The Most Effective Homework: Advise From Expert Dr. Harris Cooper


How much homework is too much? What is a parent’s most appropriate role?

These were two of the questions that lead the Glencoe PTO to invite Duke University professor, Dr. Harris Cooper.

Like many other North Shore parents, Mibs struggles to find the appropriate balance between concerned motivator and dominating tyrant when supervising our own children’s homework. We also worry about whether our child has too much, to little or just the right amount of homework – and what to do if “just right” isn’t the answer. For that reason, we jumped at the PTO’s invitation to learn from their thoughtfully imported expert.

Cooper provided clear, practical advice – probably because he combined his experience raising two children and serving on the Board Of Education of a K – 12 school district, with his extensive research into homework efficacy. He often referred to strategies he used as a parent—called his “Cooper Kid Rules”—as examples to illustrate his advice.

A brief summary of Cooper’s presentation follows. He has agreed to continue the conversation on-line via Please post your thoughts and questions for Dr. Cooper in the Hot Topic at the end of this article.

Is homework effective?

Yes! The average student doing homework performs better than 73% of the students doing no homework.

How much homework should our children be doing each night?

Follow the 10-minute rule. In grade school, on average, students should do 10 minutes of homework, per grade, per night. Students in kindergarten and first grade should be asked to do a developmentally appropriate activity for 10 minutes. Middle school students should average one hour of homework.

The 10 minute rule has long been teacher folk lore and a guiding principal in many school districts. Recent research has proven the wisdom of the folk lore.

High school students should homeworkcomputeraverage 30 minutes of homework per class—more for honors classes. However, those students should not have more than 2 1/2 hours of homework each night.


What if my child takes longer to complete homework assignments?

If your child regularly spends more (or substantially less) time than expected on homework assignments, discuss this in a respectful way with the teacher.

However, be sure to carefully monitor what your child is actually doing during his or her homework time first. Teachers will be much more responsive when you “tend your own garden” before complaining about theirs.

When does parental involvement help?

Elementary School: Appropriate parent participation clearly improves performance in the elementary grades, particularly when:

  • Parents demonstrate how much they value homework.
  • Parents model the skills that the child is developing in their own daily life, like reading a book while their child reads theirs, or balancing a checkbook while their child does math.
  • Parents train their child to develop good homework habits.

Middle School: There is little evidence that parent participation improves achievement after elementary grades. In fact, involved parents tend to have negative results in middle school.

High School: There is little evidence that parent involvement improves grades or achievement in high school. However, if their child specifically requests help, parents can have a positive effect in the language arts or where that parent possesses a particular expertise. Overall, parental assistance in math produces negative results.

The most effective form of parental involvement in high school is rule setting, provision of structure and support for autonomy (see below).

What are the most beneficial types of parental involvement in homework?

Autonomy Support: Parents encouraging their child to problem solve independently.

The worst thing a child can learn is “when the going gets tough, Mom gets going.” Most significant, as parents’ support for autonomy increases, so does student achievement.

Provision Of Structure: Parents providing clear and consistent guidelines about homework that encourage students to develop a regular routine which works with their schedule and learning style.

This can easily be accomplished by asking your child, “Where and when do you want to do your homework?”

Somewhat surprisingly, Cooper’s son routinely completed all of his homework in a quiet place immediately after school. However, his daughter spread her books and papers out in front of the television set for six constantly interrupted hours. Neither child was more or less successful than the other. Cooper only asked them to be consistent in their approach.

parentskidhomeworkWhat are the least beneficial types of parental involvement in homework?

Direct Participation: Taking an active interest in the daily assignments. Direct parental involvement often produces negative results. Of course, this could be a cyclical relationship, parents become more involved because of their child’s poor achievement.

Interference: Parents making homework more difficult. Parents can unintentionally interfere for reasons that include pressuring the child to complete their work and giving conflicting instructions.

What are the best tips for parents?

Be A Stage Manager: Provide your child with a quiet, well-lit place to study, equipped with the needed materials—like paper, pencils, and a dictionary.

Be A Motivator: Be positive about homework. The attitude you express will become the attitude that your child acquires. Homework provides a great opportunity for you to convey to your child the importance of school.

Be A Role Model: Model the skills they are practicing. Turn off the TV and read when your student is reading. Help them understand how the skills they are developing relate to adult activities.

Be A Monitor: Watch for signs of frustration or failure. Suggest a break when you see them. When your child asks for help, provide guidance not answers.

Be A Mentor: When the teacher asks that you play a role in homework, do so happily. Stay away when homework is meant to be done alone. Over-involvement can be harmful to your child’s academic health.

For more information about Dr. Cooper, please see his bio at To ask communicate further with him, please comment below.

Dr. Cooper’s visit was part of a yearlong exploration of balance in family life, called “Glencoe Families: Increasing Happiness, Reducing Stress, Finding the Balance.” To learn more about their programs please see

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