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DOES HOMEWORK IMPROVE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT?
Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research, 1987-2003
Harris Cooper, Jorgianne Civey Robinson, and Erika A. Patall
Review of Educational Research Spring 2006, Vol. 76, No. 1, pp. 1-62
College of Education
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The purpose of this paper is to synthesize and analyze information gathered from a large variety
of studies over a long time period and update and reassess that information. Over 69 prior
research studies were analyzed. Homework was defined as any task assigned by schoolteachers
intended for students to carry out during non-school hours. Researchers conducted their analysis
twice; once employing fixed error assumptions and once using random error assumptions.
Recognition was made that the homework impact varies from student to student depending on
how much each student is assigned or completes and the amount of homework reported varied
depending on how the question is asked. Finally, researchers aligned similar studies and
excluded those done without proper methodology.
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Analysis of “Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? A Synthesis of Research,
The question guiding the research is “Does Homework Improve Academic
Achievement?” 69 research studies carried out between the years 1987 and 2003 were
reanalyzed and compared using four research designs. Since advocates for or against homework
have been able to cite single studies to support or refute their positions, the intent of the
researchers was to collect as much evidence as possible on the effects of homework using
research conducted since 1987. Researchers were looking to define the best policies and
practices that will (a) help students to obtain the optimum education benefit from homework, and
(b) help parents to find ways to integrate homework into a healthy and well-rounded family life.
The purpose of conducting this new analysis of the past studies was to update the evidence about
the effects of homework, to determine if questions left unanswered in the past can now be
answered, and to apply new methods of analyzing the data.
Researchers collected data from a Eric, PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, and
Dissertation Abstracts electronic databases. They also searched the Science Citation Index
Expanded and the Social Sciences Citation Index databases from 1987-2004.
In addition, Deans of 77 colleges, school, or departments of education at research-intensive
institutions were asked to share any similar studies. They also contacted 21 researchers who had
been major authors on similar studies. Lastly, they sent letters to research directors of over a
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hundred school districts. An overwhelming 4,400 studies were identified. Two researchers then
examined the title, abstract or document.
Included studies had to have estimated the relationship between a measure of homework
activity on the part of students and a measure of achievement. Studies had to assess students in
kindergarten through 12th grade. Studies on preschool children or postsecondary students were
excluded. Also, only studies conducted in the United States were included.
In the first design, exogenous manipulation of homework, researchers recorded the
number of students and classroom included in the homework and no-homework conditions at the
beginning and end of the experiment; the grade level of the students; the subject matter; the
number of assignments per week and their durations; the measure of achievement; and the
magnitude of the relationship between homework and achievement.
The next design analyzed studies that took naturalistic, cross-sectional measure of the
amount of time the students spent on homework without any intervention on the part of the
researchers and related these to an achievement-related measure. They looked at the same
variables as in the exogenous manipulation studies.
The third type of design was a simpler comparison of time spent on homework and the
measure of achievement. They again recorded the same variables. These studies did include
information on the students’ sex, socioeconomic status, and if any academic labels (gifted,
average, “at risk”, under-achieveing/below grade level, possessing a learning disability, over-
achieveing/above grade level) were applied to the students.
Since three different measure of association were used, they employed a beta-weight
correlation coefficient which they developed. Data integration was achieved by (a) calculating
average effect size, (b) a shifting unit of analysis approach, (c) using homogeneity analyses, (d)
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conducting the analysis twice, employing fixed-error assumptions once and random-error
No matter what type of study was conducted the results indicated a positive relationship
between homework and achievement. Although each of the set of studies contained flaws, the
studies tended not to share the same flaws. There was a wide variety of students providing data.
In addition, the studies were conducted in multiple subject areas.
60 correlations between homework and achievement were reported in 32 documents. 50
correlations were in a positive direction and 19 in a negative direction.
Caution was suggested that this was just an association between the variables and not a
causal connection. Noted was the fact that there was strong evidence that homework and
achievement were positively related for secondary school students. A small negative relationship
was found for elementary school students. Student reports about the relationship of homework
and achievement were significant but parent reports produced a near-zero correlation. Since this
analysis came from only parents of elementary school students this analysis was excluded. While
there were a few exceptions, the overwhelming conclusion was that homework causes improved
This research was incredibly thorough and accounted for almost every variable a
researcher could think of. Researchers were careful to point out that they were only looking at
the effect of homework on achievement, not the effect of achievement on homework. Remaining
questions include: (a) the socioeconomic differences between reporting schools (b) what type of
homework was analyzed? (c) were completion rates and achievement rates higher for project
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based homework versus traditional worksheets? (d) was length of school day a factor in
completion versus achievement rates? (e) how were homework conditions analyzed?