Last August, an elementary school teacher’s note went viral after it effectively banned homework from her classroom. Parents (and many teachers, for that matter) seemed to welcome this policy with open arms, sharing the note on social media and wishing their own schools would follow suit.
“Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance,” teacher Brandy Young wrote at the time. Instead, she asked her students spend their afternoons eating dinner together as a family, reading, playing outside, and getting to bed on time.
Basically, she recommended that young school kids get a chance to just be kids, which sounds pretty stinking awesome — and necessary — to me.
Now, a year later, another school’s no homework policy is making headlines. This past July, Marion County Public Schools in Florida announced that it would be eliminating all homework, too, asking students to read for 20 minutes each night instead.
In a statement to Babble, the school district outlined the reasoning behind this decision, which will affect all elementary school students in the district:
“Superintendent Dr. Heidi Maier eliminated the everyday, meaningless taxing homework many students dealt with every night in the past,” the statement reads. “We’re talking about the pages of math problems and other exercises some teachers assigned simply for the sake of assigning homework. Research from Dr. Richard Allington (University of Tennessee) indicates that kind of homework does not benefit students as much as believed. What does benefit students is reading at least 20 minutes each evening with family members.”
Um … can we get a standing ovation for this? I know I’m not the only parent out there who actually dreads those busywork math and reading sheets (maybe even more than my kids). I’m glad to know that it’s not just me — and that research actually backs me up on this.
The research referred to by the Marion County Public Schools is from Dr. Richard Allington, who has argued that reading is a much more effective form of after-school enrichment than homework. Other research seems to come to similar conclusions, especially at the elementary school level. For example, a 2006 Duke University meta-analysis of available research on homework found that the correlation between homework and student achievement was only really meaningful at the middle and high school levels. But for elementary school students, homework pretty much did nothing in terms of student achievement.
This is all fine and good, right? But the question is, would a no homework policy really be as wonderful and effective as it sounds? Well, according to Marion County Public Schools, the answer is a resounding YES. Just a few weeks into the school year, they’re already seeing great results.
“So far, we’ve received astounding support for the decision,” a representative from the district tells Babble. “We now have students wanting to read each evening. In fact, some parents have shared their children won’t even put down their books for dinner and other events each evening.”
Holy moly! Those results sound pretty fantastic to me.
Marion County Public Schools tells Babble that their district isn’t an anomaly though. In fact, no homework policies are cropping up all over. “Marion County Public Schools is not the first district to make this choice,” the representative tells Babble. “We’re simply the one in the limelight right now for doing so.”
And they seem they be entirely correct. Just a quick Google search will yield quite a few school districts that have made headlines over the past few years for adopting no homework policies.
Take the Orchard School in Vermont, where teachers voted unanimously to replace homework with nightly reading and play. Six months later, The Washington Post reports that the school found that no students have slipped academically, and some students may actually be improving academically. Overall, educators at the school describe their students as having “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”
Well, don’t we all wish our kids had just a little more time for creativity and fun at home? I know I do.
Babble was able to catch up with educators across the country whose schools have adopted similar policies and are seeing similar incredible results.
Faith Kwon is a second-grade teacher in East Palo Alto, California with a master’s degree in education from Stanford University. Kwon tells Babble that she has a no homework policy for her second graders because she has not seen any research backing up the need for homework. And most importantly because she wants her students to start their education with a positive outlook and relationship to school, and she fears homework in the early years might “sour” that.
“I am constantly considering the fact that my students have at least a decade of schooling left in their academic careers, and I want them to love school forever,” Kwon tells Babble.
Kwon says she understands why some parents feel that homework is necessarily, if only because it gives them an opportunity to assess their kids’ progress and open up a line of communication between the teacher and the parent. But she feels that there are other, more effective ways to do that.
“I don’t think worksheets or reading logs or writing sentences serves to address the communication issue,” says Kwon. “I think teachers and caregivers need to be more intentional and effortful in communicating as members of a collaborative team.”
Teresa Hichens Olson, Director of Programs at Great River School, a charter school in Minnesota, is on the same page as Kwon. Olson tells Babble that Great River School hasn’t assigned homework in the entire 14 year history of the school.
“We have goats and chickens and believe strongly in hands-on learning,” Olson tells Babble. “We have a 3-hour work time every day for elementary where a child can work independently or in a group. In middle school and high the principles are the same but the student may choose to work at home at home with larger projects.”
Sounds pretty idyllic, huh? As for how it’s worked out for them, Olson says it as amazing as it sounds. “Students feel connected, have strong relationships with their teachers, and don’t do repetitive work,” Olson shares with Babble. “We were rated the best school in Minnesota in 2015 by US News Report, but more importantly our students love learning, and the act of thinking.”
Woven through all the stories coming out of schools that have adopted a no homework policy is the theme of students taking the reins to their education and feeling empowered in their learning journeys.
To me, homework has always seemed to be a method schools use to keep their students accountable and teach a certain amount of self-discipline and vigor. I’m all for that, but maybe we need to start trusting that our kids can learn those skills without homework by being the passionate, curious, natural learners they already are.
I’m totally on board. Are you?