New Homework Policy = No Homework Policy?

19 Aug

My daughter starts kindergarten in a few days.  She’s excited and apprehensive at the same time.  As am I.

I did find out something interesting at the “meet the teacher” open house yesterday.  According to her teacher, apparently our school district is looking to “move away from homework.”  I’m not sure exactly to what degree that will be carried (and neither is the teacher, who just found out about the new goal this week), but I can say that I’m fully in support of it.

While I’ve heard of schools trying out this idea of reducing, restructuring or eliminating homework, I’ve not heard of any local district pursuing it.

Personally, I think it could be a great idea.  Or it could be a terrible idea.

In my opinion, homework has two basic values:

  1. Memorization through sheer repetition, without taking time away from in-classroom learning hours
  2. Increasing the skill of working independently to complete tasks

However, for a lot of students, simply being “required” to complete work at home is not enough to build these skills.  Students actually have to be taught how to study or work independently (particularly if they are to succeed in college).  If this skill can be mastered in the classroom, where some supervision and guidance is still available, then that would greatly benefit the demographic of students for whom independent work does not come naturally.  However, if the skill of independent and self-guided work is not addressed, then all students will suffer – including the ones that would otherwise have mastered the skill on their own out of necessity.

When I was in school, we had a lot of homework.  Hours, each evening.  It was depressing.  I was fortunate enough to have some extracurricular activities that got me up on my feet and doing something active that I enjoyed, which probably kept me from going into depression with the amount of school work I had to do most nights.  However, those same extracurricular activities also took time away from my afternoons and evenings, making the homework assignments more difficult to complete in the amount of time I had available.  I was either losing sleep by staying up to finish homework, or wasting time by accidentally falling asleep on top of my assignment in the middle of the night.

So the idea of little or no homework for my kids?  I love it on the surface.  But in order to make it work, teachers will have to make up for the information and skills gained while doing the work outside of the classroom.  With the current budget issues in our public schools, the probability of this concerns me.  Because to truly make up for anything lost when homework is eliminated, I believe the school will have to increase two factors:

  1. Time allocated in the classroom for independent work
  2. Individual attention given to each student

You know what that means, right?  Longer hours (or a more succinct curriculum) and smaller class sizes.  Given the fact that the state of Texas has just cut $4 billion from schools that are already suffering from lack of funding (Texas ranks 43rd in the nation for money allocated per pupil), what is the probability that any district will consider increasing school operating expenses or hiring more teachers?  Highly unlikely.

So for the meantime, I guess we’ll just wait and see how the new homework policy works out.  I’m guessing we’ll end up with less than a lot of change.

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