Don’t be alarmed if your Jackson Elementary students come home and say they don’t have homework. They aren’t fudging the truth.
Davey Jackson Elementary School is experimenting with a change in homework policy during the first trimester of school. That means the only homework teachers will ask students to complete is reading minutes until a building leadership team can take more time to closely review the topic.
“We found that the variety of different types of homework kids can receive — math problems, spelling words, reading minutes — can start to add up,” Principal Scott Eastman said. “The cumulative effect of that is spending quite a bit of time at night doing homework.”
The National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association support a standard of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. According to that standard, kindergartners shouldn’t receive any homework at all, kids in first grade should spend 10 minutes a night on homework, and so on.
But Eastman pointed to studies that show elementary school homework has no significant impact on student achievement.
One of those studies, spearheaded by professor John Hattie, looks at factors that can improve or have an impact on student learning and achievement. He created a formula for “effect size,” meaning the higher the effect size is, the stronger the correlation is between the factor in question and a student’s achievement.
“Homework has an effect size of 0, which means it doesn’t hurt but it doesn’t help,” Eastman said.
He said the study “prompted educators to ask why they’re asking kids to do homework and what they’re asking kids to do.”
Another study Eastman cited as continuing the same line of thought is by Alfie Kohn, who wrote “The Homework Myth.”
“Most of the research shows that homework has no quantifiable benefit for students, so why do we keep sending it home?” Eastman asked.
Losing the love of learning
Too much homework, he said, can create an anxiety toward school.
“It can cause kids to lose that love for learning, and it can cause frustration at home for both parents and kids,” Eastman said.
Eastman said the feedback he’s gathered so far is positive.
“Most adults I’ve talked to about this policy are excited,” he said. “They’ve recounted stories of having to fight their kids at the dinner table about a worksheet for a math problem. When it becomes a battle, it casts a negative light on learning.”
Jackson Elementary will collect more feedback with digital surveys for parents during the back-to-school nights Monday and Tuesday.
If parents are interested in additional enrichment, Eastman is encouraging them to reach out to their child’s teacher.
“Parents can request enrichment for their kids, but it won’t be required or graded homework,” Eastman said. “We want to respect that choice, and we’re happy to support families.”
The one thing that won’t change is reading minutes.
“Reading minutes are really important for kids to do,” Eastman said. “We’ve always sent home reading minutes, and we all agree that reading is one of the most important things you can do at home. It’s a great habit and a strong habit to have.”
Every building in the district is approaching homework policies differently depending on its kids and their ages.
Kelly Elementary School is “working to make homework meaningful and engaging,” said Principal Stephanie Hardeman.
She wants to calibrate policies around what research says is best practice and will continue reading as a homework requirement.
“Alternative homework options that are more family-centered are being explored this year,” Hardeman said.
Parents were provided with a long list of ideas including visiting local government offices and discussing why it is important to vote, calculating percentages off sale prices of clothes when shopping and taking trips to the library.
No change at Wilson
Wilson Elementary School Principal Kathy Milburn said her school hasn’t felt the need to change how it approaches homework.
“We’ve been pretty satisfied with our results,” Milburn said. “We know kids are busy, we know families are busy, but we appreciate that that’s a time they can practice things they’ve learned during the day.”
Milburn said Wilson Elementary uses a general rule of thumb for increasing five minutes per grade level, but that’s very approximate and up to the individual teacher to decide.
Although Alta Elementary School Principal Jenna Beck wasn’t able to be reached for the story, staff confirmed that Alta handles homework similar to the way Wilson does.
Don’t expect the fine-tuning to go away as the district moves toward reconfiguration of Jackson and Colter next year.
“When we go to K-five next year, this is going to be a big topic for us in terms of what we think the right way is to proceed,” Eastman said. “Next year there will be major changes across the district no matter what.”
Those changes are prompting introspection at Jackson Elementary.
“When you do something the same way for a really long time, you don’t often go back to look and see what the rationale was and if it is still the best way to go about it,” Eastman said. “We’re doing that with a lot of things this year: going back and re-evaluating what we do, why we do it and if it is going to help kids succeed. Homework is one of those things.”
Eastman said there is no need to be alarmed that kids will fall behind.
“Of course expectations are higher in third grade,” he said. “But I don’t see any reason why kids wouldn’t have the stamina to add in 10 or 20 more minutes of homework based on their age and their development.”
Eastman wants everyone to remember that the children in question are 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds.
“I don’t want my children spending half an hour at a kitchen table struggling with homework,” he said. “I want them to be doing things I feel are valuable for their social-emotional development — being with friends, playing outside, exploring, finding their own passions. Not necessarily doing extra math.”