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Those arguments have merit, but why homework boost academic achievement?The research cited by educators just doesn’t seem to make sense.And while one study found that parental help with homework generally doesn’t boost students’ achievement—and can even have a negative effect— another concluded that economically disadvantaged students whose parents help with homework improve their performance significantly.
For example, there’s something called “retrieval practice,” which means trying to recall information you’ve already learned.
The optimal time to engage in retrieval practice is not immediately after you’ve acquired information but after you’ve forgotten it a bit—like, perhaps, after school.
These are things that schools of education and teacher-prep programs typically don’t teach.
So it’s quite possible that much of the homework teachers assign just isn’t particularly effective for many students.
Focusing on those distinctions could be illuminating.
A study that looked specifically at math homework, for example, found it boosted achievement in elementary school than in middle school—just the opposite of the findings on homework in general.Rather than giving up on homework because of social inequities, schools could help parents support homework in ways that don’t depend on their own knowledge—for example, by recruiting others to help, as some low-income demographic groups have been able to do.Schools could also provide quiet study areas at the end of the day, and teachers could assign homework that doesn’t rely on technology.One study found that lower-income ninth-graders “consistently described receiving minimal homework—perhaps one or two worksheets or textbook pages, the occasional project, and 30 minutes of reading per night.” And if they didn’t complete assignments, there were few consequences.I discovered this myself when trying to tutor students in writing at a high-poverty high school.Good homework assignments might have helped a student learn a lot about, say, Ancient Egypt.But if the reading passages on a test cover topics like life in the Arctic or the habits of the dormouse, that student’s test score may well not reflect what she’s learned.A homework assignment could require students to answer questions about what was covered in class that day without consulting their notes.Research has found that retrieval practice and similar learning strategies are far more powerful than simply rereading or reviewing material.The following year, the superintendent of a Florida school district serving 42,000 students eliminated homework for all elementary students and replaced it with twenty minutes of nightly reading, saying she was basing her decision on “solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students.” Many other elementary schools seem to have quietly adopted similar policies.Critics have objected that even if homework doesn’t increase grades or test scores, it has other benefits, like fostering good study habits and providing parents with a window into what kids are doing in school.