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Homework in Elementary School Divides Educators

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"PDF"—play, downtime, and family timehas replaced homework for kindergartners, 1st graders, and 2nd graders at one Chicago elementary school, according to the Sun Times.

Calling it a "grand experiment," Hamilton Elementary School principal James Gray hopes that eliminating homework will help children develop a genuine love of learning, instead of requiring them to do more work at home after a long day at school.

"Kids should read at home," he told the Sun Times. "We want them to read for pleasure."

Gray had introduced the idea to community members, citing research about the lack of benefits of homework for younger children, and announced the new policy this year. He hopes to expand the no homework policy up to the 5th grade, but this will be determined based on reports, parent surveys, and academic data from this year.

In 2012, the Chicago Public School district no longer required its teachers to assign homework. But so far, Hamilton Elementary School has been the only school to introduce a homework ban.

The Hamilton homework ban certainly is a response to the rising amount of homework assigned to elementary school children. A Brookings Brown Center study published in a Washington Post article in March pointed out that although the level of homework has stayed essentially the same for middle and high school students since 1984, it has increased for elementary school students.

Parents and students across the nation have criticized homework, saying that it takes too much time and only causes stress. Some parents even say that forcing their kids to do homework makes them feel like drill sergeants.

Other parents, however, feel that children need consistent homework to ensure American children are able to compete on global education standards.

But for many parents, the debate isn't about whether or not their kids are receiving too much or too little homework, it's about what type of homework they are assigned. Parents speculate that many students waste much of their time completing "busy work" that doesn't enrich their learning.

So what constitutes valuable homework? What type of homework isn't just a stress inducer and waste of time?

Education Week Teacher opinion blogger Nancy Flanagan has argued that contrary to popular belief, paper packets are not the enemy. They can be effective, given that they aren't lacking in instructional purpose, she says.

In an essay published this year in Phi Delta Kappan magazine, Arizona teacher John T. Spencer explains why he doesn't require homework, but instead approaches it like an optional extracurricular activity for parents who want to do educational activities with their children. Spencer believes that learning happens naturally at home.

"Want to kill the love of reading? Hand a child a reading log and force him or her to monitor it each night," he says. "Make it a chore to finish."

How should teachers encourage meaningful learning outside of school? Are there ways to assign homework that extend a student's learning, making it valuable to both the student and the teacher? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photo by Marco Nedermeijer/Flickr Creative Commons

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