Homework is an instructional strategy in which tasks are assigned by teachers to be completed by students during non-school hours (Cooper, 2007). Homework is a unique educational practice in that it is the only learning strategy a teacher may use that crosses the boundary between the school and the home (Vatterott, 2018). The practice of homework originated over 100 years ago, when learning consisted primarily of drill and memorization. Students typically demonstrated their learning by reciting, which required preparation at home (Gill & Schlossman, 2004).
The practice of homework has been controversial since at least the early 1900s (Gill & Schlossman, 2003). Public attitudes both for and against homework have historically reflected societal trends and the prevailing educational philosophy of the time, influenced by unique historical events and sentiments that drove the movement for or against homework. Historically, those movements have cycled about every 30 years (Cooper, 2007). Early in the twentieth century, in concert with the rise of progressive education, an anti-homework movement was a centerpiece of the progressive platform (Kralovec & Buell, 2000). As pediatrics grew as a medical specialty, more doctors began to speak out about the effect of homework on the health and well-being of children. At the same time, labor leaders were protesting working hours and working conditions for adults, advocating for a 40-hour workweek. Child labor laws were used as a justification to protect children from excessive homework (Vatterott, 2018).
By 1930, the anti-homework sentiment had grown so strong that a Society for the Abolition of Homework was formed. Many school districts across the United States voted to abolish homework, especially in the lower grades (Gill & Schlossman, 2000). After the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957, the trend toward less homework was quickly reversed as the United States became obsessed with competing with the Russians (Gill & Schlossman, 2004). But by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the pendulum would swing back against homework with the anti-homework arguments reminiscent of the progressive arguments of the early twentieth century. Two prominent educational organizations, the American Educational Research Association and the National Education Association, went on record opposing excessive homework (Wildman, 1968). In 1983, the study A Nation at Risk claimed there was a “rising tide of mediocrity” in schools and that a movement for academic excellence was needed (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). The cycle swung back as A Nation at Risk explicitly called for “far more homework” for high school students (Kralovec & Buell, 2000).
By the late 1990s, however, the tide would begin to shift back to an anti-homework focus. Since then, there has been a strong and consistent anti-homework movement, similar to the anti-homework cycles of the 1930s and 1940s, and the late 1960s to early 1970s. Canada and the United Kingdom were two of the earliest countries to create policies limiting homework. A ban on primary homework was recommended in the United Kingdom in 2009. In 2010, Toronto’s school policy prohibited kindergarten homework, weekend and holiday homework and the Department of Education in the Philippines prohibited weekend homework. Around the same time, some elementary schools in the United States began limiting or eliminating homework (Vatterott, 2018).
Most recently, concerns about homework, especially for elementary students, have been raised in many countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, Ireland, Greece, England, Spain, France, India, China, Japan, Singapore, and Australia (Vatterott, 2018). The most consistent trend in the United States has been the increasingly popular ban on elementary school homework or limiting elementary homework to reading. (Vatterott, 2018).