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More parents are saying ‘no’ to homework and teachers might agree

Oct. 9, 2019
More parents are saying ‘no’ to homework and teachers might agree

It’s hard to know who dreads homework more: kids or their parents. After a long day, so many families come home to a stack of worksheets and reading assignments they think are important to helping children become better students, but is that really the case? Recently, parents and teachers alike have started to question the value of forcing kids to hit the books as soon as they get home from school, and many are adopting controversial no-homework policies that seek to put an end to homework altogether.

In a recent piece in the Washington Post, writer Rebecca Swanson said she shocked most of her friends when she told them she’d simply opted out of making her kindergartener do any homework. 

“This seems like a common sense and practical approach,” she writes. “Yet many friends I’ve spoken with have not considered it, and they say, ‘What do you mean, opt out?’”

What she means is she wrote a note to her child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year, letting them know her family does not support homework for elementary-age kids and won’t be doing any assignments that are sent home. While many parents probably hadn’t considered that as an option, Swanson is far from the only parent saying “no” to homework. Last month, a writer for Romper.com wrote that her family is also “boycotting” homework because it takes too much time, and she views it as busy work. Last year, a writer for Scary Mommy described homework as a “nightly hell” and praised teachers who don’t force kids to turn it in.

The number of teachers ditching homework is also growing. This school year, staff members at Koda Elementary School in Corpus Christi, Texas, announced they would not be assigning homework anymore. A similar policy also exists at schools in Marion County, Florida, and at the Orchard School in South Burlington, Vermont

In 2016, a second-grade teacher in Godley, Texas, went viral after she sent a note home telling parents that instead of homework, “I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside and get your child to bed early.”

Many parents and teachers who are rejecting homework cite the lack of conclusive evidence that homework is actually beneficial. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development notes that while there is some research that indicates homework can help improve knowledge retention and test scores, giving students hours of homework each night can result in burnout and stress that is experienced by the whole family, not just by individual students.

Rather than sending home piles of work each night, they say homework should be purposeful in reinforcing lessons, designed to match the student’s skill level and shouldn’t require parents to act as teachers. Most importantly, they cite research that shows homework given at the elementary school level has the lowest association with positive outcomes and is not proven to have any benefits.

While opting out of homework is the new trend for many parents, others feel it should be the teachers who ultimately have the final say. 

“The teacher is the boss of the class,” Kristi Moore, a mom of three from Buda, Texas, tells Care.com. “The kid's job is [to] learn the lessons from the teacher. [We’ve] had both exceptional and terrible teachers. Raised three kids. I have been seen buying poster board at 10 p.m. on a Sunday, but finishing the work is the kid's job.”

For many parents, like Jami Hanford, a mom of two from Omaha, Nebraska, skipping homework simply isn’t an option. 

“My kids lose recess time if their homework is not completed,“ she tells Care.com. “It gets done, or my kids panic.”

But other parents say moms and dads should always talk to their child’s teacher if they’re worried about the amount of work they’re doing. Jeanne Sager, a mom of one from Callicoon, New York, tells Care.com that when she noticed her daughter was spending hours on homework each night, she decided to set her own time limits, rather than exempting her daughter from homework altogether. 

“I set down a rule that she'd work for an hour, and then I'd write a note saying she did not finish this because she has spent enough time on homework for the night,” Sager says.

The idea that parents can opt out of homework or offer feedback to help teachers shape the homework curriculum for their kids is still new, but it seems to be a philosophy that many people are on board with. 

“Your child has plenty of time throughout the day to complete assignments,” says a Frisco, Texas, high school teacher who asked to be identified as Mrs. King. “Homework should be enrichment activities, like reading for fun.”

King says she assigns “maybe one” activity each week that should be done outside of class, and she’s only seen positive results from limiting the amount of work she gives out. 

“... I feel like I'm happier and the kids are happier,” she says. “I'm not trying to compete with family, sports, work, community service, etc. when I see them seven hours out of the day.”

It’s doubtful that homework will ever disappear entirely, and research still hasn’t proven it needs to. But most parents and even educators seem to agree there is more flexibility around approaches to homework than previously thought. Whether homework is here to stay or goes the way of the dodo bird, the debate over homework is an important reminder for parents that they do have a say in their child’s education and that teachers really do need communication and support to determine what’s best for each child.

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