Exhausted, distracted, bored, and frequently frustrated, your student struggles to complete assignments that seem a lot like busywork, and you find yourself acting as taskmaster, surveillance detail, and tutor. Do students really need this much homework to prepare them for success at work and in school? Are those hours of science projects, reading assignments, and math problems really enriching their learning?

Probably not. A recent study by the Economics of Education Review says that homework, as we know it, isn’t making the grade. According to the authors, assignments in science, English, and history make little or no impact on student test scores. However, math homework does have a positive effect. The science shows that self-quizzing, introducing new concepts, providing short assignments across long periods of time, and varying the types of problems to be solved are some of the best ways to entrench learning and help students apply what they know.

As more cognitive research about homework, learning, and the brain begins to emerge, schools will soon be applying these research-based strategies to the work they give students to complete beyond the classroom. Until then, we think that parents and teachers should advocate for homework that is grounded in the science of learning to make it purposeful, reasonable, effective, and even enjoyable.


Eren, Ozkan & Henderson, Daniel J., 2011. “Are we wasting our children’s time by giving them more homework?” Economics of Education Review. Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 950-961, October.

Taro Greenfeld, Karl. “My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me” The Atlantic 18 Sept. 2013. Web 27 Oct. 2013

Hammer, Kate. “Homework: valuable learning tool or complete waste of time?” The Globe and Mail 1 Nov. 2012. Web 27 Oct. 2013

Hough, Lory. “Are You Down With or Done With Homework?” Ed. Winter 2012. Web 27 Oct. 2013

Murphy Paul, Annie. “When Homework is a Waste of Time.” Time. 5 Sept. 2013. Web 27 Oct. 2013

Norton, James. “Homework: Is there any point?” The Christian Science Monitor 23 Sept. 2013. Web 27 Oct. 2013