CYC-Net on Facebook CYC-Net on Twitter Search CYC-Net

Join Our Mailing List

ListenListen to this


Canadian attitudes toward homework

2007 Survey of Canadian attitudes toward learning: Elementary and secondary school

The role of homework in structured learning
Homework is a daily feature of most students' school experience and consists of a series of tasks or activities assigned by teachers to students, generally completed outside normal school hours.(1, 2)

Historically, homework has been a controversial issue, with public opinion alternately swaying between strong support for homework and deep concern about its value and effectiveness. Proponents of homework argue that it can help reinforce what students learn in the classroom, prepare them for further learning, support the development of good working habits, help build their sense of independence and personal responsibility,(3) and enhance communication between parents, students and schools.(4,5,6) Opponents question its contribution to student achievement (7) and suggest that, rather than contributing to learning, homework can make students feel overburdened, reduce their access to leisure, promote cheating, and compound the effects of socio-economic inequalities among students. (8, 9, 10)

Notwithstanding these controversies, parents and educators currently appear to believe that homework plays an important role in the learning experience of students, and they are prepared to invest time and effort in the proper supervision and support of homework. (11) It is therefore no surprise that, according to results from SCAL 2007, an overwhelming majority of Canadians currently believe that homework is an important element of education. Yet it also appears to be a significant cause of stress in many Canadian households.

Effectiveness of homework
A number of studies on the effectiveness of homework suggest that homework has positive effects on grades, test scores and attitudes toward formal learning. (12,13,14, 15) A number of studies on the effectiveness of homework suggest that students who are assigned homework outperform those who are not and that greater amounts of homework can lead to better academic outcomes.(16,17) However, studies also show that homework is a particularly useful instructional tool for high-school students and that it has smaller, and sometimes negative, effects on learning and academic performance among elementary students. (18,19)

CCL is currently conducting a systematic review on the effectiveness of homework, to be published in 2008.

SCAL results reveal that Canadians have mixed feelings about homework. There is a strong consensus among Canadians that homework is a valuable learning tool, but they are split in their opinions on the amount of time spent on homework–by students and their parents. Furthermore, a majority of Canadians indicate that homework, in their experience, has often been a source of household stress.

Perceptions about homework's value
Canadians express strong support for the value of homework. This is equally true, both for parents of school-age children (aged five to 24) and for non-parents, (I) although non-parents are slightly more likely to agree or strongly agree that homework enhances learning and develops good work habits (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Perceptions about the amount of homework assigned
Parents and non-parents express similar opinions about the appropriateness of the amount of homework assigned to students, although parents are somewhat more likely than non-parents to indicate that high-school students are not assigned enough homework (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Perceptions about the amount time spent doing homework
Parents and non-parents have quite different opinions about the appropriateness of amount of time parents spend helping their children with homework. Approximately 40% of non-parents indicate that parents do not spend enough time helping their elementary school children with homework and nearly 60% believe this about high-school students. Many parents also indicate that parents do not spend enough time helping their children with homework, but they are less likely than non-parents to express this opinion and more likely to indicate that parents spend too much time helping with homework (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

Perceptions about homework as a source of household stress
More than two-thirds of Canadians agree or strongly agree that homework has often been a source of household stress. This is true for parents of school-age children and non-parents, although parents are more likely to express this opinion than non-parents (72% of parents vs. 65% of non-parents). Research on homework-related stress suggests that homework stress is experienced by the vast majority of families who have school-age children, and that it is particularly prevalent among families with children transitioning between major school levels and among families facing work–life balance challenges. (20) A growing perception of the importance of school achievement appears to be fuelling parental expectations about school activities that, like homework, are meant to support children's learning. Given the trend toward so-called “intensive parenting” (21) and recent data indicating that, at an average of 9.2 hours per week, homework is the second-most time-consuming activity of adolescent students in Canada, (22) it is not surprising that most Canadian parents feel that homework contributes to household stress.

While many parents report that homework is a source of household stress, this is not universally true. In order to determine which factors are associated with a greater likelihood of experiencing homework-related stress, a logistic regression analysis (see text box) was conducted using gender, country of birth, educational attainment and household income as predictors, and reported levels of homework-related stress as the outcome.

Logistic regression
Logistic regression is used to predict the likelihood of particular outcomes, such as the likelihood that a parent will report homework-related stress. It also helps determine how certain characteristics of the respondents might change the likelihood of a given outcome. Because many demographic factors tend to interact, logistic regression is useful in separating out the influences of factors that tend to interact or covary. For example, since people with higher levels of education tend to earn higher incomes, it is useful to know whether homework-related stress is affected primarily by income or education, or both.

