The no-homework movement is finally getting a little traction, it seems. We’ve all long accepted that homework is just a fact of our kids’ lives when it comes to those 12 years they spend in school. But between a viral note from a teacher who urged parents to head outside with their kids instead of hunching over a notebook for hours after school and the news that a Massachusetts elementary school will be banning homework outright, that might just be changing.
Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke, Massachusetts, announced that kids will no longer have extracurricular work to complete, which has a lot of people doling out major brownie points for such a bold official move. There have been studies layered on top of think pieces wrapped in studies devoted to pointing out all of the ways that homework is a hindrance instead of a help — there’s too much of it and it’s not effective, essentially. At least not when kids are in elementary grades, when they lack the time-management skills to get it all done in less than a few hours and when they’d really benefit more from running around outside until they’re exhausted.
But Kelly Elementary isn’t just issuing the “no homework, yay!” announcement without strings. The schools in the Holyoke school district, it would seem, have the lowest standardized test scores in the state. In light of that, the district has extended the school day by two hours, stretching it from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. as opposed to their previous 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule. The ban on homework comes in light of that, not just as a progressive little treat for overworked kids.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Besides the case against homework, there’s also a strong case to be made against the whackadoo school schedule that we’re all so used to, from the weird early arrival/early dismissal schedule to the massive learning gap that happens every year from June to September.
Frankly, it’s outdated. Both the hours and the extended breaks are throwbacks to when kids had to run home to help Mama and Papa take in the harvest, and while some communities are still agricultural centers, only about 3 percent of kids live on a farm anymore.
If school used to be tailored to family life and needs so that learning and home life had a reasonable balance, it definitely isn’t anymore. Ask anyone who can’t afford to shell out a few hundred dollars a week every summer vacation for camp or daycare or the kids who let themselves into an empty house at the end of the day. The mechanics of being a working parent with a child in school can be overwhelming in the best of times and positively paralyzing in the worst of times. And while schools shouldn’t be childcare centers, there’s nothing wrong with re-examining why we send kids to school when we do and why they come home with reams of homework.
If the answer to that is, “Because that’s just how we’ve always done it,” then that answer isn’t good enough.
The truth is, it’s hard to know what benefit kids will reap from a smaller homework load or an extended school day or year, mostly because we don’t really have a way to measure it. Not a lot of schools are doing it, and you can’t study something that doesn’t exist.
If Kelly Elementary deserves kudos for anything, it’s that. It’s never easy to say, “OK, this isn’t really working, so let’s try something new.” But someone has to do it. We hope that a lot of good comes to them and their students from shaking up the status quo, but good will come regardless: We’ll have a better idea of where to start.
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