Should Schools Give Summer Homework?

During the past two years, the Covid pandemic has greatly disrupted American education, forcing many school districts to use remote instruction for months on end. This has resulted in significant learning loss for students. A recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that the proportion of high school students meeting proficiency standards dropped five percentage points in math and three points in English. What’s more, this likely underestimates learning loss since the states with the biggest disruptions didn’t give proficiency tests. Concern over the extent to which students have fallen behind has renewed debate over whether schools should give homework over the summer. Two educators square off about whether that’s a good idea.

Children learn best when instruction is continuous. A long summer vacation in which students do no schoolwork disrupts the rhythm of learning, leads to forgetting, and requires time be spent reviewing old material when students return to school in the fall. Summer homework can help prevent this.

Studies show that, on average, achievement test scores decline between spring and fall, and the loss is more pronounced for math than reading. All students, regardless of economic status, show roughly equal amounts of decline in math skills over the summer. But substantial differences are found when it comes to reading. While middle-class students on average maintain or improve their reading during the summer, children from impoverished families often lose ground. Teachers have seen the same kind of learning loss after long Covid-related school closures.

A long summer break from all academics can also have negative consequences for children with special educational needs. And it can be an extra burden for children who don’t speak English at home: For them, it’s not simply a matter of relearning academic material; in many cases, they also must re-acquaint themselves with the language of instruction.

A summer with no schoolwork disrupts the rhythm of learning.

I don’t know of studies that have directly examined whether students who get summer homework do better in school the next school year. But research has shown that summer school can be highly effective, and summer homework might be considered a “low dose” of summer school.

Summer assignments can vary from giving students a head start in reading books they’ll cover in next year’s English class to having them read chapters of a textbook they’ll be tested on when they return to school. Whatever form it takes, summer homework can have a positive effect on students’ achievement. With so many schools struggling to help students who’ve fallen behind during the pandemic, summer homework seems like an obvious solution to try.


Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience, Duke University

With all the concern about Covid-related learning loss among students, it’s tempting to turn to summer homework as a solution. But that might do more harm than good.

Schools should think carefully before assigning summer homework, and not just because it stresses out students (and parents). The truth is, homework doesn’t accomplish what we assume it does. Research shows there’s only a moderate correlation between homework and standardized test scores or long-term achievement in middle school. And research indicates that, even in high school, too much homework can be counterproductive.

Some studies claim that students lose skills if they don’t practice them over the summer. But if a child can’t regain his grasp of fractions with a brief review, maybe those skills weren’t taught well enough in the first place. Doing a mountain of math sheets without a teacher’s help—and perhaps incorrectly—isn’t the answer.

Summer homework negatively affects how students feel about school and learning.

But there are a few things summer homework does accomplish effectively: It steals time away from other important aspects of learning, such as play, which helps young people master social skills and teamwork. In addition, writing book reports means fewer hours being physically active, which is essential for good health and weight control, not to mention proper brain development.

I’m hugely in favor of students reading over the summer, but asking them to plow through a long required-reading list turns an activity that should be fun into a dreaded chore.

Perhaps worst of all, summer homework affects how students feel about learning and school. Summer is a critical time for them to relax and pursue their interests. Nobody wants to spend that time with a long to-do list hanging over them. Do we want our children to start the year refreshed and ready to learn? Or burned out and resentful? It’s something every school should carefully consider.


Co-author, The Case Against Homework

What does your class think?

Should schools give summer homework?

Please enter a valid number of votes for one class to proceed.

Should schools give summer homework?

Please select an answer to vote.

Should schools give summer homework?

Total Votes: 0
Thank you for voting!
Sorry, an error occurred and your vote could not be processed. Please try again later.
Skills Sheets (1)
Lesson Plan (1)