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New Jersey school experiments with “no homework” weekends

A student at Jeremy Ranch works through her math problems. (KSL TV)

Schools in Wayne Township, New Jersey are experimenting with a new idea to keep student stress down. On most weekends, starting in October, their students will be going home with no homework.

The district say that their homework-free weekends, which they call “wellness weekends,” are meant to give students a break from the stress of the daily grind of schoolwork. Under their new plan, students will three weeks per month with absolutely no homework.

The school is just the latest in a growing number that have been either cutting down or completely eliminating homework.

“The demand to perform at the highest level is something that’s not sustainable without a little break,” says superintendent Mark Toback. “Everybody needs a little break.”

The argument against homework

A Salt Lake City family struggles through a mountain of homework. (KSL TV)

The argument against homework sparked when a 1989 study by Dr. Harris Cooper declared:

“There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

That sentence sparked a revolution, spearheaded by education experts like Alife Kohn, who has written that it “ought to be e-mailed to every parent, teacher, and administrator in the country.”

Kohn has said that the idea that homework helps students learn is “largely mythical.” In fact, he says that studies show that homework can actually hurt students if they get too much of it.

Kohn’s has called for schools to outright ban giving homework to their students, and a number of them have listened. Wayne Township is only the latest the join what is already a growing trend.

Florida’s Marion County Public School, Massachussett’s Kelly Elementary School, Vermont’s Orchard School, and countless others have already either outright banned or drastically lowered their students’ homework loads, and most say they’ve seen nothing but positive results.

The Utah school with no homework

Jeremy Ranch Elementary School experimented with a “no homework” policy last year. (Park City School District)

Even a school right here in Utah has experimented with the “no homework” idea. In 2017, Jeremy Ranch Elementary School in Park City experiments with days without homework. Instead of sending their students home with extra assignments, their teachers simply asked the parents to sit down and read their children.

“Our goal is that students create a daily habit of reading something they enjoy,” says principal Sean Kuennen.

One year later, Principal Kuennen says that his school’s “no homework” experiment is “going really well.”

“I’ve heard from a number of parents who are very appreciative of our new homework policy,” Keunnen told KSL. “Their lives are a lot less hectic.”

Academic performance, Kuennen says, has stayed high, and in some sense may even have improved. The school is current doing a reading challenge. Kuennen says that, thanks to the school’s new focus on reading, students seem to be doing better than ever.

Jeremy Ranch is keeping its “no homework” policy for the new school year and, currently, has no plans to put it to rest. Kuennen says, “We can only look so many months in advance, but barring unforeseen changes, it does seem to be supported by the wider educational research.”

The other side of the argument

A teacher at Orchard School in South Burlington, Vermont, which introduced a “no homework” policy of its own in 2016. (Bill Gorman/AP Photo)

Not everyone is happy to see homework go, though. One of the biggest supporters of keeping homework in our schools is – ironically enough – the man whose study started the whole anti-homework movement: Dr. Harris Cooper.

Dr. Cooper himself believes that his research has been wildly misunderstood. “The homework-banners use research the way a drunk uses a lamp post,” he quipped in an interview with Fatherly. “More for support than illumination.”

Though homework at the elementary level does not show direct academic benefits, Cooper says, it does help improve children’s comprehensive, creativity, and study habits. And at the secondary level, Cooper says that homework definitely does lead to academic gains.

The National PTA currently recommends that students receive about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Under those guidelines, a first-grader would be only getting 10 minutes of homework. A twelfth-grader, however, could be sent home with two hours of work to do each day.

Perhaps the best study of how well “no homework” policies really work, though, will be what happens in the schools that have already banned it.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens in schools in places like Wayne Township and Park City to find out what really happens when a school gets rid of homework.

Dave & Dujanovic weigh in

Dave & Dujanvoic, our listeners, and some local Utah teachers weighed on the “no homework” idea. If you missed Dave & Dujanovic on KSL Newsradio from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM, you can still hear what they had to say here:

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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