Why some schools are abolishing homework in favor of self-selected reading

"The quality of homework assigned is so poor that simply getting kids to read, replacing homework with self-selected reading, was a more powerful alternative," said Professor Richard Allington.


This September, the 20,000 elementary school students of Florida's Marion County public school district will enter school with the promise that they will not be doing any more homework as part of their daily school life. The policy is introduced by the county's new superintendent Heidi Maier. She motivated her decision with research that shows that homework does not improve achievement for younger students, but time free from school type activities is important for their development. The policy will exclude some occasional assignments, like science projects or research papers.

The no homework policy is a rarity in the U.S., where the demanding emphasis on standardized test scores leads to a constant pressure, on students and teachers, for rigorous preparation starting as early as possible. In Finland, however, where students have consistently been amongst the top performers on international academic assessment tests like PISA, homework is not considered an important tool for academic success (nor are standardized tests considered an important tool for its measurement).

In addition to doing away with homework, Maier will encourage parents to spend quality time with their kids each evening, reading to them for at least 20 minutes. While there is no solid evidence that homework is beneficial for academic success in younger kids, there is plenty of evidence that reading is. Maier cited the work of Richard Allington as support for her decision. Allington is a professor of education at the University of Tennessee, and has dedicated his career on studying early literacy.

"The quality of homework assigned is so poor that simply getting kids to read replacing homework with self-selected reading was a more powerful alternative," Allington said in an e-mail for the Washington Post. “Maybe some kinds of homework might raise achievement but if so that type of homework is uncommon in U.S. schools."

While Maier encourages reading all types of texts to increase reading comprehension, some research has shown that at least when it comes to increasing empathy, the type of reading assignment matters.

Emanuele Castano and David Kidd conducted five studies in which they gave participants excerpts from different types of texts: popular fiction, literary fiction, nonfiction or nothing. Afterwards they administered a Theory of Mind test which measures a person's capacity to understand that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from their own. The results of the studies showed that literary fiction but not popular fiction or nonfiction increased Theory of Mind skills.

So far, Maier says that parents are welcoming the change and so are teachers.

"I am in support of the no-homework policy," said Lisa Fontaine-Dorsey, a third-grade math and science teacher at Wyomina Park Elementary School. “I didn't give homework anyway. I think they need to go home and play and do something healthy, like sports. All day at school they are pressured with the test, test, test environment. They need to go home and get away from that. It will be beneficial to the students."

As for any older students hoping for homework-free days, there are no plans for introducing the policy in middle school or high school. Research shows some positive academic effects of homework in these age groups.

Got a question for a real NASA astronomer? Ask it here!

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller is coming back to Big Think to answer YOUR questions! Here's all you need to know to submit your science-related inquiries.

Videos

Big Think's amazing audience has responded so well to our videos from NASA astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication Michelle Thaller that we couldn't wait to bring her back for more!

And this time, she's ready to tackle any questions you're willing to throw at her, like, "How big is the Universe?", "Am I really made of stars?" or, "How long until Elon Musk starts a colony on Mars?"

All you have to do is submit your questions to the form below, and we'll use them for an upcoming Q+A session with Michelle. You know what to do, Big Thinkers!

Keep reading Show less

Why eating ice cream is linked to shark attacks

Why are soda and ice cream each linked to violence? This article delivers the final word on what people mean by "correlation does not imply causation."

popular
  • Ice cream consumption is actually linked to shark attacks.
  • But the relationship is correlative, not causal.
  • It's pretty stunning how media outlets skip over this important detail.
Keep reading Show less
Change.org
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The tongue-in-cheek petition, whose stated aim is to reduce the national debt, has been signed more than 8,600 times as of Tuesday.
  • Selling Montana, the fourth largest state in the country, would constitute the largest land deal since the Louisiana Purchase.
  • The national debt is often a source of concern for individuals, but the chances of the U.S. defaulting on its debts are relatively low — in part because the bulk of the national debt is owned by the American public.
Keep reading Show less

The answer to Skynet? A democratically controlled supermind.

The plan to stop megacorps from owning superintelligence is already underway.

Videos
  • A.I. technology is often developed within the proprietary silos of big tech companies. What if there was an open, decentralized hub for A.I. developers to share their creations? Enter SingularityNET.
  • The many A.I.s in the network could compete with each other to provide services for users but they could also cooperate, giving way to an emergent-level mind: artificial general intelligence.
  • SingularityNET is powered by blockchain technology, meaning whatever 'digital organism' emerges will not be owned or controlled by any one person, company or government.
Keep reading Show less