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This School District Just Banned Homework — But There’s A Catch

Bye-bye, ‘the dog ate it,’ and hello, quality time with family.

Photo by Chris Yarzab/Flickr.

Remember the stress of knowing you didn’t finish all your homework and you were going to be in serious trouble at school when your teacher found out? Back when I was a third-grade teacher in Compton, California, one of my students broke down in tears and told me she didn’t have her assignments finished because her baby sister had died the night before. When I called her mom over lunch to express my condolences and offer support, I found out the story was simply an elaborate lie. It’s a funny story, sure, but the fact that a kid felt she had to make up such an extreme excuse made me rethink whether it was necessary to assign quite so much homework in the future.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Students who are given homework do not get better grades.[/quote]

Now elementary school teachers in Marion County, Florida, will no longer have to worry over whether they’re giving too many assignments, and their students won’t have to come up with extreme lies to justify not completing multi-page packets of drill-and-kill worksheets.

That’s because last week Heidi Maier, the superintendent of Marion County Public Schools, decided to ban traditional daily homework assignments for kids K-5. Instead, parents of the 20,000 elementary schoolers in the district, which is located about 90 miles north of Orlando, will be asked to read a book with their child for 20 minutes a night. The book should be one that the student selects and will enjoy reading.

The superintendent told the Ocala Star Banner that she made the shift in policy because, “The research showed that students who are given a preponderance of homework do not perform better, or get better grades than those who do not.” She said her decision to have students read is based on the work of University of Tennessee education professor Richard Allington, who is a literacy expert.

“The quality of homework assigned is so poor that simply getting kids to read replacing homework with self-selected reading was a more powerful alternative,” Allington explained in an email to The Washington Post. “Maybe some kinds of homework might raise achievement, but if so, that type of homework is uncommon in U.S. schools.”

Indeed, teachers worried about prepping kids for state standardized tests often pile on the after-school assignments, but as education expert Alfie Kohn, who has long opposed homework, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post in 2012:

“First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school. In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement. If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homework despite what the evidence says.”

Maier said she’d be holding town hall meetings to explain her decision to parents and teachers who might be skeptical. Last year, when a school in New York City banned homework, some parents were angry and expressed concern that their kids would be left behind academically. But so far, educators and parents seem to be reacting positively.

“I didn’t give homework anyway. I think they need to go home and play and do something healthy, like sports,” Lisa Fontaine-Dorsey, a third-grade teacher in the district told the Ocala Star Banner. “All day at school they are pressured with the test, test, test environment. They need to go home and get away from that. It will be beneficial to the students.”

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]This will mean more quality time with family.[/quote]

Jenny Sims, a mom of two dyslexic students in the district told the Star Banner that homework time was a struggle that left her kids upset. “What should take 20 minutes would take hours, and there were a lot of tears,” said Sims. “I do feel like this will mean more quality time with family. It will mean more reading time with them.”

To address the needs of kids who might struggle with literacy or who don’t have an adult at home to read with, Maier said the district will have access to reading volunteers and audiobooks. But students in middle and high school in Marion County will still have to do homework — and potentially come up with believable reasons for not completing it. Maier told the Star Banner that research shows there are academic benefits to 90 minutes of homework in middle school and even more in high school.

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