Country of birth is one of the strongest predictors of homework-related stress: parents born outside of Canada are less than half as likely (.36 times as likely) as parents born in Canada to report homework-related stress in their households. Given the challenges faced by many immigrant parents and their children in adapting to educational systems in Canada, not the least of which is very often the acquisition of a new language, it is noteworthy that these families are less likely to report homework-related stress than non-immigrant families. It is possible that previous experiences with the educational systems of their home countries, along with cultural expectations about achievement, discipline and commitment to school work reduce the homework-related stress experienced by immigrant parents. (23)

Education is an important predictor of homework-related stress. Parents without a high-school diploma are twice as likely as those with a high-school diploma to see homework as a source of stress. It is likely that the higher levels of stress reported by parents who have not completed high school is related to the more limited capacity of these parents to assist their children with their homework (II) as well as to additional challenges encountered by parents with limited education (e.g., lower paying and more precarious employment). However, these findings stand in contrast to recent research suggesting that parents possessing higher levels of education are likely to report higher levels of stress around homework as a result of their expectations of greater homework efforts and higher educational aspirations for their children.(24)

Household income is also a significant predictor of homework-related stress, but shows a different pattern than education. Parents in the top household income bracket ($100,000 or more) are more than twice as likely (2.3 times more likely) to report that homework is a source of stress as those in the lowest household income category ($40,000 or less). The significantly higher level of stress associated with homework reported by parents from top-earning households may be associated with the work–life balance challenges faced by parents with demanding careers, or may simply be a reflection of the high educational expectations of parents in this group.

The results indicate that gender is not a strong predictor of homework-related stress. Mothers are slightly more likely (1.19 times more likely) than fathers to identify homework as a source of stress. Such a small difference might seem surprising given that mothers generally take on a larger share of parental duties with respect to helping children with homework. (25) However, even if mothers are more likely to directly experience homework stress, mothers and fathers are likely to be equally aware of it.

In addition to the demographic factors discussed above, parents' and children's experiences with homework and other aspects of schooling are also associated with the tendency to report homework-related stress.

Survey respondents were asked to estimate the overall level of achievement of their oldest school-aged child. Not surprisingly, parents of lower achieving students (those achieving grades of Cs and Ds) are more likely to report that homework is a source of stress (see Figure 4). Understandably, homework is a considerable source of stress for students who are struggling academically and this stress often spills over into the household. (26)

Figure 4

Survey respondents were also asked about their own previous experiences with school. Specifically, they were asked to rate their degree of agreement with the following statements:

Parents whose own experiences with schooling were not particularly positive (i.e., who disagreed with the above statements) are more likely than those who report positive schooling experiences to see homework as stressful (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

Parents' own beliefs about homework are also related to the likelihood of reporting homework-related stress. Parents who indicate that homework does not enhance learning or develop good work habits are more likely to report homework-related stress in their households (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

Finally, attitudes about the amount of homework students are assigned are tightly linked to reports of homework-related stress. Parents who believe students are assigned too much homework almost universally agree that homework is a source of stress. On the other hand, among parents who believe that students are not assigned enough homework, more than 60% still report that homework is a source of household stress (see Figure 7).

Figure 7

Source of all tables: Canadian Council on Learning. Survey of Canadian Attitudes toward Learning, 2007

In sum, SCAL findings suggest that homework-related stress is a prevalent issue in Canada, affecting two-thirds of Canadian families. Homework-related stress appears to be a particularly significant issue among parents with limited education, families with high household incomes, parents whose children struggle in school, whose own experiences with school have been negative, and who are not generally in favour of homework.

A growing body of research suggests that homework helps promote self-discipline, (27) independence and study skills. Moreover, recent studies suggest that boys spend far less time than girls on homework, [28] and have greater difficulty completing homework assignments, a difference frequently associated with the greater educational performance and achievement of female students. (29) Parents' experience of homework-related stress may result, at least in part, from their (largely correct) perception that homework is an important contributor to their children's academic success. The fact that homework-related stress is so widely reported suggests that there is a need for a range of resources and initiatives that can better assist parents' efforts to support their children's engagement in and success with homework. It also lends credence to the argument made repeatedly in much of the research on homework that parents, students, teachers and administrators require appropriate tools to better understand the purpose, goals and expectations surrounding homework. (30)


(I) Non-parents include Canadians who do not have any children and those who do not have any school-age children but do have children in other age groups.

