By guest blogger Marva Hinton
This post originally appeared on the Time & Learning blog.
By now, you’ve probably seen the note a 2nd grade teacher in Godley, Texas, sent home with her students saying she would not give any assigned homework this year.
A parent posted the note to Facebook, and it went viral. As of this afternoon, it’s been shared more than 73,000 times.
In the note, teacher Brandy Young wrote, “research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance,” and she asked parents, “to spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success,” such as reading together and getting your kids to bed early.
In an interview with the Star-Telegram, Young said, “I want my students to have a full life. I want them to develop their whole person, not just this paper-and-pencil student that they can be working on in the classroom. When my students go home, they have other things they need to learn there... The homework outside of the room needs to be meaningful, engaging, and relevant. When I re-evaluated what I was sending home, paper-and-pencil practice, I decided it wasn’t meaningful, and it wasn’t relevant, and it wasn’t engaging for my kids.”
Many parents praised the move and used the opportunity to lament their young children’s long, arduous homework assignments.
Cathy Vatterott is a professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She’s written about this topic extensively. Her book, Rethinking Homework, was published in 2009. She said in the past 10 to 15 years more elementary schools have implemented homework policies that set limits on the practice, while some have eliminated homework altogether in favor of having students spend a certain amount of time reading each night.
The schools that seek to limit homework often encourage teachers to abide by what’s known as the 10-minute rule, which is advocated by the national PTA and the National Education Association. It calls for students to have 10 minutes of homework per grade level. So students in 1st grade would have 10 minutes of homework, while students in 2nd grade would have 20 minutes and so on.
Vatterott credited parents for this shift away from homework in elementary school and categorizes it as part of the balance movement.
“Adults are saying we need work-life balance,” said Vatterott. “Now they’re saying we want that for our children as well.”
She said there are also more concerns now about elementary students feeling stressed and suffering from ailments related to that condition.
And, then there’s the research showing homework offers little to no benefit for children in the early grades.
“There’s a lot of homework out there that is not helping kids,” said Vatterott. “It’s busy work. It’s not contributing to kids’ actual learning.”
She said too many teachers are assigning more homework than the 10-minute rule allows.
“The teachers are piling it on because they think that rigor equals load,” said Vatterott. “Piling it on does not mean, ‘Oh, we’re a really tough, rigorous school.’”
She said when she started researching homework 18 years ago she began to question some of the work that was being assigned.
“My joke is the word search put me over the edge,” said Vatterott. “Why are we doing a word search? Why are we finding these words in a sea of letters? What is the educational value of that? I think parents are getting more skeptical, and I think they’re getting more militant. They’re starting to just say ‘No, we’re not doing this.’”
There are those who say homework is not really about the work when it comes to elementary students. They suggest that learning to complete assignments teaches children responsibility.
But Vatterott disagrees.
“I think it teaches compliance and obedience, that no matter what crappy task gets sent home I have to do this,” said Vatterott, who argues that she is not anti-homework.
“I am for reasonable amounts of homework that can be done without help,” said Vatterott. “I am against excessive work. I’m against busy work, and I’m against failing kids for not doing homework.”
She supports the 10-minute rule but stresses it has to be time-based not task-based. So while it might take one student 20 minutes to do 10 math problems it might take another student 40 minutes, and teachers have to account for that.
“I think that is developmentally appropriate in the sense of how much sleep kids need, how much downtime they need, how hard they’re working during that day,” said Vatterott. “I would be fine if we would stick to the 10-minute rule in elementary school, and I’m also OK if we say we’re not going to do homework at all and maybe introduce it in the 4th or 5th grade.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.