Mark Trifilio, principal of the public pre-K-5th grade Orchard School in Vermont, sat down with the school’s 40 educators last summer to discuss the soon-to-start new school year and homework — how much kids were getting and whether it was helping them learn.
Trifilio had been pondering the issue for some time, he said, concerned that there seemed to be an uneven homework load for students in different classrooms within the same grade and that the differences from grade to grade didn’t make sense. He had looked up research on homework effectiveness and learned that, generally, homework in elementary school isn’t linked to better academic performance — except for after-school reading.
So at that meeting with teachers, he proposed an experiment: stopping all homework in every grade and asking students to read on their own at home — or, if they were not ready to read on their own, to do it with a parent or guardian. He said he was surprised when every one of them — classroom teachers as well as those who work with special-education students and English-language learners — signed on to the idea.
“All 40 voted yes,” he said, “and not just yes, but a passionate yes. When do you get 40 people to agree on something?”
So they instituted the policy, as this page on the school website shows:
No Homework Policy
Orchard School Homework Information
Student’s Daily Home Assignment
1. Read just-right books every night —
(and have your parents read to you too).
2. Get outside and play —
that does not mean more screen time.
3. Eat dinner with your family —
and help out with setting and cleaning up.
4. Get a good night’s sleep.
What’s the result?
Six months into the experiment, Trifilio says it has been a big success: Students have not fallen back academically and may be doing better, and now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”
Students are asked to read every night. Families are provided book recommendations, but kids are not required to fill out logs (because, he said, “we know that we all make up logs”).
Trifilio said he conducted a family survey asking about the policy, and most parents at the nearly 400-student school responded. The vast majority supported it, saying their kids now have time to pursue things other than math work sheets, and many report that students are reading more on their own than they used to. He said a small minority of parents are concerned that students are missing learning opportunities from doing homework and won’t be prepared for middle school.
The Burlington Free Press recently quoted parent James Conway as saying this about his son Sean, who is in kindergarten: “My son declared on Monday that he can read now and that he doesn’t need any help. So, something is working.”
What does the research say about the value of homework? While academics continue to study the subject, a meta-analysis of research on the subject, published in 2006 by researcher Harris Cooper and colleagues, is often cited. It found that homework in elementary school does not contribute to academic achievement and has only a modest effect on older students in terms of improving academic performance.
(Correction: Earlier version mistakenly said kids were being asked to read at school when it was supposed to be at home.)