What Happened When One School Stopped Giving Kids Homework and Asked Them to Read and Play Instead

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I’ve been struck by the amount of homework my Grade 1 son gets this year. I’m sure it’s a whole lot more than his sister got when she was in the same grade six years ago. Each night he’s expected to read a book to us, sort words into categories, and practise his writing – and once a week he also has to prepare an oral presentation to give to the class.

Where is his play time? And more importantly, where is my time to sit on the deck sipping wine and gazing wistfully at the sunset?

Principal of Orchard School in Vermont, USA met with the school’s 40 teachers last year to talk about homework for the school year – how much the kids were getting and whether it was helping them to learn anything.

He’d been considering the issue for a while, he said, and he was worried that there seemed to be an uneven workload for students in different classes – even within the same year level. Mark had been researching the effectiveness of homework and learned that, generally, homework in primary school isn’t linked to improved academic performance – with one exception: reading.

So in that meeting with the educators, Mark proposed an experiment: they would stop all homework in every grade and ask students to read on their own at home. Or, if they were not ready to read on their own at home yet, to do it with a parent or guardian. To his surprise, every single teacher agreed.

“All 40 votes yes,” he told the Washington Post, “And not just yes, but a passionate yes. When do you get 40 people to agree on something?”

The experiment

Orchard School instituted a No Homework Policy (shared on their website) that reads:

No Homework Policy

Orchard School Homework Information

Student’s Daily Home Assignment

  1. Read just-right books every night – (and have your parents read to you too)
  2. Get outside and play – that does not mean more screen time.
  3. Eat dinner with your family – and help out with setting and cleaning up.
  4. Get a good night’s sleep.

The result

Six months after starting the experiment, Mark says it has been a huge success. Students have not fallen behind academically, and may even be doing better. And now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”

Students are asked to read each night, and families are provide with book recommendations, but kids are not required to fill out records of what they’ve read. Mark says, “We know that we all make up  logs.”

Mark says he surveyed school families about the policy, and most parents from the 400-student school responded. The vast majority support the policy, saying their kids now have time to pursue other things, and many have said their kids are more willing to read on their own than they used to be.

A handful of parents were not fans of the policy because they’re concerned about how prepared their children will be for high school.

As for research on the subject, there is ongoing debate on the value of homework, but a meta-analysis published in 2006 is often cited, which says that homework in primary school does not contribute to academic achievement, and causes only a modest improvement in academic performance in older students.

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