How much homework should kids be doing?
It's a question that has spurred debate among educators and parents after one local school district proposed banning homework over weekends and holidays to give students more time to spend with their families and on sports and hobbies. The policy would also restrict the amount of homework assigned at each grade level.
Officials in the kindergarten through eighth-grade Galloway Township Public School District, where the policy was proposed, argued research shows that in elementary school, there's little to no correlation between time spent on homework and student achievement. If approved, the policy would go into effect at the beginning of the next school year.
"The most important aspect of what we are promoting is that homework is meaningful," Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said. "We are looking to avoid giving the basic assignment - for example 15 math problems - on Friday that is due on Monday. We also hope that students will use their weekend time to be with their families, visit educational sites, volunteer and play - especially if it is physical activity."
Yet the idea of adopting what some are calling less-than-stringent standards has drawn strong reactions. Earlier this month, former Olympian Carl Lewis, who is running for the 8th District Senate seat, publicly denounced the township's plan, saying it defied common sense.
"We can't raise educated, hardworking children when schools refuse to push students to excel by banning weekend homework," Democrat Lewis said.
Area school districts have been listening closely to the homework debate being waged in the Galloway district, and it doesn't appear any are gearing up to make a similar policy shift. Many say, however, that weekend homework is already a rarity.
In the Brigantine and Ventnor school districts, the amount of homework assigned is left up to individual teachers. Weekend assignments are allowed, but are not the norm.
"I really believe that teachers know their students and know what's appropriate. To make a blanket policy, I'm a reluctant on that," Ventnor Superintendent Carmine Bonanni said. "Student needs can differ."
‘Not busy work'
The kindergarten through sixth-grade Lower Township Elementary School District has a policy that no student should receive more than an hour of homework a night, said interim Superintendent Joseph Cirrinicione, stressing an hour across all grades is the absolute maximum.
"I don't believe in inundating students with homework at the elementary level," Cirrinicione said. "It should be quality work, not busy work. If we're talking about first grade, maybe going over spelling words is the only homework, and that's fine."
The idea was clearly a hit for a group of students at Roland Rogers Elementary School in Galloway. Not surprisingly, a group of first- through third-grade students at an after-school program could name a laundry list of things they'd rather be doing than homework.
"I like playing softball on the weekends better," said 9-year-old Jada Edwards.
Galloway is considering instituting a formal policy that no more than 10 minutes of homework, multiplied by the child's grade level, be assigned per night. For a fifth-grade student, that would make 50 minutes of homework the maximum.
The district has used that guideline as a standard, but the policy has never been formalized.
The Egg Harbor Township School District also informally goes by the 10-minute rule. Superintendent Scott McCartney said he wouldn't foresee making a formal policy to ban weekend homework. Some students may have situations at home that make the weekends an optimal time to do homework.
This year, the district also made a rule that homework should no longer be graded. Students should not be penalized through assignments that are simply meant to practice a skill, he said.
"We do encourage our teachers to let our students have the weekends for family time," McCartney said. "Kids are busier than ever. Families are busier than ever, and it's not the typical family anymore. Schools have to be aware of that, and a lot of time what's missing for kids is the down time to ride their bikes and play with the neighbors - just time to do kid things."
Popular research has also recently pointed to the idea that kids need time to be kids.
Cathy Vatterott, author of "Rethinking Homework," and a professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has gained popularity for her stance that homework should be tailored to individual children's needs. Her writings have also criticized school districts for trying to pass off excessive amounts of homework to students, which can leave parents completing the work instead of their children.
"There's something wrong when homework doesn't allow for a healthy balance of work, play, down time, fresh air and exercise for growing children," Vatterott writes on her website. "Two-career families with precious little family time together shouldn't have to compete with homework on weekends and school vacations."
Not a big change
Galloway officials consulted Vatterott's work before making recommendations. The district also conducted teacher and parent surveys, which were used as a guideline for recommendations.
In the surveys of about 270 teachers, they overwhelmingly said homework is already only a Monday through Thursday activity. More than 98 percent said they don't assign homework over vacations, and nearly 96 percent said they don't assign homework on weekends.
Parents said they're generally happy with the amount of homework their kids bring home. Just more than half of 360 parents surveyed said the amount of homework students are assigned is "just right." Only 8 percent said their children's homework is "too easy."
Gail Pomrink, a parent with two children in the Galloway district, said she doesn't see why the district would need a new policy. Her children rarely are assigned homework on the weekends as it is, and that's fine with her, she said.
"They need to be doing homework, but really, what they've had this year hasn't been bad at all," Pomrink said. "Once in a while there's been a weekend assignment, which doesn't bother me. It's rare though."
Parent Holly Hackney said she's confused by the debate. Her four daughters have graduated from the Galloway school district. Her son is in the fifth grade at Smithville Elementary. Weekend homework in the district was a rarity, even for her two oldest daughters who have now graduated high school.
That's the way it should be; even some of the homework assigned during the week is too much, she said.
"I think kids come home, and they're done with school. I really don't think it's necessary to force them to do busy work," Hackney said. "They need to be doing something that's going to help them like studying for a test, working on a project or a book report - not work just to do work."
Contact Jennifer Bogdan