Is homework really necessary? Research has been unclear as to whether homework improves student performance, particularly at the elementary school level. Paula Bolte (a.k.a. the Toylady) of Imagination’s Toys in Blacksburg says: “Homework is just not the right type of work that should be happening between children, their parents and educators.” Bolte explains that things like creative play and communication (reading, writing) prove better metrics of success than bringing home binders of sedentary busy work.
But what does the board of Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) have to say on the matter? According to MCPS spokeswoman Brenda Drake, the district is in the middle of a strategic planning session, and “the role of homework, especially at the elementary school level, is certainly in the discussion.” Barbara Wickham, director of elementary education, explains: “The district has had discussions around ensuring that homework is meaningful, purposeful, age appropriate, and follows evidence-based best practice.”
One Blacksburg elementary school, Margaret Beeks, has pioneered this new path. Based on a decision by the former principal, teachers at Beeks have scaled back the “busy work” homework for the past two years – and aside from unfinished classwork or targeted skill work, kids are simply asked to read for 10 to 20 minutes each night. “Reading encourages the fundamentals,” says Drake. “Plus, when students read at home, they can find books that work for them, in addition to the traditional stuff they read in school.”
So, as the MCPS school board deliberates, some 10,000 kids spread across 20 elementary schools eagerly await the verdict. But it’s not just a district-wide discussion. It’s an international debate. Starting in February , students at 256 schools across the United Arab Emirates are no longer given assignments to complete outside the classroom. “The no homework rule will create a balance between academic requirements and family life, which is essential for growth and personal development,” the Ministry of Education says.
When asked for their opinion on the matter, kids will likely tell you they don’t miss homework. They enjoy time to be kids. Some parents worry that no homework will mean more time for kids to play on their devices and watch TV. Every family is different, and the amount of time available in the evenings for parents to help kids with homework varies by household. Some parents don’t get home from work until dinner time. They want to enjoy their kids for the few evening hours they have. Other parents may be confused by the homework and get frustrated trying to help.
“Not assigning homework doesn’t change the fact that kids who need extra practice the most usually don’t have the necessary support at home,” says Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher who gained national attention in 2016 when a “no more homework” note she wrote to her class parents was posted on social media.
As a parent myself, I try not to bring my work home with me. Even though I work from home, I put away my laptop and phone to be present to play with my kids when they’re home from school. And yes, that time is precious. Between basketball practice, music lessons, dinner and chores, there isn’t a ton of time to add more work to the mix. But I do miss having that window into what my kids do all day, just as I know they are curious about what mommy does for work all day.
However, there are always graded class worksheets in their folders, so when I want to see what they’ve been up to, I can find out. I’ll admit, when I see a “B” instead of an “A” on a report card I think to myself: “Gosh, if they had just sent a review sheet home, maybe I could have helped my kid understand the material.”
According to professor Harris Cooper, author of “The Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents” (2001), the bottom line is: “All kids should be doing homework, but the amount and type should vary according to their developmental level and home circumstances.”
Having kid-specific homework assignments, however, puts more stress on the teachers — from preparing it, to printing it, assigning it, grading it and returning it. It would also cost the school more money. Cooper suggests that homework for young students should be “short and lead to success without much struggle, occasionally involve parents, and when possible, use out-of-school activities that kids enjoy, such as their sports teams or high-interest reading.”
Keeping the work engaging, brief and to the point seems like the best bet, along with not assigning homework for the sake of assigning it, but only as needed. Kids burn out, just like adults do. Most of us are already putting in at least 40 hours of work per week, so having positive family time during the week is a must. Plus, taking a break from active learning helps our brains rest and recover, so that later we are more apt to absorb information.
Maybe taking a break from homework is not such a bad idea after all. You know what they say: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!”
Text by Emily Kathleen Alberts
Written by Emily K. Alberts, whose kids are homework-free at Margaret Beeks Elementary and are already much smarter than she is.