Zarrow International School’s new no-homework policy has most parents and students excited.
The policy at the Tulsa Public Schools site is attracting plenty of attention in the wake of a Facebook post that went viral last week showing a Texas teacher’s note to parents about her intent not to assign homework to her students this year.
Kelly Forbes, Zarrow principal, said he began researching the idea last year after he received complaints from parents about their children being assigned too much homework.
“I always felt that too much homework was not truly beneficial,” Forbes said in an email to parents last week explaining the decision. “I had read some research behind it, but never really took the time to dive deep into what scholars from around the world have said about the topic. After spending the greater portion of last year investigating, there was an overwhelming conclusion that homework, as we know it, has no academic effect or gain for students. This is especially true in the elementary grades.”
Forbes told the Tulsa World that during his research, he found the list of benefits of homework for young children was short, consisting of things like learning organization skills and gaining a sense of responsibility. These are things that can be learned in other ways, he said.
But the list of negatives was longer, he said.
“Too much homework can lead to a lack of interest in school,” Forbes said.
It can also result in frustration and feelings of shame if students are not able to complete their work, he said.
Forbes said too much homework was also cutting into valuable family time.
Eileen Gillen is a parent with one child at Zarrow, and she’s excited to see the effects of the new policy.
“Not having that added pressure of homework frees up family time,” Gillen said. But Gillen said she still has some mixed feelings about the change.
“I’m happy to have no stress over the homework, but I also like to keep my kids actively thinking at home about school,” she said.
Forbes said the school will be providing resources and ideas for activities that parents can do with their children at home, such as online games and lists of questions to help children analyze what they read.
Other suggested activities include cooking with children to help them learn concepts such as fractions, and simply letting them play outside to keep them physically active.
Vanessa McLearen has two children attending Zarrow. “We are definitely excited about having our afternoons and evenings without that hanging over our heads,” she said.
McLearen said no homework does not mean her children will be watching TV all evening.
“My kids are involved in extracurricular activities,” she said.
They attend church group events and are signed up in Girl Scouts. They play soccer and hang out with extended family and neighborhood friends.
“We will be doing other activities that we feel are very beneficial,” she said.
Forbes said teachers were involved in the decision-making process for the new policy, and he checked with several education experts in the state before the school made the move.
Among those he reached out to was Stephan Sargent, a reading methods professor at Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow.
“I shared with him some of the current thinking,” Sargent said.
In addition to cutting into family time, Sargent said, homework can unintentionally penalize economically disadvantaged students. For example, students who have no internet access or those who do not have anyone available to help them in the evenings might not do as well with homework.
“It creates an unequal playing field,” he said.
Sargent said a look at some of the countries with the highest-performing education systems, like Finland and Sweden, show that those countries do not assign homework to children younger than fifth grade.
Sargent said he expects no-homework policies to become more prevalent soon, as newer teachers begin implementing them in their classrooms.
At Jenks, the homework policy was changed before the 2015-16 school, guiding teachers to give less homework “and to make an attempt to assign ‘quality’ homework with more purpose,” said district spokesman Rob Loeber.
District principals, instructional assistants and administrators conducted “extensive research” before the change was made, Loeber said.
“The research showed that increasing homework had no correlation whatsoever to higher test scores or deeper understanding of the material,” he said. “They conducted research over approximately a five-year period.”
The new guidelines recommend that teachers not assign more than 15-20 minutes worth of homework for students in kindergarten through second grade, no more than 30 minutes worth for students in third and fourth grade, and no more than 45 minutes worth for students in fifth and sixth grade.
Forbes said at the elementary level, the goal is making education and learning enjoyable for students. He hopes the new policy will make this a reality.