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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 09/15/2009

CHECKING IT OUT: Studies on Homework and The Value of Parent Involvement in Education

By Valerie Strauss

THE ISSUE: A new study challenges the notion that students are bogged down in too much homework.

DISCUSSION: The research was led by Professor Kenneth A. Kiewra, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

He and his co-authors looked at existing research and surveyed hundreds of parents of middle school students at four schools in an unnamed Midwestern city with a population of nearly 200,000.

The study, published in the latest issue of the journal “Scholarlypartnershipsedu,” concluded:

--Fifty-four percent of seventh graders spent 1 to 1 1/2 hours on nightly homework.

--Twenty-five percent of parents “still contend that excessive homework practices infringe on family life.”

--Ninety-six percent of parents were involved to some degree with homework.

--One-quarter of parents sometimes helped with assignments that kids were supposed to do alone.

--There is poor communication about homework between schools and parents.

CONCLUSION: A polling expert told The Sheet that the study’s methodology should restrict the conclusions to--at most--middle school students in the region in which the surveys were taken. The study does not restrict its conclusions in that fashion.

The Answer Sheet also notes that the researchers questioned only parents about time their children spent on homework. Parents, however, do not always know how much time students spend directly on their homework--even if they think they do.

FOR THE RECORD: The study reviews previous research on homework and refers to the work of Harris Cooper, professor of education and psychology at Duke University, who is probably the best known researcher on the subject.

Cooper has concluded that:

--Up until fifth grade, homework should be very limited.

--Middle school students should not spend more than 90 minutes on homework

--Two hours should be the limit in high school.

Beyond those time limits, he has said, research shows that homework has no impact on student performance.


THE ISSUE: A California reader asked The Answer Sheet to check out an education study that concludes that parental involvement in a child’s education is equal to spending more than $1,000 more on that student.

DISCUSSION: The study, “Parental Effort, School Resources, and Student Achievement," was conducted at the University of New Hampshire and published last year in the Journal of Human Resources.

It reached some rather obvious conclusions--including that students do a lot better in school when their parents are involved in their education.

But they also found that parents spend more time talking to their daughters than their sons about school work at dinnertime--and that schools would have to increase per-pupil spending by more than $1,000 to achieve the same results gained by parental involvement.

The researchers used national data from more than 10,000 eighth-grade students in public and private schools, their parents, teachers, and school administrators.

The Answer Sheet reader, Larry Ferlazzo of Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, wondered if something like parental involvement could be quantified in dollar terms.

CONCLUSION: The Washington Post’s expert pollster, Jon Cohen, looked at the research and gave it a nod.

He said the methodology is sound and that it is legitimate to estimate in dollar terms the value of parental help in the context of per-pupil school spending.

Please email The Answer Sheet if you have anything education-related you want checked out.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 15, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Homework, Parents  | Tags:  education research, harris cooper, homework, parental involvement  
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It's no surprise that students perform better with parental involvement. What's missing in the study? Parental involvement for some people is much like explaining healthy serving sizes from McDonald's. Unless you show parents exactly what parent involvement is, they may easily believe that getting their child to school every day, and on time, is being involved.

At the extreme, some parents want their kids to hurry up and get their schoolwork done so they can begin "homeschooling" them in advanced subjects or they have their kids take community college or online classes in addition to their schoolwork.

At the less extreme, we have parents like Dr. Ben Carson's mom who simply demand that their kids put in the time to excel in school, even if they don't understand the schoolwork themselves.

Somewhere in between are the parents who include educational activities as family time, casually build their kids' vocabulary and skills, and encourage their kids do their best at whatever they do.

Please show us a study that analyzes WHAT the parents do to be involved. I think the people who are less involved will see the light if they get a prescription for success. Even McDonald's will agree that once MOST people understand what to do for positive behavior, you'll see a decrease in negative behavior.

Posted by: doglover6 | September 15, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Argh. Homework = current pet peeve. DD's school has decided that the G&T program requires condensing both 3rd and 4th grade into one year. They have assigned the parents daily homework along with the kids: they told us that it is our job to keep tabs on our kids' performance, because with 35 kids in the class, they don't have time to help those who fall behind. So if our kid is not getting something (like, say, the times tables, which they no longer have time to teach), it is our job to catch them up -- or else the kid will be booted from G&T. So we need to review all their classwork and homework every night, and provide extra tutoring for anything they get wrong.

I firmly believe that homework is my kids' responsibility, not mine. How are they going to learn that they can do things on their own if I am hovering and second-guessing every little thing? In my view, 3rd grade homework is useful only to help the teacher identify where the kids are having problems, so she can go back and address that topic again. If my kid messes something up, I WANT the teacher to see it! But instead, I am now assigned to scrutinize everything that DD does, so the teacher sees a nice, clean, properly scrubbed assignment that confirms that everyone is on track.

So that homework study definitely holds true in our District. Parents are involved daily because we have to be -- and kids whose parents don't have either the time or the expertise to help teach things that are missed are at a huge disadvantage.

Posted by: laura33 | September 15, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Assigning a lot of homework is a teacher's way of seeming tough and demanding without having to do effective teaching.

Posted by: foreoki12 | September 15, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

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