(II) Data from SCAL 2006 revealed that parents with less education are less likely to feel that they have enough knowledge to help with their children's homework.

Also: The analyses and opinions expressed in CCL publications related to SCAL are solely those of the Canadian Council on Learning.


(1) Cooper, H. (1989). Homework. White Plains, NY: Longman.

(2) Cooper, H. M. (2007). The battle over homework: common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents.Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

(3) Cooper, H. (2001). Homework for all–In moderation. Educational Leadership, 58, 7. pp. 34-38.

(4) Cooper, 2007.

(5) Marzano, R. J. and Pickering, D. J. (2007). Response to Kohn's allegations. Centennial, CO: Marzano & Associates. Retrieved Aug. 10, 2007 from

(6) Baumgartner, D.; Bryan, T.; Donahue, M. and Nelson, C. (1993). Thanks for Asking: Parent comments about homework, tests, and grade. Exceptionality, 4, 3. pp. 177-185.

(7) Kohn. A. (2006). The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Books, Perseus Books Group.

(8) Cooper, 2001.

(9) Cooper, 2007.

(10) Marshall, K. (2007, May). The busy lives of teens. Perspectives, 8, 5. pp. 5-15. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

(11) Sweet, R. and Mandell, N. (2005). Exploring limits to parental involvement in their children's homework. In R. Sweet & P. Anisef (Eds.). Preparing for Post-Secondary Education: New Roles for Governments and Families. pp.273-288. McGill-Queens University Press.

(12) Cooper, 1989.

(13) Cooper, 2001.

(14) Keith, T. Z.; Keith, P. B.; Troutman, G. C.; Bickley, P. G.; Trivette, P. S. and Singh, K. (1993). Does parental involvement affect eighth-grade student achievement? School Psychology Review, 22. pp. 474-496.

(15) Trautwein, U. and Koller, O. (2003). The relationship between homework and achievement “Still much of a mystery. Educational Psychology Review, 15, 2. pp. 115-145.

(16) Cooper, H.; Lindsay, J. L.; Nye, B. and Greathouse, S. (1998). Relationships among attitudes about homework, amount of homework assigned and completed, and student achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90. pp. 70-83.

(17) Keith, T.Z. and DeGraff, M. (1997). Homework. In G. Bear, K. Minke, & A. Thomas (Eds). Children's needs II: Development, problems, and alternatives. pp.477-487. Washington, DC: The National Association of School Psychologists.

(18) Cooper, 2001.(19) Cooper, H.; Robinson, J. C. and Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76,1. pp. 1-62.

(20) Sweet, R.; Mandell, N.; Anisef, P. and Adamuti-Trache, M. (2007; in prep.) Managing the home learning environment: parents, adolescents and the homework problems. Report prepared for the Canadian Council on Learning.

(21) Desforges, C. and Abouchaar, A. (2003). The impact of parental involvement, parental support, and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment: A literature review. Report No. 433. London: Department of Education and Skills.

(22) Marshall, 2007.(23) Krahn, H. and Taylor, A. (2005) Resilient teenagers: explaining the high educational aspirations of visible minority immigrant youth in Canada, Journal of International Migration and Integration, 6. pp. 405–434.

(24) Sweet et al, 2007.

(25) Mandell, N. and Sweet, R. (2004). Homework as homework: Reproducing class through women's unpaid labour. Atlantis, 28. pp. 7-18.

(26) Margolis, H. (2005). Resolving struggling readers' homework difficulties: Working with elementary school learners and parents. Preventing School Failure, 50. pp. 5-12.

(27) Laitsch, D. (2006). Self-discipline and student academic achievement. ResearchBrief, 4,6. Retrieved from on Sept. 25, 2007.

(28) Marshall, 2007.

(29) Frenette, M. & Zeman, K. (2007). Why are most university students women? Evidence based on academic performance, study habits and parental influences. Analytical Paper Series. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

(30) Baumgartner, 1993.

This feature:

The International Child and Youth Care Network

Registered Public Benefit Organisation in the Republic of South Africa (PBO 930015296)
Incorporated as a Not-for-Profit in Canada: Corporation Number 1284643-8

P.O. Box 23199, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa | P.O. Box 21464, MacDonald Drive, St. John's, NL A1A 5G6, Canada

Board of Governors | Constitution | Funding | Site Content and Usage | Advertising | Privacy Policy | Contact us

iOS App Android App