Piling on the homework doesn't help kids do better in school. In fact, it can lower their test scores.
That's the conclusion of a group of Australian researchers, who have taken the aggregate results of several recent studies investigating the relationship between time spent on homework and students' academic performance.
According to Richard Walker, an educational psychologist at Sydney University, data shows that in countries where more time is spent on homework, students score lower on a standardized test called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The same correlation is also seen when comparing homework time and test performance at schools within countries. Past studies have also demonstrated this basic trend.
Inundating children with hours of homework each night is detrimental, the research suggests, while an hour or two per week usually doesn't impact test scores one way or the other. However, homework only bolsters students' academic performance during their last three years of grade school. "There is little benefit for most students until senior high school (grades 10-12)," Walker told Life's Little Mysteries.
The research is detailed in his new book, "Reforming Homework: Practices, Learning and Policies" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
The same basic finding holds true across the globe, including in the U.S., according to Gerald LeTendre of Pennsylvania State University. He and his colleagues have found that teachers typically give take-home assignments that are unhelpful busy work. Assigning homework "appeared to be a remedial strategy (a consequence of not covering topics in class, exercises for students struggling, a way to supplement poor quality educational settings), and not an advancement strategy (work designed to accelerate, improve or get students to excel)," LeTendre wrote in an email. [Kids Believe Literally Everything They Read Online, Even Tree Octopuses]
This type of remedial homework tends to produce marginally lower test scores compared with children who are not given the work. Even the helpful, advancing kind of assignments ought to be limited; Harris Cooper, a professor of education at Duke University, has recommended that students be given no more than 10 to 15 minutes of homework per night in second grade, with an increase of no more than 10 to 15 minutes in each successive year.
Most homework's neutral or negative impact on students' academic performance implies there are better ways for them to spend their after school hours than completing worksheets. So, what should they be doing? According to LeTendre, learning to play a musical instrument orparticipating in clubs and sports all seem beneficial, but there's no one answer that applies to everyone.
"These after-school activities have much more diffuse goals than single subject test scores," he wrote. "When I talk to parents … they want their kids to be well-rounded, creative, happy individuals — not just kids who ace the tests."
Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover. Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries, then join us on Facebook.
In case you were sleeping, we rounded up the latest news and updates about getting a good night sleep in this week’s news cycle. And this week the best news came from you. These four personal stories published around the Web show that sleep troubles are real and they are stigmatized, but you can do something about it.
Let us know in the comments: What did you read and love this week?
1. “I had the sleep habits of a colicky infant… I cried like a baby as well.”
In her blog post, "What a year of working the graveyard shift taught me about sleep," Washington Post staffer Sarah Kaplan, illustrates the agonizing realities of trying to sleep during the day and work at night.
“When I finally did nod off, it was at midnight, at my desk, my cheek stuck to the pages of my notebook,” she wrote.
MORE: The Washington Post
2. “Why is not getting enough sleep considered cool?”
San Diego State University student Jessica Beeli laments that not getting enough sleep is increasingly becoming a norm for college students. It’s straight up unhealthy, and she wants to change the norm.
"Sleep deprivation is cool in the way that not doing homework or not studying is cool. … Sleep really is cool," she wrote on the HuffPost blog. "Please stop bragging about not getting enough sleep. Instead brag about much sleep you got."
MORE: The Huffington Post
3. “In the name of getting more done during the day, I’m going to try to get more done with my sleep.”
The reason entrepreneur William Vanderbloemen decided to get better sleep wasn’t necessarily because it helps prevent weight gain, cancer susceptibility, heart disease, or early death.
“What really got my attention was hearing that getting enough sleep leads to higher creativity, problem solving and productivity,” the Vanderbloemen Search Group CEO wrote in a column in Forbes.
He pledged to make six changes to get a lot better at sleeping.
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.