Some schools are getting rid of homework in favor of more reading and family time

MGN Online Photo Credit: Courtesy - FSUPTSA
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When the school year begins Thursday at Marion County Public Schools in central Florida, the district’s 20,263 elementary school students will come to class sure of one thing: No matter what the school day brings, most nights they won’t have homework.

Instead, Superintendent Heidi Maier is urging families to read with their kids every night for at least 20 minutes — any book, newspaper or magazine of their choice.

The Bible works, as does Popular Mechanics, Harry Potter or Walter the Farting Dog.

The move comes as schools nationwide revisit long standing policies on homework, especially for young children.

What was once a bedrock principle of the school year is now under the microscope as research shows few benefits, and as families complain about evenings spent stressing over problem sets.

Maier said her teachers can make exceptions for special projects such as book reports or science fairs, but that otherwise, she’s discouraging the practice of sending home worksheets and other materials intended to give kids more practice.

Homework has long been “a catalyst for arguments at night with family members,” Maier said. “That’s something we want to avoid.”

Recent research has mostly been focused on homework assigned to older students — and it shows mixed results.

A 2013 study, led by Indiana University researcher Adam Maltese, found a positive relationship between homework for high school sophomores and performance on standardized tests.

But it found little correlation between more homework and better math and science grades.

The researchers concluded that perhaps homework “is not being used as well as it could be.”

Maltese and his colleagues pointed out that if high school teachers most nights assign just one hour of homework, that amounts to about 180 class periods of 50 minutes apiece.

Essentially, they noted, an hour of homework each night adds another class period to the school day.

But it brings only a “very modest” boost in achievement.

Research on the benefits of homework for younger students is less definitive.

Actually, Maier said, it’s basically non-existent.

Pressed on whether simply giving students extra time at night to cover material has a benefit, she replied flatly: “Show me the research.”

What about more time to practice skills? Nope, she said.

No evidence.

Duke University researcher Harris Cooper, whose work has helped define much of what we know about homework, pointed out in 2015 that there was “very little correlation between homework and achievement" in the early grades.

As students get older, the correlation gets stronger, he said, but he noted that the correlation could be caused both by homework helping achievement and by “kids who have higher achievement levels doing more homework.”

But he said homework may have other benefits.

For instance, it keeps parents aware of what their child is learning in school. “I’ve had some very emotional parents come to me about having been told by teachers that their child is struggling, that there might be a learning disability,” he said. “The parents don’t necessarily see it until they see their child work on homework.”

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