No homework

At a Chicago-area K-8 school in a middle-class black area, students didn’t do homework. So teachers stopped assigning it, or made homework only 10 percent of the grade.

Caroline Lacey, a Marya Yates reading language arts teacher, sets aside 40 to 70 minutes of class time each week for students to read by themselves, a task that might otherwise be assigned as homework.

In other words, the teacher isn’t teaching about a third of the time; she’s a study hall monitor. In most schools, the “sustained silent reading” time is a separate period; it’s not taken out of class time.

Lee Dolan, a science teacher, hasn’t had a lunch period to herself in years, instead devoting that time to students looking to complete assignments.

Most 5th and 8th grade reading and writing scores are at or slightly above the state average, with math lagging. However, students may falter in high school, when they’ll have to manage their time and work without a teacher’s supervision.

About Joanne


  1. I teach in a formerly federal-mandated desegregated district (but even though the feds lifted the mandate 9 yrs. ago, no feeder patterns have really changed). It’s about 65-35% white-black, and the income disparities in some schools (like mine) are enormous.

    Last year, our principal, while demanding that we “hold high standards for all students” in the next breath said that “since many of our lower income students (ie, black) don’t do homework (due to lack of support at home, or whatever other reason), we should reconsider 1) assigning it; 2) how we weight it.”

    My obvious question was, how do you hold high standards for all, all the while either cutting homework for some — OR all? Thoughts?

  2. Independent George says:

    I’ve never been happy with using the quantity of homework as a metric of education; beyond a certain point, it becomes busy-work with little marginal utility. Furthermore, it’s hardly unusual to finish all your homework at school – that was my typical routine throughout HS.

    That said, I think Joanne’s got it right in terms of productivity – there’s no point in having a teacher spend an hour during the school day babysitting while the students read quietly by themselves. It would be far more productive to do that at home, while using the school day to clear up questions and introduce new concepts.

    I think this is a parent issue; the teachers are adapting as best they can to a situation beyond their control. They can’t enforce what students do at home, so they’re just trying to make sure that the material they used to assign as homework gets done in class. It’s wasteful, and badly serves the kids, but it’s the best that can be done if the parents aren’t willng to push their kids.

  3. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Homework should be practice/extension of skills and concepts learned in class; much like a sports coach would expect a certain amount of time spent in practice, so should a teacher. Set reasonable homework goals, (ie. 3 hours of h.w. in 5th grade is excessive; 15 minutes is too little) and then stick to them. Unfortunately, a whole class of unmotivated students (and their parents) is challenging, to say the least—perhaps vary the type of assignments, such as interviewing someone at home, teaching someone at home a skill they learned at school, etc. Lowering standards or expectations is like giving up or giving in to the worst elements of our society, something our public schools need to stop doing. (There are numerous lousy private schools, too, but at least taxpayers aren’t funding them.)

  4. Given the amount of wasted time in a typical school day, it’s unreasonable to require students to give up their own time in the form of homework. Teachers have a certain number of hours with the kids; they should use them to teach. When that bell rings, the kids are done for the day. If a teacher chooses to spend time taking attendance, getting people to sit down and shut up, assuring that everyone is on the same sentence of the same page of the same book at the same time, or doing anything else that isn’t teaching, it’s unreasonable to expect a kid to make up the difference outside of class.
    (This is only true of compulsory schooling of course.)
    (If teachers don’t have the freedom to organize their time well, this should be taken up with the administration.)

    “However, students may falter in high school, when they’ll have to manage their time and work without a teacher’s supervision.”
    Er, you would rather they faltered now, having to manage their time and work without a teacher’s supervision?
    Perhaps you could use these years to show them how to manage their time–setting an example by managing class time well? This would be ‘teaching,’ as opposed to ‘hoping they figure it out on their own somehow.’
    Anyway, at each stage, they threaten that the handholding won’t continue at the next stage. But it always does.