Amid Growing Debate About Homework, One School Bans It

Some research questions the value of homework prior to high school.

ByABC News
September 6, 2016, 4:03 AM

— -- More than 550 students at a Massachusetts elementary school will have less to carry home in their backpacks this year.

There will be no homework.

Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke has banned homework for the year with the intention of giving students all the instruction and extra help they may need during the school day.

“We want kids to go home tired; we want their brains to be tired,” Jackie Glasheen, principal of the school, whose kindergarten through 8th-grade students are nearly all poor and Hispanic, told ABC News. At home, she said, “we want them to engage with their families, talk about their school days and go to bed.”

Glasheen and the team of teachers who came up with the idea to end homework are among a growing number of U.S. educators and parents questioning the value of having children do schoolwork at home.

A Texas elementary school teacher last month drew wide attention by eliminating homework.

Brandy Young, 2nd-grade teacher at an elementary school in Godley, wrote parents in a letter shared widely on social media, that after "much research over the summer," she would not assign any homework except for uncompleted classwork.

"Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance," she wrote in the letter handed to parents at a meet-the-teacher night Aug. 16.

"Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success," she wrote. "Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside and get your child to bed early."

Kelly Elementary School eliminated homework under circumstances uncommon in most schools.

Beginning this fall, nearly all schools in the Holyoke district, which has among the lowest standardized test scores in Massachusetts, are extending their school days by two hours. Elementary school students now go to school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., instead of the previous 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Principal Glasheen said her school surveyed its teachers, parents and students before implementing the homework ban.

"The toughest stakeholder group was the teachers," she said. "Some of them felt [students] need that extra practice. They need that extra work."

But Glasheen said the longer school days will give students more instructional time.

“Face time with a teacher … is going to impact their learning more than doing skill-and-practice work at home,” she said.

Not many schools are lengthening their school days by as much as the Holyoke district. But even without the longer days, a number of educators and researchers say homework is more of a hindrance than a help to students.

Author and education researcher Alfie Kohn says homework routinely produces frustration, exhaustion, family conflict, a loss of time for other activities and diminished excitement about learning.

“In classrooms and schools where little or no homework is assigned, results have been extremely positive in terms of students’ academic performance as well as their attitudes about learning,” Kohn told ABC News. “‘No homework’ should become the default, with homework assigned only on those days when there is compelling reason to believe that a given assignment will benefit most students.”

Kohn, whose books include "The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing," said research has failed to demonstrate any benefit to assigning homework, at least until students are in high school.

But Robert Pondiscio, senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank in Washington, D.C., said the question of homework's value is not cut-and-dried. Pondiscio, who is also an adviser at Democracy Prep, a New York City charter school network, said homework may have a greater benefit for low-income students than affluent students.

“I still think we’re in a situation in this country where we have a far greater problem of expecting too little -- not too much -- of kids, and homework falls into that,” Pondiscio told ABC News.

The benefits of assigning homework also depend on what you want it to achieve, Pondiscio said. Homework may not lead to a higher grade on a test within six months, he said, but it can encourage behaviors and foster skills that yield long-term benefits such as practice in time-management

“Whenever I hear ‘homework doesn’t work,’ my first response is, ‘Well what do you want homework to do?’” Pondiscio said. “We always want to press the easy button in these discussions, and there isn’t one.”

Kelly Elementary School Principal Glasheen has heard from some critics of her school's homework ban who echo Pondiscio, telling her, "'You're letting kids off the hook,'" she said.

But she's also gotten support. The far-flung responses she's received suggests how widespread is the debate over homework's value.

“I have heard from principals from southern California, Dallas, Brazil," she said.