School bans homework so kids can run and play. But will they run to play video games?

Will no homework policies lead to more outdoor play or indoor screen time? (AP Photo)

An elementary school in Oregon announced it will no longer assign homework. A similar policy decision by a Texas second-grade teacher went viral on Facebook three weeks ago and earned national applause, reflecting growing parental exasperation with homework.

The new schoolwide policy at Cherry Park Elementary in East Portland grew out of teacher research on the value of homework. Here is an excerpt of the news story in the Oregonian by education reporter Betsy Hammond, who used to write about education for the AJC:  (Find full story here.)

Instead this is what the school urges students to do in the evenings and on weekends: Play outside. Cuddle with your parents. Play board games with your siblings. Pick up a favorite book to read or be read to. Run around and be as active as you can.

Why ban homework? A team of teachers at Cherry Park Elementary in the David Douglas school district in East Portland dug into the research and found that, while high school students learn more when they do homework, for elementary pupils, there is little to no evidence homework does any good.

Principal Kate Barker says assigning regular homework isn’t a fabulous idea at any elementary school, but especially not at Cherry Park, where at least 75 percent of students live at or below the poverty line and families speak more than 30 different languages. “We find that homework really increases that inequity,” Barker said. “It provides a barrier to our students who need the most support.”

When I wrote about the Texas teacher’s no homework announcement, I talked to Duke University professor Harris M. Cooper, a national expert on time and learning. While he agrees homework in the lower grades is unlikely to spur great academic gains, Cooper maintains there is value to homework appropriate to a child’s age and development.

“You are never going to show an enormous effect on achievement from homework with a second grader. But homework can have possible effects on learning and study habits, time management and on the parents’ ability to see what their child’s strengths and weaknesses are. It is helpful to think about homework the same way you think about prescribed medication or a dietary supplement. Take too little of it and it won’t have any effect at all. Take too much and it can kill you,” he said.

Despite the growing laments about too much homework, the Brown Center Report on American Education found that except for 9-year-olds — who used to have no homework and now have some — the homework load has remained stable since 1984. That doesn’t mean parental complaints about too much homework are invalid, but they are atypical, according to the report.

I also interviewed Cathy Vatterott,  an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who has been researching, writing, and speaking about homework for almost 20 years. Among her books: “Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs.”

She said homework can be helpful, if it is good homework that addresses the child’s needs and learning style. She gives the example of teaching the multiplication tables and assigning practice multiplying by 7 for homework that week. One child may decide to recite the multiplication table to learn it, while another may write it down and still another may use a grid. “Homework should be about asking kids what they need to work on and then kids coming back and setting their own goals,” she said.

The Oregon school wants its students to do outdoor and family activities instead of homework, but will kids enjoy board games with their families, play outside or read more? I would be curious what research will eventually tell us about how kids spend the time freed from nightly homework.

I suspect more screen hours may be one outcome of homework-free afternoons and evenings.  Research finds kids ages 6-11 spend about 28 hours a week in front of the TV.  And 71 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds now have a TV in their bedroom. Studies show American parents are now giving their kids their first real cellphones at age 10.

What do you think? Should Georgia elementary schools adopt homework bans?

Reader Comments 0

33 comments
weetamoe
weetamoe

"Ban" is an odd word to use in this context.

jpr5000
jpr5000

Go ahead and put even greater load on the teachers!   There is only so much they can accomplish in a school day if not reinforced at home.   I'm not talking about doing more worksheets.  Rather, the simple things that families should do together:  talk, read, practice/review, AND of course unplug and play outside!   While I am into having the kids play more, it is the parents who have to make it happen.  The cause at elementary and middle school is rarely because of too much homework.  

Michael2255
Michael2255

None of that Ten Commandments and bible nonsense either.  Save that for Sunday morning.  

give_em_the_bird
give_em_the_bird

Yea for liberal state-run schools!!!!  Keep our kids stupid!!!  The purpose of homework in elementary school is to teach them how to study and prepare for high school.  These kids will have a very tough time when they get to high school.  They are going to sit their lazy rears in front of the TV, not go out and play.  When you put junk in the brain, junk comes out.  I can't wait to hear all these parents complain 5 years from now when their kid is failing high school.

Starik
Starik

@give_em_the_bird That depends on the high school. I know of schools that, if they assign homework, do nothing if it isn't done. The same goes for unexcused absences.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Starik @give_em_the_bird Not allowed to grade down  for undone homework.  The absences should be seen to by the judges, but rarely are, around here.

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady @Starik @give_em_the_bird Many kids don't have a computer or video games. They know a lot about shoes, clothes and rap though. Maybe an older brother will let them play games on his stolen PS3.

Courtney2
Courtney2

We should leave decisions like this to the professionals. Teachers know what works and what does not.  

Starik
Starik

@Courtney2 Then why is nothing working for poor children in many cases?

redweather
redweather

The value of every lesson, in school as well as in life, is driven by reinforcement. That should be what homework is for--to reinforce school lessons.  

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

This is kind of like a basketball coach getting rid of free throw practice.  The reality in life is that practice is important.  And homework is in many ways practice.


