By Tawnell D. Hobbs
December 12, 2018
More districts ban or stop grading it amid complaints of overload, but some parents and teachers aren’t on board.
|Kauffman Leadership Academy in Cleburne, Texas, holds classes until|
5 p.m. to fit in needed lessons to prevent sending work home.
School districts across the country are banning homework, forbidding it on certain days or just not grading it, in response to parents who complain of overload and some experts who say too much can be detrimental.
A new policy in Ridgefield Public Schools in Ridgefield, Connecticut places nightly time limits on homework for most students. It is banned on weekends, school vacations and some other days off for elementary and middle-school students, and isn’t calculated into their overall grades.
Lafayette Parish School System in Louisiana told teachers not to grade homework for grades 2-12 starting this school year. Students in grades K-1 already didn’t receive grades.
The goal of the changes is to give students more time to read, sleep and spend time with family, especially at the elementary level, school administrators say. “Student wellness is becoming a much larger issue,” said Mark Toback, superintendent of Wayne Township Public Schools in Wayne, N.J., which had its first homework-free weekend in October with two more scheduled.
The average number of hours high-school students spent per week on homework increased from 6.8 in 2007 to 7.5 in 2016, the latest year available from the U.S. Department of Education. The average hours for students in K-8 stayed flat at 4.7 during those years.
Homework changes have been met with concern by some teachers, who say it takes away a tool to reinforce the day’s lesson, and parents who feel left out of the academic process.
Kevin Fulton withdrew his daughter from the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston after she spent her fifth-grade year at Yeager Elementary without homework because the school stopped giving it. She now attends a private school.
“In my house, we’re very hands-on and homework is a way to determine if our child is falling behind,” he said. “I just think it takes parents out of the equation.”
The Cypress-Fairbanks district said Yeager and other schools with no-homework rules can still assign personalized homework to struggling students.
Kauffman Leadership Academy, a public charter school in Cleburne, Texas, with grades 5-12, holds classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to fit in needed lessons to prevent sending work home. The school opened in 2016 with the intent of having no homework after hearing from parents of prospective students.
“We just heard a lot of parents complaining about how much the homework was eating into their family life,” Superintendent Theresa Kauffman said.
“It’s amazing to be able to go home after a long day at school and not have anything to do, just be able to relax,” Kauffman student Karissa Olsen, 14 years old, said during a snack break that the school gives due to the long day.
Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University who has studied homework for over 25 years, found that homework has little impact on elementary students. Junior-high students showed higher achievement when doing homework up to 60 to 90 minutes a night and high-school students up to two hours. There were no additional positive effects after those time frames.
Dr. Cooper said those who go over appropriate limits could become frustrated and lose interest in the subject area. It also could crowd out other activities, such as athletics, music and volunteer work, he said.
The superintendent of Marion County Public Schools, a 43,000-student district in central Florida, told teachers to stop assigning “meaningless homework” for elementary students and instead substitute at least 20 minutes a night of reading, said spokesman Kevin Christian. More students are reading as a result, he said.
Jonathan Cole, a high-school teacher in Lafayette Parish, said some teachers in the district are unhappy with the homework-grading ban. A good number of students skip homework because it isn’t going to be graded, he said.
“We’re seeing some drops in some scores related to math, and that’s a skill that does benefit from some practice,” said Mr. Cole, who is also president of a local educator association.
Even so, parent Laurie Lightfoot supports the new policy. “These kids have so much homework at younger and younger ages. And heaven forbid if they have after-school activities or want to spend time with family,” she said. Her 13-year-old daughter Madison said the change “does relieve a little stress.” Some students who aren’t turning in homework are being urged to do so by teachers, she said.
Kathy Aloisio, Lafayette’s director of elementary schools, said grades should reflect a student’s mastery of a subject, not homework, which some students can get help with at home. “Are we grading what the parents did, or are we grading what the child did?” she said.
Norfolk Public Schools in Nebraska dropped homework for elementary school children last year.
“It was pretty common that elementary students would take home 30 math problems every night, and might have additional homework after that,” said Superintendent Jami Jo Thompson. “It was a lot of stress on the child and the family.”
Dr. Thompson said students who are struggling are getting the help they need in school instead of sending the work home with them to parents, who have been supportive of the homework change.
Now, parents with children at the schools in northeastern Nebraska, which go up to fourth grade, are asked to read with their children and practice math skills.