Back in the early 1900s, homework was deemed by some to be dangerous to children’s health, and for years some school districts limited or outright banned homework.
More than a century later, homework still drives students, their parents and sometimes their teachers crazy — and debate still swirls about whether homework is helpful or harmful.
Now we have a useful addition to the conversation. Below are three recommendations for healthy homework, written in an effort to realign homework policy and practice with student learning, health and engagement. The authors are the team behind the documentary “Race to Nowhere,” led by director Vicki Abeles, as well as homework experts Etta Kralovec, co-author of “The End of Homework”; Alfie Kohn, author of “The Homework Myth”; and Sara Bennett, author of “The Case Against Homework.”
At a conference over the last few days in San Jose, the National PTA’s Resolutions Committee agreed to review the guidelines, as set forth in a national online petition that has been signed by thousands of parents, educators, health professionals and concerned citizens. The organization is being urged to endorse them at its August governance meeting.
Here are the homework guidelines:
1. HOMEWORK SHOULD ADVANCE A SPIRIT OF LEARNING
Educators at all grade levels should assign homework only when:
• Such assignments demonstrably advance a spirit of learning, curiosity and inquiry among students.
• Such assignments demonstrably provide a unique learning opportunity or experience that cannot be had within the confines of the school setting or school day.
• Such assignments are not intended to enhance rote skill rehearsal or mastery. Rehearsal and repetition assignments should be completed within the confines of the school day, if they are required at all.
• Such assignments are not intended as a disciplinary or punitive measure, nor as a means of fostering competition among or assessment of students.
2. HOMEWORK SHOULD BE STUDENT-DIRECTED
Educators at all grade levels, but particularly in elementary and middle grades, should limit take-home assignments to:
• At-home reading chosen by the student.
• Project-based work chosen by the student.
• Experiential learning that integrates the student’s existing interests and family commitments.
• Work that can be completed without the assistance of a sibling, caregiver or parent.
3. HOMEWORK SHOULD PROMOTE A BALANCED SCHEDULE
Educators at all grade levels should avoid assigning or requiring homework:
• On non-school nights, including weekends, school holidays, or winter or summer breaks.
• On the nights of major or all-school events, concerts, or sports activities.
• When a child is sick or absent from school.
• When it conflicts with a child’s parental, family, religious or community obligations.
We the undersigned acknowledge that the above commitments will ask of school leaders that they provide teachers with professional development support and time to restructure their classroom practices to eliminate an over-reliance on homework.
We believe that such support and restructuring will help us to ensure that homework can better:
• Support learning and engagement among students, regardless of family background, income level, or caregivers’ educational status.
• Narrow the achievement gap by ensuring that instruction, rehearsal, mastery and remediation happens primarily at school and in the classroom, rather than at home, where resources and instructional support are less equitably distributed.
• Enhance family engagement with schools and students by providing parents and caregivers more opportunities to influence and collaborate on homework policy and practice.
• Provide time for students to develop a rich array of extracurricular personal interests and to engage in meaningful family, religious, community, creative or athletic activities outside of school.
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