How Much Homework Is Too Much?

Jared Cooney Horvath is a globally recognized Science of Learning expert committed to helping teachers, students and parents achieve better outcomes through applied brain and behavioral science.

The Dog Ate My Reasons ...

If you ask five plumbers why they always install drain pipes with a gradient of at least 1.65%, they’ll all tell you that it’s the minimum safe ‘fall’ to prevent waste-water backflow.


If you ask five pro tennis players why they commonly change racquets during a match, they’ll all tell you that it helps maintain consistent string tension.


If you ask five teachers why they regularly assign homework, they’ll all likely tell you something very different -- from providing practice opportunities, to flipping classroom learning, to engaging parents in the learning process, and so on.


Despite this lack of consensus, the popular justifications for homework generally appear to be reasonable and logical. However, upon deeper inspection, it turns out these justifications often reflect personal preference rather than a robust base of evidence


In Australia, a country with around 10,000 schools, students this year will collectively complete approximately 400 million hours of homework. That’s more than 45,000 years’ worth of time!


And this, by the way, is in a country where over 90% of 13 to 17-year-olds fail to meet the minimum basic physical activity guidelines (according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).


This is not to suggest that kids should necessarily be running around instead of doing homework -- although a compelling argument could be made for this. Instead, it's meant to emphasize that with such a massive investment of time and energy, it’s reasonable to assume we must have very clear answers to questions like:


Is homework actually effective at improving student learning and performance? How much homework is ideal? How frequently should it be assigned? For which age groups is it best suited?


Unfortunately, for most schools and parents, these answers are elusive and/or irrelevant in the face of the well-worn “homework is important because we’ve always done it” argument (although, to be fair, in recent years the blind cult of homework has faced more rigorous scrutiny across the globe).


In my latest 'From Theory to Practice' video, I examine a research study that helps us better answer some of the aforementioned questions about homework:


Adolescents’ Homework Performance in Mathematics and Science: Personal Factors and Teaching Practices (Fernández-Alonso, et al | 2015)


Here are some of the questions I tackle in this installment:

  • What is the PISA, and how has it led many schools astray when it comes to their general homework philosophy/policy?

  • Is the relationship between homework and student performance a linear function, or is homework subject to diminishing returns?

  • According to research, approximately how much homework supports peak learning and academic performance?

  • What are some key takeaways for teachers regarding how we might think about and approach homework going forward?

Give it a watch, and let me know what you think in the YT comments section.


And, as always, if you find this video valuable, interesting and/or entertaining, you can support us by liking, sharing and subscribing to our YouTube channel ;)



Video Transcript

Hello everybody, and welcome to this week's From Theory to Practice, where I take a look at the research so you don't have to.


Now, as you may know, I have a new book out called '10 Things Schools Get Wrong (And How We Can Get Them Right)'.


So, for this series of ten videos, I've deliberately selected research papers that align with the different chapters of that book.


In this installment we're looking at Chapter 4, which is entitled Homework: The Problem With Opportunity Cost.


As you might expect, this chapter dives deeply into the homework issue -- what works and what doesn't.


So the article I’ve selected this week that aligns with this chapter is called Adolescence Homework Performance in Mathematics and Science by Fernández-Alonso and colleagues.


Now, to understand this paper, there are two important issues surrounding homework that we have to come to terms with, and the first is this …

Click to view remainder of the transcript ...

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