Recently, my daughter's elementary school made a decision to take on a "no homework" policy, this is my full and unabridged response.
A couple weeks ago, I was randomly approached by a reporter from DNAinfo.com. She wanted to know what I thought about this new policy being adopted by the school. You can read about it but, basically, I do not agree with said policy.
Because I was the only proponent of homework mentioned in the article, I instantly blew up as the hallmark on the war for homework. I trended on Facebook, was interviewed for NPR's The Takeaway, interviewed by the NY Post (not published), approached about doing an interview for CBS's The Doctors, and let's not forget Al Jazeera who called me Friday! It's been a fun little ride being the flavor of the week but, unfortunately, as one might imagine, the media hasn't portrayed my full position on the "no homework" policy. That's why I'm typing this blog.
The Facts on P.S. 116
Since September '13, when my daughter started 1st grade upon our arrival to the city, there was almost no homework. I was begging the school to send reading material from just above her "level" and was not able to get this to happen for months. For example, she was on C (A to Z, A is the easiest) and I wanted D or E. I believe this was mostly a new teacher issue (not to be held against her) and also credited to the high number of IEP's in her classroom (seems to be more likely if you register/move into a Manhattan school closer to or after the school year has already begun). Homework was limited to 1-sided copied worksheets with 2 math problems and it was always finished in 2-3 minutes. When it came home.
For this academic year, September '14 brought on a new set of challenges: a much more experienced teacher (who I really appreciate), 31 children in the classroom, and minimal homework. Because he is an experienced teacher, homework still was coming home more frequently than the year before. And, as you might expect 31 children in the classroom is a bit much bringing it's own set of problems and concerns to my daughters education––however, this is not the point of this article.
While homework had been less common prior to the new "no homework" policy, there still was homework. Now, the homework from the school is obsolete. Instead, the mentioned goal is to aim for unstructured learning time like taking children to the park to play. Yes, you read that correctly. The new policy being adopted is saying children should go home and ONLY play––but keep the screen time to a minimum, for good measure.
Playing is good and necessary for children but completely eliminating homework seems excessive and unwise. I am aware of various studies that say children should be allowed to be kids––AND I AGREE. My problem is that I believe doing away with homework is foolish. (Also, just as a note: I think educational screen time is fine, the rest is best kept to a minimum.)
With no homework, children have no future. It's not that they just won't have as bright a future, they are our future. Why aren't we setting the bar higher for them?
Why I Support Homework
I'm in favor of homework because I want my daughter: thinking critically, to become a better reader, and to have a sense of responsibility in accomplishing things she sets out to do. I think that homework can reach these goals. But not because I want her youth consumed by busy work. I don't give her homework for homework's sake––it's not a means to an end. I want her to grow into a strong, intelligent woman who can answer the world on the path she takes. I do not think that P.S. 116's new "no homework" policy is going to take her there.
Helping children develop their ability to think critically is a big deal. It helps them pick up on subtle references an author or director might make. It helps them write clearly and well. Thinking critically is also about asking questions. None of these things come without practice. I speak from personal experience in my own education. To practice thinking critically, a child needs to flex their brain. They need to ask questions about the things they are reading (after school?) and experiencing. This is a skill that will only develop when practiced––and sure, this could be something that only happens in school, but then what do we do after school? Turn off the brain? Stop the questions?
It is a fact that for children to become better readers, they need to be exposed to reading; through parents and loved ones reading to them as well as taking time to read themselves. No one can learn to read better without reading more frequently. Practice makes perfect and while perfect is not something I have to have from my daughter, improvement is. Reading doesn't have to be homework as children grow to love reading on their own but it certainly needs to be happening. The truth? Most children improve dramatically with continued reading outside of school. Reading is a language. Languages take practice. Children need to have homework to become better readers.
Setting aside all the more obvious educational understandings that homework might bring about, I want to bring focus to a child's sense of responsibility. Doing homework will give children a sense of accomplishment. They would do well to have a sense of responsibility in maintaining their tasks the school teacher assigns. Very much like the studying they will be required to do as they continue their education but will not be "turning in" for a grade. It will be engrained in them. Again, not to give them busy-work. What good is that? Work ethic is an important takeaway from any child's education. We're not talking about slave labor, we're talking about paving a future path for our children to feel a sense of duty. When has that ever been unhealthy? It surely doesn't strip them of their childhood. But, teaching kids to have a sense of responsibility takes practice. It takes regular homework.
So to be clear, I'm saying that IT IS NOT POSSIBLE to go from freshly learning Hot Cross Buns and not practicing regularly (AKA a homework policy) but then expect to play Beethoven's No. 5. Look, it's not always as simple as 10,000 hours equals an unprecedented outlier but the truth is, it's necessary to have a natural and more innate ability in an area of focus. Practice is important as long as we are not stripping our children of their youths. Who can disagree with that? 30 or 60 minutes of exercises the child is already capable of (reading, arithmetic, coding, drawing, writing, etc.) should be a standard for their education, not an exception. My daughter recently started using Zearn at home (shout out to Michelle for the lead!) and she absolutely loves it. Same with a number of iPad and iPhone games that we've had over the years. The point is simple, children need to practice and it doesn't need to be grueling; make it fun! Just make it homework.
The "no homework" policy may be something other parents are looking for, I can't speak for them or anyone besides myself--but I want homework that engages my child so that she is not just "prepared enough" for the world she's going to take on. I want her to be prepared par excellence. That's the standard I am setting in my home for my daughter's life, and her education is no exception. Because of these things, it's preferable for her to have engaging work to take on at home. Unfortunately, this isn't happening at her school.
What will i do now?
I'm a product of National Heritage Academies, a charter school network from Grand Rapids, MI. It radically changed the academic trajectory I was on prior to then in Kentwood public schools. I want to believe that New York City public schools would be able to accommodate the same for my daughter. However, I'm afraid that P.S. 116 is a bit too lax for the path I've chosen to give my daughter. I have taken steps to get her into Success Academy Charter Schools this coming school year ('15-'16). If my daughter can get into a charter school, we would be incredibly blessed.
Until then, I will be continuing to prescribe after school homework for my daughter while maintaining a fun and memorable childhood for her. I love her and she deserves it.
What do you think?
Leave a comment and share this if you feel strongly. I'd love to hear from you. Oh, and thanks for taking the time to read this rant.