"Learning doesn't have to be just academic."
Trevor Nelson-- a 5th grade teacher at Spanger Elementary in Roseville-- has a 'no homework' policy. He said he prefers his students to go home and learn from activities like cooking, reading and music instead of doing stacks of assignments.
Nelson isn't alone in applying a homework-free practice to his classroom curriculum. A Texas teacher recently sent a letter home with her students, letting parents know that there would be no homework assignments for the school year. A parent posted the note on Facebook on Aug. 16 and it quickly went viral, with parents sharing their opinions on the policy. The Texas teacher, like Nelson, instead encouraged alternative activities for children to do at home.
Does homework help or hurt children?
The debate is ongoing – without a solid black or white conclusion. At the beginning of his teaching career,
Nelson said he would get calls from parents saying they were up late hours of the night doing homework with their kids. That's when he decided to a little of his own homework.
"I started to do more research. I started to read articles saying elementary school homework doesn't do anything for [the students]." Nelson said.
A Review of Educational Research published in 2006 found homework does have a positive effect on student achievement but the correlation depends on the student's age. Homework has a more positive effect on secondary students from grades 7 through 12, according to the study's lead writer, Harris Cooper – who is a professor of psychology and director of Duke's Program in Education – as well as one of the nation's lead homework researchers. The study found younger children have less effective study habits and 'burn out' easier, so a heavy load of homework is not as beneficial.
Younger children should be given shorter homework assignments and participate in out-of-school activities such as sports or reading of their interest, according to Cooper's study.
"Students can learn outside the classroom," Nelson said. "It's called continued learning."
Children should learn about responsibility, such as caring for a pet, according to Nelson. At-home or outside activities can help teach responsibility, similar to a chore. Nelson believes learning responsibility helps prepare younger students for homework in higher grades.
For as much praise a "no homework" policy receives, the idea is slammed by others. Many parents are stuck in their old ways, and are used to seeing a lot of homework, according to Nelson.
Although a 'no homework' policy carries varying perspectives, there is a common practice standard upheld in American schools.
The National PTA and National Education Association homework guidelines fall in line with Cooper's study.
Research finds 10 to 20 minutes of homework per night in the first grade is appropriate, with an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter. High school students should typically receive a little more, according to Cooper. The study found that beyond the maximum of about two hours, students don't absorb much information. Too much homework can in fact be harmful, according to Cooper.
The ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) supports the Educational Research study which states that when used appropriately, homework benefits student achievements, depending on age and quality of homework. Homework should have purpose and be designed to maximize success rate, according to the ASCD.
When younger students aren't given homework and are encouraged to engage in other extra-curricular activities, it brings up other questions and issues.
The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) states, there are more than 72 million children under 18 years old in the U.S. About 45 percent – 32.4 million – live in low-income families while 22 percent – 16.1 million – live in poor families.
A 'no homework' policy may pose a limitation to alternative homework activities in the case a child doesn't have parent guidance at home, or the financial means to engage in some of the activities recommended by the research study.
There's little research on whether a student's race, socioeconomic status or ability level affects the importance of homework in his or her achievement, according to Cooper.
As the great homework debate continues, many teachers, like Nelson, are standing their ground.
"I don't want [students] to have homework," Nelson said. "What's important is to go home and read nightly."