Low-Performing Massachusetts School Bans Homework

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke, Massachusetts has eliminated homework for the whole school year. That is good news for students, but there is a catch – the school day is going to be extended, which some educators say will not benefit the kids.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Christina Beck reports that some interested parties are asking how a longer school day can be a sound choice for pupils who already have full plates even after homework is taken away.

The decision is a piece of the national discussion of the relevance of homework as it applies to the quality of the education of US students. Another piece was a letter sent home by a second-grade teacher in Texas who decided not to give homework and encouraged parents to spend that time talking and being with their children.

“It is my opinion that the additional time in front of teachers will benefit students,” says Kelly Community School Principal Jacqueline Glasheen in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “The most impact in a student’s education is brought on by a teacher.”

Extension of the school day was mandated by the state in 2015 when the entire district showed low test scores and poor performance. At that time, the district went into “state receivership,” meaning under the administration of the state and ceased to be controlled locally.

Holyoke middle schoolers are getting an extra hour at the end of the day. Elementary pupils will have an added hour at the beginning of the day, which will start at 8:00 a.m., and another 60 minutes at the end of the day, with dismissal at 4:00 p.m.

Glasheen says the extra time gives Kelly an opportunity to add various learning experiences in the classroom and other locations, such as the YMCA where children will be given swimming lessons. The lengthening of the day will also include supplementary classroom instruction and enrichment studies.

Columbia University Teachers College Professor of Education Thomas Hatch believes that additional time in school each day can be fruitful if educators balance academic work with extracurricular activities. But Alfie Kohn, who wrote “The Homework Myth” and “The Case Against Standardized Testing,” says the extended school days are being rolled out to allow for additional preparation for standardized assessments.

Morgan Winsor of ABC News quoted Principal Glasheen, who said:

“The toughest stakeholder group was the teachers,” she said. “Some of them felt [students] need that extra practice. They need that extra work.”

So far, not many schools are lengthening their days as much as Kelly Community School has, but even with traditional school day hours, many experts say that “at home” school work is not beneficial to young people.

Kohn adds that homework is often the source of family conflict, frustration, exhaustion, loss of time for other activities, and a dulling of the excitement for learning.

However, Thomas B. Fordham Institute Senior Fellow Robert Pondiscio said that doing homework may be more profitable for low-income pupils than for young people in more affluent districts. The majority of Kelly School students are Hispanic and from low-income families.

“I still think we’re in a situation in this country where we have a far greater problem of expecting too little — not too much — of kids, and homework falls into that,” Pondiscio told ABC News.

Glasheen still believes that face time with a teacher will help children more than doing work at home. The district’s leaders are planning to analyze standardized exams after this academic year before they make a decision about keeping the length of day and no homework policy in place, writes Arden Dier of Newser.