Do All Students Need Homework?

Vatterott_c120x148A parent once asked her daughter’s teacher, “If my daughter already knows how to do these math problems, why does she have to do 30 of them?”—to which the teacher replied, “Well, if she already knows how to do them, then she should breeze right through it.”

The answer to the question, “Do all students need homework?” depends on what you think the purpose of homework is. If you believe its purpose is to reinforce learning or extend learning outside the classroom, then you probably believe that students need more challenging homework. If you believe its purpose is to develop independent learners, then you probably believe students should be able to create their own homework. If you believe its purpose is simply to build the habit of doing homework, then you probably believe all students must have homework.

The idea that some students would not have homework makes many people uncomfortable because it may seem unfair. But if you believe that the purpose of homework is to help students master a set of standards for a grade level or course—and the student has done that—then you may be quite comfortable with some students not doing homework.

In standards-based systems, homework is often optional. If the student can pass the assessments, then he or she has shown mastery; the homework is merely a tool for those who need it, as in many college courses. If a student gets 100 percent on the 3rd grade spelling test, that student doesn’t have spelling homework. And no, they don’t get extra homework in other subjects.

Most of us could see the logic of not making an Olympic athlete or a gifted musician do homework because they are using that time to hone a unique talent. But if we stop assigning unnecessary homework to all our students, they may spend that extra time reading; learning Spanish; or delving into their passion for history, science, or art. And isn’t that what educating the whole child is all about?

Post submitted by Cathy Vatterott, author of “Five Hallmarks of Good Homework,” featured in the September 2010 Educational Leadership.


  1. Ouch–the quote from that teacher made me cringe. Yet, it’s a very common response that I think often comes from teachers who are unsure of how to differentiate homework in a way that that’s manageable. How would the teacher reasonably determine which students would have to do fewer problems? How many should those students do? How could this process of deciding who does what homework be managed on a daily basis? And of course, how would the system be explained to parents and students to create buy-in and a sense of equity?
    I’d love to hear your perspective (and other site visitors’ perspectives) on the practical implications of differentiated homework. This is a definitely a topic worth discussing! Thanks for your post.

  2. I think homework typically perpetuates the learning gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots. The Haves, like my own sons, are able to work on meaningful projects at home with parental assistance, research topics and create movies or powerpoint presentations on the computer, ride to a nearby store to pick up supplies for a poster or model, and attain help on just about any content from one parent or the other. They can call or visit a museum to find out more about the topic or interview the owner of a nearby business to get a different perspective. On the other hand, most of the students I teach (mostly falling in the Have-Not category) have to take the bus to the nearest library to use a computer. Their parents (or single parent in most cases) are busy working 2 jobs and have little time, energy, or money to assist in projects or help with assignments. Others are roaming the streets after school or watching younger brothers and sisters for their parents. Homework is NOT a priority in most of their homes, for numerous reasons. My point is this; If we want students to engage in wonderful critical-thinking and meaningful work, they should be doing these things in school with the guidance and assistance from their “coach” (AKA the teacher!) facilitating, engaging, encouraging, questioning, and delving along the way. For rote practice (like learning their spelling words) setting aside time to work with a buddy in class can be the answer. In my mind, the purpose of homework should be to provide relevant application of skills and concepts learned in school…and that is best done AT SCHOOL…working with the teacher and partners and small groups. My son pitches in little league baseball….he needs a partner to whom he can throw pitches and he needs scrimmage games to practice his skills in context and he needs a coach there in both instances giving tips on his pitching. My 3rd graders play games with classmates to learn their multiplication facts, work on their vocabulary practice with a partner, create their literature circle reading responses on the class computers or research topics in the school computer lab or library, check over a returned test with a small group to correct their mistakes together, read silently, write their own fables and poems, and look up words in the dictionary alone or with partners…all the while, I am there to assist, clarify, “coach.” If the school is a learning community who needs homework anyway?

  3. I tend to agree. I work in an 8th grade classroom, where it is nearly impossible to get the students to do their homework. The only ones who generally do it are the ones who probably don’t need it for more than a reinforcement resource. The other students don’t do it mostly because of two unfortunate reasons. One, the level of work ethic is very low, and two, they simply don’t care. I generally only assign homework through study guides, when the students have a quiz or test coming up. I do believe homework can be a good tool, but I think that too often it is used because teachers think that they SHOULD assign it for various reasons such as: it proves they’re subjecting students to as much of the content as possible so that they can say they did everything they could to get the students to learn it, or, the fear that parents will think not enough is being done to ensure students understand the material.
    I truly agree with Ms. Kent that students should do what would be homework IN CLASS! I found in school that I would understand the material and examples teachers gave me, but once I got home to do the homework, the questions weren’t the same and as easy as the examples, and then I don’t understand it. Sometimes teachers would review homework and explain as they went along…why don’t they just take a class period to do it during the day! Then the teacher is there to answer questions the students have, instead of having students ask their parents, who most likely don’t remember how to do it! It is the responsibility of the teacher to accomplish as much meaningful and efficient learning as possible within the classroom. Homework? I just don’t know about it anymore.

  4. I often debate of giving my students homework. Many of my students do not have any support from home, and all of my students have a disability. Many times I intend to give homework, but we have time in class to begin and often finish our homework in class. I teach math, and even if I do give homework, I do not give more than 10 problems. I often have to have students make up their homework during lunch or detention because they do not have the motivation themselves, or the parental support at home to complete it themselves. I will never let a child fail because they did not do homework.

  5. I believe that homework should be a fun, interactive activity that implements what the students learned in class. Often times during a lesson, students are able to follow along with concepts being taught, but when asked to complete the assignment independently they are unable to follow through with what was taught. Homework is to make sure they are understanding the concepts and are able to follow through independently. If they are unable to do so, they are then able to see the teacher for re-teach, reassessments. Homework is a good check for understanding, but should not take a student longer than twenty minutes per night. As a math teacher, we make sure it is understood to our students that if they are taking longer than twenty minutes to complete an assignment, they are to have a guardian sign the homework and they will be excused. We will then be able to go over the concepts with the student. This prevents frustration and burn-out. I believe homework is important to check for understanding, but again it should be fun, interactive and not a typical paper/pencil assignment.

  6. This question really got me thinking……DO all students need homework? Probably not. As most would agree, homework should be a simple and quick review of what was taught in class in order for the students to get extra practice. It should not be difficult or frustrating and should not be a “self-teaching” tool in which the students are forced to research and teach themselves in order to complete the work. It should be simple. It should be quick. It should be review. In this case, it seems that perhaps all students would need to be assigned homework, if it is simply just for review. If we keep it short and simple, then the students will still be able to engage in extra time for reading, etc. Right? I teach kindergarten and I do assign homework to all of my students. I give differentiated homework in which each student gets a review on his/her learning level and ability. For example, some students review flash cards of the letters of the alphabet and complete activities dealing with letter sounds, while other more advanced students are practicing reading an assigned leveled reader (book) at home. I feel that all of the students are benefiting from the homework.

  7. I feel that unless a teacher are going to take a grade to go in the gradebook their is no need to give so many problems. I heard a teacher comment the other day that she assigns a worksheet that has three problems from each subject that she taught that day to check for understanding. I really liked this idea.

  8. I as a student believe that homework is definitely not for everyone. I always have trouble doing the homework. My brain won’t cooperate with what I want to do. One night I came home turned off all electronics and had to stay up till 1:00AM just to finish my homework. All the homework wasn’t even make up.


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