SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. — Guess what, kids? No homework. Really. All year.
A small but growing number of elementary schools and individual teachers are doing away with the after-school chore to allow kids more time to play, participate in activities, spend time with families, read and sleep.
There’s been pushback against homework from parents in recent years who say their children’s time is monopolized by other activities, said Steven Geis, president of the National Elementary School Principals’ Association.
At North Trail Elementary School, in Farmington, Minnesota, where he is principal, students do what he says is engaging homework.
Some schools and individual teachers are revising their homework policies to ensure that they are effective, he said.
At the Orchard School, a kindergarten-through-5th grade school in South Burlington, Vermont, the principal there said he’s seen more anxiety among students in the last decade. The school opted to do away with homework this school year, based in part on the book “The Homework Myth.”
“They’re just kids. They’re pretty young and they just put in a full day’s shift at work and so we just don’t believe in adding more to their day. We also feel that we are squashing their other passions and interest in learning,” Principal Mark Trifilio said.
Alfie Kohn, the outspoken education lecturer and author of the book, “The Homework Myth,” says homework is a case of all pain and no gain.
“The disadvantages of homework are clear to everyone: exhaustion, frustration, loss of time to pursue other interests and often diminution of interest in learning,” he said. “Homework may be the greatest extinguisher of curiosity ever invented.”
But Harris Cooper, a psychology and neuroscience professor at Duke University, who has been studying the effects of homework for 30 years, disagrees.
He thinks all school children should be doing homework, but the amount and type should vary depending on age and developmental levels.
Cooper led research that reviewed more than 60 studies on homework between 1987 and 2003 and found that homework had a positive effect on student achievement, but the positive correlation was much stronger for students in grades 7-12 than for those in elementary school.
He prescribes homework assignments that are short, simple and lead to success for elementary school kids, he said.
It teaches kids that they don’t just learn in the classroom and helps turn them into lifelong learners while improving their sense of independence, and time management and study skills, Cooper said.
“Homework is like medicine. If you take too little, it does nothing. If you take too much, it can kill you,” Cooper said. “You’ve got to get the dose right, and if you do, it can do wonders.”
A lot of the backlash is a reaction to some teachers assigning too much homework, he said.
A guideline for many schools is 10 minutes of homework per grade: so 10 minutes in 1st grade, 20 minutes in 2nd grade and so on.
“We definitely don’t say ‘no homework’ but we try to keep it reasonable,” said Cherie Stobie, principal at the K-8 Marion school in Marion, Montana.
“The main benefit is just having the additional time to practice later in the day because research shows that if students practice, you know they take a break after they’ve learned something and they practice it again later, it’s more likely to be retained,” she said.
Noelle M. Ellerson, of AASA: The School Superintendents Association, said there has been a small but growing number of schools or teachers revising homework policies or talking about it “whether it’s to do away with it or to shift to a policy where homework is the classwork they didn’t finish during the day or where the homework of the child is to read with their parents.”
At the Orchard School, the children’s daily home assignment now is to read books, get outside and play, eat dinner with family — including helping with setting and cleaning up — and get a good night’s sleep.
“It’s awesome,” 9-year-old Avery Cutroni said of the no-homework policy. She had dance and piano lessons after school recently, so said she had a busy schedule. Plus, she’s reading more on her own, her mother said.
“I think it gives kids a lot time for mental and physical rest which I think is super important,” said Heidi Cutroni, of the school’s elimination of homework. “I think it’s really good for parent-teacher-student relations in all directions and I think it just gives kids a chance to use their time for what their passionate and excited about.”