FRUITHURST — As a former teacher who spent 11 years in the classroom, I always assigned homework to my students, no matter the grade level. As an administrator, I have always expected my teachers to assign homework, no matter the grade level.
I recently questioned those decisions and spent a lot of time researching the benefits, or the lack of benefits, of homework for children. When I shared my research, I was met with backlash from some people, especially educators. Imagine that. These were people of the mindset that “we have always had homework, therefore we must always have homework.” My answer was, “Just because it is something we have always done, doesn’t make it something that is right.”
As an educator with 21 years of experience, I have always loved advice except when it is given by people who haven’t walked in my shoes or when it is given by people who haven’t done their homework or research. Therefore, I made the decision at Fruithurst Elementary School, where I am principal, to start a No Homework Initiative at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. It has been the best decision I have ever made. Actually, I wish I had made it much earlier in my career.
With that being said, I now question why educators give homework or why I ever gave it or expected it in the past. The biggest reasons educators give homework are as follows:
-- Homework helps struggling children catch up.
-- Homework teaches children responsibility, good work habits, self-discipline and about the real world.
-- Children have homework in high school, so they better get used to it now.
-- At least math should be given for homework because repetition is needed to learn math.
-- There isn’t enough time in the day for teachers to teach all that is required of them.
-- Homework has to be assigned so the teacher can confirm that the student knows the skill.
-- Homework is the way parents know what their child is doing at school.
-- Homework helps children earn better grades.
I have proven all of these reasons wrong through research and the No Homework Initiative at Fruithurst Elementary.
What does all of this mean for Fruithurst Elementary, a small rural school in the northeast portion of Cleburne County? I am the type of person who wants proof in my pudding. And now, I have that proof. I actually have the proof to put in the naysayers’ pudding, as well.
One of the biggest complaints I heard was that students’ grades would drop without homework. A comparison of reading, math and English language-arts grades from the first semester of the 2015-16 school year (with homework) and the first semester of the 2016-17 school year (without homework) for first through sixth grades is worth noting. Students’ grades improved. Reading averages increased to 87 from 85. Math went up to 87 from 86. English-language arts went up as well, 92 from 91. (Other subjects are not compared because they are not taught for both semesters and could not be compared until the end of the school year.) There were no other changes at Fruithurst Elementary in curriculum or textbooks. Nothing has changed within the two years that are being compared in this data other than removing homework.
In these examples of documented improvement, homework at Fruithurst Elementary was not a factor in grades. This also proves that students are receiving what they need from their teachers and not specifically from homework. Therefore, homework has no bearing on a child’s grades. This documentation provides proof.
Many other positive things have taken place at Fruithurst Elementary since the No Homework Initiative began. The children’s motivation to learn has increased dramatically. Teachers have reported a serious improvement in children’s attitudes in the classroom since homework stopped being assigned. Discipline issues have even declined. Leisure reading has drastically increased with the children. The amount of books the children are checking out of the school library has skyrocketed. Research proves that leisurely reading improves knowledge, and research proves that homework does not improve knowledge. This is a win-win situation for Fruithurst students.
The best thing that has taken place is that all children now have a level academic playing field. Many children do not have the same home life to return to each day in order to complete homework. During the 2015-16 school year, 76 percent of the Fruithurst Elementary children went home to lives of poverty. That percentage doesn’t change much from year to year at Fruithurst Elementary. Homework became a struggle between the “haves” and the “have nots,” the ones who had help at home to complete it and the ones who did not. That has changed now that homework is not a factor. All students are all given the same outstounding instruction by their teachers that they have always received, equivalent materials to complete tasks and equal opportunities to excel academically in all ways imaginable. We’ve done that by simply doing away with the one thing the children despised so greatly -- homework.
Cristy Hiett is principal at Fruithurst Elementary School in Cleburne County.