Public attitudes toward homework go through cycles. Currently, homework is in favor with most educators. They believe it can be an important supplement to in-school academic activities and that it likely has a significant impact on students' educational trajectories. Also, homework is an important part of most school-aged children's daily routine. However, it is also clear that not all teachers assign homework. This suggests significant variation across students in the distribution of effects of homework.
Homework is often a source of friction between home and school. Recently, accounts of conflicts between parents and educators have appeared throughout the popular press. Parents protest that assignments are too long or too short, too hard or too easy, or too ambiguous. Teachers complain about a lack of support from parents, lack of training, and lack of time to prepare effective assignments. Students complain about the time homework takes away from other activities. Many students consider homework the chief source of stress in their lives.
The variation in homework practices and the complaints about them are not surprising. Homework assignments are influenced by more factors than any other instructional strategy. Teachers can structure and monitor assignments in a multitude of ways. Student differences play a major role because homework allows students considerable discretion about whether, when, and how to complete assignments. The home environment influences the process by creating a positive or negative atmosphere for study. Finally, the broader community provides other activities that compete for the student's time.
This issue of Theory Into Practice is meant to help school administrators and teachers use homework to best serve the interests of students and families. The issue should help educators create homework policies and practices that are effective, consistent, and based on the best available evidence. Taken as a whole, we hope the articles will be used to formulate and refine guidelines for homework policies and practices.
Brian Gill and Steven Schlossman begin the issue with a brief history of homework in American schooling. They outline the swings in opinion regarding homework evidenced in educator's opinions of the practice. Underlying these peaks and valleys, however, resides a general positive appraisal of the practice by parents. Gill and Schlossman find, nationwide, that the amount of homework assigned to middle and high school students has remained relatively stable over the decades, although it appears that homework is assigned more frequently to young children than in the past.
Pamela Coutts examines the phenomenology of homework. She finds that parents and their children do not share understandings of the meaning of homework. Whereas parents understand it in terms of its long-term socialization goals for students (e.g., improving achievement and study skills), students view homework based on its immediate negative [End Page 171] consequences (denial of access to other activities). However, as students mature, their understanding moves closer to that of their parents. Based on these findings, Coutts calls for schools and districts to establish homework policies and for teachers, parents, and students to communicate clearly with one another.
Janine Bempechat argues that homework can have positive outcomes for students that go beyond improvements in academic achievement. She uses attribution and achievement motivation theories to link homework to changes in students' self-related thoughts and feelings. She shows that when homework is developmentally appropriate it can help build a self-concept that will assist in turning children into lifelong learners. She also highlights the importance of parents in the homework process,especially their role in fostering positive motivation. Bempechat points out that the successful involvement of parents is largely unrelated to economic status. Well-to-do parents can have resource limitations (e.g., lack of time) that interfere with homework assistance, while economically disadvantaged parents can be skilled and effective mentors.
Eunsook Hong, Roberta Milgram, and Lonnie Rowell point out the importance of taking into consideration variations in children's learning styles when fashioning homework assignments. They point out that learning styles ought to affect both how teachers construct homework assignments and how parents construct home environments to facilitate their children's study. They also outline some of the various points at which adults can develop interventions to help make sure...