In 1981, Secretary of Education Terrence Bell directed the National Commission on Excellence in Education to report on the quality of K-16 education in the United States. Two years later, A Nation at Risk: the Imperative for Educational Reform was published. In addition to its findings, the commission provided recommendations for content, standards and expectations, time, teaching, and leadership and fiscal support. The commission did not provide specific guidance on how to accomplish its recommendations—they stand alone. If district or school leaders were to follow any of the advice without pursuing additional research, undesirable side effects related to inequity would likely occur.
Assigning more homework to high school students was one of those recommendations related to time. Credible research on homework reveals that when secondary students complete appropriate homework regularly, they can expect significant gains in academic achievement. Yet research also shows that students from under-performing subgroups are far less likely to complete homework. If leaders blindly direct teachers to assign more homework, achievement gaps will probably widen.
School and district leaders should consult the research and develop comprehensive homework plans to ensure equity. Such plans should include a number of components:
1. Staff Training (Definition of appropriate homework, homework purpose, homework benefits, time expectations, etc.)
2. Equity Audits (District policy and administrative regulations, school practices, teacher homework policies)
3. Tiered homework interventions to include both school support for students who are unable to complete homework and school response for students who are unwilling to compete homework
4. Communication Plan (students, parents, teachers, counselors, administrators)
Homework can be an effective tool to improve student learning at the secondary level, but educational leaders must take action to ensure every student benefits.