Will be interesting to see the impact on these kids in 2-3 years.  I hope they don't lose ground when compared to other kids who do continue to get homework.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Children will play outside, play board games, go for walks if the FAMILY including mom and dad do it, and make it a priority. Sadly, like eating homemade meals together, it is almost extinct.  When kids see mom and dad on their "machines" all the time, it translates into what the kids do.


Parents:  Unplug and get active WITH your kids!

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


Couldn't agree more.Bra-Vo!


I'd just like to add that we need to avoid the "drop off" mode of parenting also.It doesn't make you a good parent when you drop off your kid at sports practice,school events or church.(It makes you a poorly paid taxi driver).Real engagement prioritizes these activities and puts them in their proper place.

Doris Dee
Doris Dee

All elementary schools should adopt the homework ban.  Little kids come home and have to immediately do homework because there is so much of it.  Homework should be a once in a while activity when covering a difficult topic.  Home activity should not be driven by school activities.


give_em_the_bird
give_em_the_bird

@Doris Dee These are the kids who want $15/hr for flipping burgers.  Ain't gonna happen and they are all about to be replaced by Kiosks.  Well done libs!

Starik
Starik

@give_em_the_bird @Doris Dee If we had competent principals and other policy makers a policy could be tailored to the kids who are being taught.  That's why we need separate classes for high achievers, medium and low achievers.  Give the kids what they need.

realitycheck5923
realitycheck5923

@Starik @give_em_the_bird @Doris Dee  I can speak through experience: those enrichment tests that are given to elementary school kids have no bearing on who can critically think or who will actually create innovative solutions to the world's problems. Those tests are so subjective. At least half of the kids who entered enrichment in my elementary school ended up being slackers in high school and so forth, and some of those who weren't "qualified" ended up taking all of the AP classes in high school and going on to achieve great things. So, who has the right to determine who is a "high achiever" and a "low achiever", especially that early in the game? There are so many other variables that you have to consider in that situation. A solution as simplistic as you outlined won't cut it. 

Starik
Starik

@realitycheck5923 @Starik @give_em_the_bird @Doris Dee Ah, but if the kids who cut up in class and don't listen to the teacher (or sleep) and who denigrate the kids who "act white" teaching can't be effective for either group. If a low achiever behaves, wants to learn and can learn promote him/her to the next higher level; if they do fine, maybe they can be at the highest level. 


If you can't save all the kids at least save some of them.

Astropig
Astropig

 If you spend time with your kids,talk with them,laugh with them,teach them things...They won't want or need video games or TV.Those amusements are simply their way to have some mental engagement so that they are not bored and lonely.


I'll have to admit,I'm a stranger to this world of 24/7 amusement-entertainment for kids.We didn't have cable,video games or any of that stuff when AstroKids were growing up. Didn't have time.We spent the evenings talking,laughing,doing stuff.Parents that don't do that are missing out on life's greatest pleasure.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

I agree with everything you said. I feel sad when I'm eating out and see full families on electronic devices instead of talking to each other. I see adults talking while the children are eyes deep on an ipad or phone. They are denying the children a very valuable learning experience and life skill by doing this.

Astropig
Astropig

@sneakpeakintoeducation


Astropig(jr.) is a high tech (HIGHEST tech) maven.He does IT work that is used in national defense and other complicated applications.You'd think that he'd spend his day answering co-workers questions about virtual networks,system security protocols and remote virtualization.You'd be wrong.They ask him how to build a sink trap in their kitchen,wire up a tankless water heater and do a tune up on their European import car.He can do this because we did this when he was younger.His sisters can whip up finger foods for their co-workers weddings and cross stitch a wall hanging for their wedding gift.All while doing a smashing job in nursing and pharmacy,respectively.


I truly feel sorry for any parent that doesn't get the chance to teach and learn with their kids.

MotocrossSurvivor
MotocrossSurvivor

No homework would have been a dream for me.  I remember grammar school especially....going home with my arm out about a foot carrying arithmetic, geography, English, science and history books with tons of hw to do.  I spent more time with school work than most adults spent on the job.  Too much stress for a child.

denniscbrown
denniscbrown

Thinking kids will spend the evening hours playing board games or cuddling with their parents or playing outside during winter hours while a noble thought, is whistling Dixie. Even a second grader will spend that extra time solo in front of the tube or playing games of some sort on his or her electronic tool of choice - even if members of lower income families. If learning facts and figures is the only goal then I would question the impact of homework on the second grader. But if, as  Duke's Cooper says above "... homework can have possible effects on learning and study habits, time management and the parents ability to see what their child's strengths and weaknesses are" then let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. 

Starik
Starik

@denniscbrown Lots of kids spend the evening as far from their parent and the parent's current partner as possible, justifiably so. 

ErnestB
ErnestB

While a noble idea, unfortunately I don't believe this will achieve the intended outcome.  Perhaps a daily homework assignment could be given to have the children either write (language arts and English) and/or speak (Public speaking) about how they spent their time during class.  This could provide some type of measure to the teachers regarding the effectiveness of the request.

CSpinks
CSpinks

How 'bout letting kids run and play at school during recesses? You remember recess?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@CSpinks You'd be amazed at how few kids use recess to run and play.  They stand around in small groups and stuff their faces!