Do you remember volumes of homework when you were a child? What about your children? Are they weighed down by endless assignments? And what about you? Are you spending time with them after dinner, working through math problems step by step?
Want to hear what one elementary school in Vermont did? They said enough. As detailed in the Washington Post, the school principal, Mark Trifilio, met with his staff of 40 at the Orchard School, to determine if they were in favor of experimenting with the end of all homework. “All 40 voted yes,” he said, “and not just yes, but a passionate yes. When do you get 40 people to agree on something?”
What were the children supposed to do with all their free time? The answer: read for pleasure and play outside. Does this sound ridiculous?
Some research has shown that homework has little impact on student performance. Other research, while pointing to some level of effectiveness, has been rather lukewarm. For example, a 2016 meta-analysis (a statistical review of mulitple studies) found there was a "small" performance bump, mainly in mathematics and science. Thus, the evidence of homework effectiveness is far from overwhelming. A broader question might be: Does homework hurt intrinsic motivation? Or, are opportunities to pursue extra-curricular activities worn away by the time required by additional homework? In other words, if a child is loaded down by two hours of homework per night, the opportunity to play a musical instrument, play with friends, play organized sports, or just pursue their own interests, might not be possible. Or, a child might try to do all of the above and then burn out before graduating high school.
What happened six months after the Orchard School eliminated homework? According to their principal, the students have maintained their academics; some might be doing even better; and all now have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.” According to a parent survey, many of the children are now reading more than before the experiment.
In the Montessori Private Academy elementary classrooms, homework is never given for "homework sake." With few exceptions, the students should be able to complete their academic work at school. If they misuse their time during the day, the logical consequence is to take work home, a result similar to what we face as adults if we spend too much time at the water cooler. At MPA, most of our elementary students learn that lesson early in life, leaving their schedules open in the afternoon for other self-directed activities, some of which will enrich their worlds for the rest of their lives.
How is your child spending his or her afternoon?