Close up of girls hands typing on tablet at homework session.

Homework: Friend or Foe?

There is much debate about the value of homework, particularly in the elementary grades. Some recent authors and bloggers have taken up the charge to abolish homework at the elementary level. This argument is based on an erroneous belief that research has shown homework at this level has no impact on student achievement.

Those who are making this argument tend to cite a study from Duke University researcher Harris Cooper. Dr. Cooper has researched the impact of homework twice, once in the late 80s, and again in 2006, a study which confirmed the prior findings. The problem with using this research to justify abolishing homework is the researchers found homework did improve students’ performance on classroom-based assessments in students as young as second grade. So where are people getting the idea that homework has no effect or, in some arguments, a negative effect?

Most Recent Research on Homework…

In the most recent effort, Cooper and his colleagues looked at 16 years’ worth of research related to homework and its impact on student achievement. As is typical in research, some of the studies were better than others. In looking at the studies with weaker, correlational research designs (those that did not include a comparison group nor control for extraneous variables that may impact student outcomes), Cooper found homework had no effect on student achievement in the elementary grades. Since these studies did not control for other variables, however, it is impossible to know if homework had no effect or if something else was happening that may have negated the impact of homework on students’ learning.

Cooper also looked at studies with stronger research designs. These studies compared groups of students who did homework with similar students who did not do homework. Using a comparison group increases the chances of isolating the impact of homework on the outcomes of interest. In these studies, students who had done homework scored higher on classroom assessments of related content than students who had not done homework. This was true at all grade levels K-12. In Dr. Cooper’s words, “The bottom line really is all kids should be doing homework, but the amount and type should vary according to their developmental level and home circumstances” (Duke Today, 2006, para. 11).

In short, the body of research on homework shows that appropriate amounts have a positive effect on students’ learning at all grade levels. While Cooper warns against overloading students with homework, as this can be detrimental, abolishing homework at any grade level is certainly contradictory to his findings. The focus of homework efforts, therefore, should be on providing meaningful and appropriate homework for elementary students.

The studies that were examined were published between 1987 and 2003, so it is highly likely the research looked at traditional types of homework. As more schools and districts move toward digital learning environments and ubiquitous access to technology, we need to consider how this might change homework and how this new type of homework impacts student learning. There is very little research at this point on flipped classrooms, for example. This is an interesting approach because it runs rather contrary to views that homework should be relevant, meaningful, and consist of activities that cannot be done in the classroom environment. By definition, the flipped classroom moves the traditional classroom activities to home and more relevant, engaging activities into the classroom. How does this affect the impact of homework on learning? What other digitally-rich activities are now being assigned as homework? Will this make homework more or less effective in improving student learning? We would love to hear what you think. And, if you’re doing the research, let us know. We’d love to help out!

In future blogs, we’ll provide some examples of digitally-rich homework ideas. Please share yours so we can pass them along!


Duke Today. (2006, March 7). Duke study: Homework helps students succeed in school, as long as there isn’t too much. Available from