As experts debate, a JCPS elementary school adopts a new approac - WDRB 41 Louisville News

As experts debate, a JCPS elementary school adopts a new approach: no nightly homework

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Homework is part of the nightly routine for Eastern High School junior Morgan White.

She said she averages three-to-five hours of work on a typical night, and weekends can require a little more. For her seventh grade sister Shelby, who attends Crosby Middle School, homework usually takes about an hour a night without much work on weekends.

Both are succeeding at school, but is homework the reason for their academic achievement? Duke University researcher Dr. Harris Cooper said the answer is absolutely "yes."

"Homework impacts achievement in all grades, " Cooper said. "The correlation of how they do in school to how much homework they do gets stronger as they get older."  

Cooper suggests teachers abide by the ten-minute rule, assigning homework of ten minutes per grade level. For example, a fourth grader would do 40 minutes per night.

Author Alfie Kohn, however, wholeheartedly disagrees.  

"It appears that homework, especially for younger children, is all pain, no gain," Kohn said, adding that homework the most effective extinguisher of curiosity ever invented.

"The most recent research is showing that, particularly in elementary school, traditional homework is not beneficial in increasing their ability to reach proficiency in standards," Norton Commons Elementary School Principal Allyson Vitato said.

This has prompted an advisory board of parents and teachers at Norton Commons Elementary School to adopt a new approach: no nightly homework.

"In the past, I did nightly homework or weekly packets," fifth grade teacher Holly Wood said. "This year, I'm doing monthly projects."

Wood said that students are more invested in projects than in worksheets. 

"They're going into it with more of an open mind, and they're able to research, explore and grow and not just recite then things learned in class that day," she said.

Wood requires that certain elements be included in a social studies project, but students have the freedom to choose how to present the information: from a board game to a diorama.

Kindergarten teacher Candace McCollum gives families a choice board and asks students to complete 20 activities each month. Some examples of assignments including count windows and doors in your home and see which one is more, go on a shape hunt or search the grocery store for things that start with the letter "P."

"They're activities you can use in everyday life," McCollum said.  

Some of the assignments can be done while busy families are on the go. McCollum said parents are grateful for the flexibility, and she notices more parent engagement.  

"It's easy to sit down a child while you're fixing dinner to say, 'Go do your worksheet,'" McCollum said. "It's more difficult, more time-consuming and more enriching to sit with and work with your child, and the goal of homework is to engage."

The projects and choice boards are graded, but most student grades come from the classroom. Wood and McCollum said more students turn in this type of homework than turned in nightly assignments.  And they agree that the students who typically didn't turn in nightly homework were the ones who would have benefited from it most.  

Wood added that this new approach allows teachers to have a better feel for whether students are truly grasping what's being taught.

"A parent could essentially do homework for a child," Wood said. "Since the students are doing assessments with me in class, if I want them to do it completely independently, I can monitor that." 

The homework debate gets more complicated at the high school level, where Cooper said homework can be linked to better academic performance. However, he cautions against too much work and said the ten-minute rule should mostly still apply for high school students.

"More than two hours for a senior, unless they are taking a heavy honors load, ought to be about the limit,"  Cooper said.

Again, Kohn disagrees and equates homework to working a second job after students get home from school.

"What you find, at best, is a very modest correlation with higher scores on bad standardized tests, and you can't even prove the homework caused it," Kohn said.

A Stanford University study found that 56 percent of students surveyed said homework was a primary source of stress. Many said homework led to poor overall health, largely because of sleep deprivation.

Morgan White can relate, She said she doesn't get nearly enough sleep.  

"It can range from me going to bed around 11, 12, 1 and waking up at five, six," she said.

Finally, the Stanford study found a heavy homework load made students more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family and not pursue hobbies they enjoyed.

"I can't believe how many things happen on weeknights that we have to pass on," Stephanie Morgan-White said. "They've been talking about a concert they want to go to on a Tuesday night, and I'm thinking that I don't know how we'll do it." 

"Maybe it's time to free up kids' after-school hours so they can develop socially, physically, emotionally, artistically and all kinds of other ways since they're spending six hours a day on academics," Kohn said. "Maybe that's enough. Maybe family time should be determined by family and not schools."

The result of the new approach at Norton Commons suggests he might be right. Vitato notes that students don't seem as exhausted as they have in the past, and she said she sees students posing new questions as they explore topics with a more process-based assignment.  

The homework is no longer "one size fits all," she said, an approach that allows students to challenge themselves at their own level and grow from there.

"As the year has progressed, I've gotten very positive feedback from parents," Wood said. "They say kids are less stressed, less frustrated, and the kids are more excited to do the projects versus sitting down and doing a worksheet at night."

Kohn suggests that parents, teachers and administrators should be willing to challenge their traditional beliefs and accept that homework might not be beneficial. In other words, he said students would benefit from the adults in their lives doing their homework on homework.

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