2008 August 18 Monday
Extra Homework No Help To Most Students

Yet another unrealistic hope for turning up the performance of most students gets shot down.

BINGHAMTON, NY - While U.S students continue to lag behind many countries academically, national statistics show that teachers have responded by assigning more homework. But according to a joint study by researchers at Binghamton University and the University of Nevada, when it comes to math, piling on the homework may not work for all students.

Published in the July issue of the Econometrics Journal, researchers found that although assigning more homework tends to have a larger and more significant impact on mathematics test scores for high and low achievers, it is less effective for average achievers.

"We found that if a teacher has a high achieving group of students, pushing them harder by giving them more homework could be beneficial," said Daniel Henderson, associate professor of economics at Binghamton University. "Similarly, if a teacher has a low ability class, assigning more homework may help since they may not have been pushed hard enough. But for the average achieving classes, who may have been given too much homework in an attempt to equate them with the high achieving classes, educators could be better served by using other methods to improve student achievement. Given these students' abilities and time constraints, learning by doing may be a more effective tool for improvement."

The Bush-Kennedy legislative monstrosity known as No Child Left Behind has created pressure on schools to assign more homework in hopes of raising standardized test scores. The continuing quest to turn America into Lake Woebegone (the mythical town where all children are above average) keeps running up against the genetically determined intellectual limits of the real world students.

"There has been an extensive amount of research examining the influences of students' achievement, but it has been primarily focused on financial inputs such as class size or teachers' credentials," said Eren. "Our study examined the affect that additional homework has on test scores." While past studies suggest that nearly all students benefit from being assigned more homework Henderson and Eren discovered that only about 40% of the students surveyed would significantly benefit from an additional hour of homework each night.

According to Henderson, the findings should be of particular interest to schools who have responded to the increased pressures to pass state-mandated tests by forcing students to hit the books even harder. "This does not mean that homework is unimportant for average achievers," says Henderson. "But it does mean that this population may also benefit from other activities such as sports, art or music, rather than additional hours of math homework."

The best way to raise test scores is to make students smarter. Women could eat more salmon while pregnant and then breast feed. Both these activities will probably boost IQ by providing growing brains with more omega 3 fatty acids. Beyond that women could try harder to hook up with smarter guys in order to give their offspring smarter genes. But legislated changes in school environments aren't going to help much if at all.

The best way to improve education is to break the link between schools and certification.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 August 18 10:26 PM  Education

JBS said at August 18, 2008 11:10 PM:

"But it does mean that this population may also benefit from other activities such as sports, art or music, rather than additional hours of math homework."

Yes, because we know how much low performing black students hate to play sports.


Stephen said at August 19, 2008 3:04 AM:

I remember a comedian who performed a sketch where she was trying to chair a meeting of the Association of Parents Whose Children Are Good At Sport. v.funny.

Stephen said at August 19, 2008 3:08 AM:
Women could eat more salmon while pregnant and then breast feed. Both these activities will probably boost IQ by providing growing brains with more omega 3 fatty acids.

...while at the same time lowering IQ because of the build up of heavy metals!

Stephen said at August 19, 2008 3:27 AM:

Homework is a crock - a teacher friend (totally burnt out) explained that the dumber the parents the louder the demand that their (dumb) child be given extra homework.

She explained the obvious - no amount of homework will compensate for the parents having failed to sit the child on their knee and teaching them to read.

Randall Parker said at August 19, 2008 7:33 PM:


See this US EPA/FDA table on mercury in fish and notice how low mercury is in salmon. Salmon also has about the best ratio of omega 3 to other fatty acids of the fish I've looked at. Salmon is the best choice.

Stephen said at August 19, 2008 10:41 PM:

I do like sashimi - atlantic salmon works well.

averros said at August 23, 2008 4:40 PM:

Fish... heh... are we being entirely sane? Does anyone seriously think a Chinese teenager who has all As is smarter because he's eating better?

It's culture, stupid. Destroy the culture of self-reliance with the do-gooder brainwashing, and kids wont's be motivated to learn anything but how to look cool. The wishy-washy pandering to losers so endemic in US pretty loudly tells the kids that it's ok to be a loser. In the Soviet schools being an academic loser was a sure way to be on a receiving end of constant humiliation by the teachers - so kids tried to stay competitive. It's kind to hard to be cool when you're being put down before other kids. So being cool there meant having good grades (which, in the presence of pretty tough standards for tests and textbooks, meant learing how to reason efficiently) while not being seen as brownnosers - which, ironically, was producing the kind of people the US high-tech companies are dying to hire.

Well, nowadays Russia is busy aping the worst parts of the American culture - including the political correctness in schools; already, the effects are quite evident - bloggers in their 20s are borderline illiterate, and nobody seems to want to be an engineer, they're all going for careers in PR, marketing and sales.

Randall Parker said at August 23, 2008 5:12 PM:


It is culture? You haven't spent much time studying the psychometric research. Yet you call someone else stupid on the subject of IQ and school performance.

Omega 3 fatty acids really do raise IQs when omega 3s are boosted pre and post natally. Though the amount of the boost isn't going to close IQ gaps between races.

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