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LI school superintendents' viewpoints on homework

Educators emphasize the importance of reading, whatever their

Educators emphasize the importance of reading, whatever their viewpoints on the pros and cons of homework. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStock

Debate about assigning homework to elementary school students arose after the Long Beach district announced it would eliminate traditional homework for those in kindergarten through fifth grade this fall and instead encourage children to read at home and devote more after-school time to play. Research and opinions vary on the value of homework for younger students. Newsday asked Long Island superintendents for their viewpoint and whether their district is considering revising a traditional approach to homework in elementary school.

James W. Polansky
Huntington Union Free School District

Homework has been a staple part of the education process for centuries. That, of course, doesn’t mean its application shouldn’t be reviewed, even scrutinized, in the context of how well it is helping students to grow. I don’t believe any educator would advocate for the assignment of meaningless busy work that would take students hours to complete on a given evening. With that said, simply declaring that homework should never be assigned takes the judgment of a classroom teacher, one who is in the best position to identify student strengths and deficiencies, completely out of the equation. Homework that is thoughtfully considered in terms of individual student needs and interests can serve a meaningful purpose. (It may be as simple as asking a student to read a short book to a family member.)

In Huntington, elementary students and parents have become accustomed to receiving communications from their principals and/or teachers prior to evenings on which formal homework assignments are expressly avoided; evenings on which, instead, students and parents are offered ideas and/or themes crafted to promote family dialogue (e.g. on topics of social and emotional importance).  In sum, educators should continue to engage in professional conversations on how to best use (or not use) homework in an age-appropriate manner that considers the needs and learning styles of individual students; however, its blanket removal may lead to missed opportunities for student progress.

Eva Demyen
Deer Park Union Free School District

The Deer Park school district has long held the belief that elementary level homework should be a vehicle by which students can reinforce daily learning through engaging in meaningful activities with their family. Specifically, reinforcing number sense through counting activities, cooking with the family using fractions and proportional reasoning, reading together and independently, etc.

Homework should not be a burden, but an activity that will support student growth and success. To reiterate, we believe in homework that is meaningful and appropriate to the grade level.

Joseph C. Bond
Bay Shore Union Free School District

I have always believed in the efficacy of homework.

Study after study has shown a positive correlation between the amount of homework a student completes and his or her level of academic success.

In Bay Shore, we believe that a moderate amount of homework given for the right reasons is beneficial. As a ground rule, I suggest approximately 10 minutes per grade level each night. It helps to establish routines and builds good habits, which is important when educating the whole child. Having to complete homework assignments at the elementary level builds a foundation for the secondary level.

I see every day the pressures placed upon the modern family. Parents work hard to provide the highest quality of life possible for their children. Sometimes this means they have less time to assist students with homework. One way to overcome this is to provide information on how parents can help students on assignments that require assistance.

Homework must be more than busy work meant to give the illusion of learning. It must reinforce the lessons already taught in the classroom as a way of ensuring learning sticks.

Cheryl Pedisich
Three Village Central School District

The Three Village Central School District recognizes the myriad issues and concerns surrounding the topic of homework. Our district will be reconvening a “Homework Committee” early this fall to explore, review, and re-evaluate current practices and, subsequently, depending on the outcome of discussion and feedback, revise our district policy on this salient issue. We will then be making a report to the Board of Education sometime in the fall of 2018.

Our review will include a multidisciplinary team of staff and administrators, as well as the incorporation of parent focus groups.

Michael J. Hynes
Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District

Homework is an age-old tradition that must be either redesigned or thrown out. Personally, I lean toward throwing it out. To take a page from someone who makes a great case against homework for elementary students, Alfie Kohn believes: “After spending most of the day in school, children are typically given additional assignments to be completed at home. This is a rather curious fact when you stop to think about it, but not as curious as the fact that few people ever stop to think about it." I’ll take it a step further. The problem is, when educators do stop to think about it and then discuss it, many people assume they are lowering standards and all children will automatically forget everything they learned in school.

First, Kohn makes a case that the negative effects of homework are well-known. This includes children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and possible loss of interest in learning. Many parents are anxious about the impact of homework on their relationship with their children and some dislike playing the role of “homework police.”

Second, Kohn states the positive effects of homework are mostly mythical. I firmly believe school communities have been fed this narrative for generations, much like the USDA’s original Food Pyramid. The old Food Pyramid paradigm has been debunked years ago, but not homework! The results about the alleged positive effects of homework are lacking. Kohn argues there is no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied. Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.

Finally, Kohn argues that more homework is being piled on children despite the absence of its value. He states, “Over the last quarter-century the burden has increased most for the youngest children, for whom the evidence of positive effects just isn’t there.”

In the Patchogue-Medford school district, we are looking for a balance of school and home life. We must ask hard questions such as, “How can homework hurt children who are living in poverty?” “What is meaningful homework?” and “Do we need to grade homework?" We will continue the conversation about the value of homework and create a new districtwide policy before the winter begins. Will we do away with ALL homework? I don’t think so, but I’m looking forward to this much-needed conversation.

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