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Homework Won’t Kill You…Will It?

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High school students who spend more time on homework are more mentally engaged at school but suffer from increased academic stress, a lack of day to day balance in their lives, and even physical health issues, according a recent article published in The Journal of Experimental Education.

In most modern upper middle class homes, homework is considered to be helpful. It is a way for students to gain a competitive edge over others and broaden their understanding of some subjects. However, many parents would be shocked to learn that homework, and parental pressure to complete it, is actually causing tremendous stress on their children. In fact, some students report that they are willing to sacrifice their health and integrity to complete an assignment and increase their academic standing. In such a high stress environment, learning is becoming secondary and completing an assignment is seen as necessary to gain proper credentials and be competitive.

To assess the effects of homework, the researchers sampled 4,317 students from ten different high performing high schools in upper-middle class communities. In the study, students were asked to answer open-ended and Likert type questions during a 40 minute survey. The Likert type was designed to measure the relationship between homework and well-being and engagement. The open-ended questions were designed to get a feel for the student’s voice and opinion on certain effects of homework. Schools were asked to administer the surveys during time periods between stressful events such as finals to avoid skewing the data.

The study shows 56 percent of students find homework to be a primary stressor. Students also say that they often find homework to be tedious and boring and do not believe they are gaining much out of it. Further reports indicate that students are more stressed and less able to sleep due to homework load. This lack of sleep and stress leads to students having a hard time focusing in class and some physical health problems, like an upset stomach.

Many may ask, “If homework is so stressful then why do it?” Some answers that were noted are that students only complete these assignments because overall grades usually hinge on homework. Other reasons range from parental pressure to concerns about getting into college. One particularly interesting response about college expectations was, “College admissions expect students do so much, when in reality, the only way to truly be that outstanding is to not sleep and kill yourself with work”.

This study suggests that educators need to take a look at the amount of homework that they are giving. It is not to say that homework should be banned but rather too much homework can be counterproductive therefore assignments should be gauged for maximum effectiveness. In the way of research, this study draws attention of researchers back to the fundamental questions of why homework is given and how effective it really is. Although this survey only covered a relatively small percentage of students, its effects are profound.

Future research should be directed at covering more ground and possibly repeating this study with less privileged schools. Furthermore, research should be done to test the effects of removing homework loads to some extent from students.

Galloway, M., Conner, J., & Denise, P. (2013). Nonacademic Effects of Homework in Privileged, High-Performing High Schools. The Journal of Experimental Education, 81(4), 490-510. doi: 10.1080/00220973.2012.745469


By Chad Sechrest

NC State Pre-Service Teacher