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Should Utah elementary schools kick homework to the curb?

By Deanie Wimmer, KSL TV | Posted - Nov. 14, 2017 at 10:31 p.m.

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PARK CITY — Wednesdays have become Lindsay Thompson's "insanity days," as she called them. She shuttles daughters between dance and home until 10 p.m. Homework and dinner get squeezed into spare minutes.

"Sometimes homework is a struggle," Thompson said.

But the temptation to skip homework for a more relaxed evening is just a fantasy.

"What is it teaching my child if I say, 'Let's just not do homework tonight?'" she asked.

That is precisely the question Park City School District is asking their families. Jeremy Ranch Elementary School is piloting a policy of no homework, except for reading.

"I would say for the last several years, we have noticed an increase in student anxiety," said principal Shawn Kuennen. "So, we began looking with the faculty at causes and solutions."

Educators at Jeremy Ranch encourage students to spend more time with family, play outside, and not spend the time watching TV or playing on devices.

"So, it's not a free for all," Kuennen said.

The reaction among families was more positive than they'd expected.

"It's completely changed our family," said Bonita Hutchison, who has children attending Jeremy Ranch.

On the day KSL visited, the Hutchisons' evening was a stark contrast with Thompson's "insanity day." The family ate dinner together, talked about their day, and actually played a game.

"We've gone from a family that was fighting and arguing and crying — sometimes all of us crying — over doing homework," Hutchison said. "It's changed the entire dynamics of our evening."

She and other parents were initially skeptical of going homework-free. They feared their children would be ill-prepared for middle school.

"Honestly, I was like: How are we going to know if she is learning this stuff if she doesn't bring it home?" Jenny Pelt said, referring to her daughter.

But happier home life and research have won over the vast majority.

The most-cited research is a 2006 meta-analysis by Harris Cooper entitled "Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?" The key summaries:

  • There is no evidence of homework achievement correlation in grades K-6.
  • There are modest gains of homework achievement correlation in grades 7-12.
  • Homework achievement correlation in grades 7, 8 and 9 exist when homework is in small amounts of time. It disappears entirely when students spent more than one hour on homework.
These are some of the findings that have led charter school Franklin Discovery Academy in Vineyard to include a no homework policy in its charter.

"We wanted to say, 'Hey parents, we trust you to spend time as your family time, and we'll take care of the school while they're here,'" said board member Jennifer Price.

Here, too, kids are encouraged to spend time with family and engaging in creative play.

"I think too often homework can take the joy out of learning," said Emily Jorgensen, a teacher at Franklin Discovery Academy.

She and other educators at the school say the no homework approach is one of the draws to their school.

Back at Jeremy Ranch, teachers are closely watching reading scores. They also provide resources for any families that feel their children aren't mastering the work at school.

If the pilot is successful, all four of Park City's elementary schools will go homework-free. Hutchison believes it is the right move.

"There's just too much pressure on kids today," she said. "And if this is one step to get them to a better place, then it's a step in the right direction."

Deanie Wimmer

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