The Long Beach school district is eliminating “traditional” homework for math and other subjects at the elementary school level beginning in September, and instead focusing on more reading and play time after school, Schools Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Gallagher said in a letter to parents on Wednesday.
In her letter, which was also posted on the district’s website, Gallagher said that research suggests homework in elementary school “doesn’t help much at all.”
“Homework does have a positive effect on achievement in middle school and high school, but not in the elementary grades,” she wrote. “What does help elementary students is to read at home, but many students are sacrificing reading time because they’re too tired by the time they finish their homework. The U.S. Department of Education found that, generally, the more students read for fun on their own time, the higher their reading scores.”
Gallagher did not immediately return a call for comment. In her letter, she added that school officials “heard the call of parents” to add more reading and playtime, an important aspect of childhood development.
“We will be adding short ‘brain breaks’ in every elementary classroom in the fall to give students a bit more opportunity to move and play,” Gallagher wrote. “But we want to do more. So, beginning in September, we will be eliminating ‘traditional’ elementary homework. Instead, we are asking every child and every family to WRaP every night: Wonder, Read and Play.”
The district will soon be creating a short video to introduce the new practice, Gallagher said.
“Now, for students who may want to practice a few math problems, or work on a science project at home, of course, they can still do that,” Gallagher said. “But we want the priority to be reading. That’s what our teachers are going to be encouraging every single night.”
Gallagher cited research by John Hattie, a professor of education and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
“Homework in primary school has an effect of around zero — in high school it’s larger,” Hattie told BBC Radio 4. “Which is why we need to get it right. Not why we need to get rid of it. Certainly I think we get over obsessed with homework. Five to ten minutes has the same effect of one hour to two hours. The worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects. The best thing you can do is to reinforce something you’ve already learnt.”
Long Beach resident Janice Donaghy, a mother of four children who sits on the PTA at Lido School, supports the change, but said that the announcement sparked a mix response from parents.
“There’s a very big divide,” said Donaghy, an elementary school teacher in Franklin Square. “People who are not in education are kind of nervous, but the parents of the kids who struggle are happy and relieved, and the parents of the top students whose children are bored, I think they’d rather spend the time having their child read, go for an educational hike or play some basketball.”
Donaghy added that after a “rigorous” school day — which includes only about 20 minutes for recess — traditional homework that includes word problems and other drills cuts into after school activities and family time.
“They worked hard all day and now they have to come home to 20 math problems,” Donaghy said. “Our children step off the bus at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon and they’re in bed by 7 p.m. You look at those hours, and we have to eat, shower and we like to play a sport every season. We like to have a conversation. Reading is the number one thing that is so important for children to do.”
“With the state testing, I think teachers felt the need to cram curriculum in and that forced a lot of the homework, and teachers have little freedom to teach,” she added. “Either way, all research shows that homework does nothing for these children, whether they’re the low students or the high students, you’re either boring them or torturing them.”
Last year, the Patchogue-Medford school district reduced the amount of homework for elementary school students and increased recess time.
Robert Gerver, the author of 25 math textbooks and former teacher in the North Shore school district, according to Newsday, told the publication that homework gets a bad rap and defended its role in the early grades.
“It blows my mind that people will willingly send their kids to 12 hours a week of sports practice, and then take umbrage that they’ve got to spend 15 minutes making sure they can divide fractions correctly on their own,” he told Newsday.
Of course, like many students, Donaghy said her children were overjoyed by the news.
“They’re going to be so happy, and we can set up a reading time now,” she said. “That time is carved out now — we don’t have all this busy work to do.”
A number of parents took to social media to express both support and opposition to the change.
“Seems like we have a progressive child-centered educator at the helm,” one parent said of Gallagher on the Long Beach Opt Out/Refuse the Common Core Facebook page.
“I do not think this is a good idea at all,” one woman said. “Kids need practice and reinforcement of newly learned skills. Homework also teaches responsibility.”
“What matters most is the instruction happening in the classroom,” another woman commented. “As long as teachers are ‘teaching’ as opposed to ‘assigning,’ the homework shift should be successful.”