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By GreatSchools Staff

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The lowdown on homework

In the wake of No Child Left Behind, some U.S. schools are putting more emphasis on homework. But the push for higher academic standards has left many parents wondering about the value of their children's assignments — especially if the grownups are the ones who end up frantically finishing reports or art projects. Just how much homework should kids be doing anyway?

Adding to the confusion, the sheer number of schools with varying curricula can pose a challenge for parents looking for consistency. Even within a single district or school, homework expectations can vary widely depending on the whims of teachers. While some first-graders are slaving away for two hours each night, fourth-graders might be getting by with almost no outside work. So what role does homework play in learning? And how much is too much — or too little?

According to Harris Cooper, a homework expert and psychology professor at Duke University, homework is valuable to a point, and researchers have found that some kinds provide more benefits than others. Homework may be most useful as a way to develop study habits and practice skills that can be acquired through repetition, he says. Think spelling, vocabulary, multiplication tables, number placement, and grammar rules for foreign languages: "The biggest homework effects do come from these kinds of skill areas."

As for what constitutes an appropriate amount, one easy-to-remember tip is Cooper’s "10-minute rule," which calls for 10 minutes of homework per day per grade and is endorsed by the National Education Association. Looking for more grade-by-grade guidelines? GreatSchools weighs in with this primer on how much homework is best.