In face of homework bans, local educators a voice for moderation

  • William E. Norris School Principal Aliza Pluta works with students, from left, Joli Turgon, Jerica Gilbuena, and Desmond Galpin during sixth-grade science class taught by Lisa Rice. The Southampton school has academic support after school for students to do their homework or receive extra help. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lisa Rice, the 6th grade science teacher at Norris Elementary School in Southampton, works with students during class Friday morning. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lisa Rice, the sixth-grade science teacher at Norris Elementary School in Southampton, works with Desmond Galpin, 11, of Easthampton, during class Friday morning. Behind them is Joli Turgon. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Riley Smith, 11, of Southampton, measures a goldfish during teacher Lisa Rice’s science class. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lisa Rice, the sixth-grade science teacher at Norris Elementary School in Southampton, works with Jessa Craig, 11, of Southampton, during class Friday morning. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • From left, Samantha Yunes, 11, of Southampton, Trinity Ross, 11, of Agawam and Holyoke, and Justin Daniels, weigh goldfish during sixth-grade science class taught by Lisa Rice at William E. Norris Elementary School in Southampton. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2016 9:05:11 PM

After nearly four decades in the classroom, second-grade teacher Johanna Korpita has seen the ebb and flow over how much — or how little — homework children should complete.

So as several schools nationwide launch no-homework policies this fall, including at least two in Massachusetts — Holyoke and Essex — and one in Texas that swept the internet in August, Korpita knows from experience that the way schools approach homework often changes. 

But based on her experience, homework, in the right doses, helps students learn valuable life skills, says the longtime teacher at Anne T. Dunphy School in Williamsburg. Korpita, who has been teaching first and second grade since 1978, has tried to keep homework consistent over the years as family dynamics have changed and life at home is different for each student.

That’s why she assigns the same homework every week and collects homework every Friday. Korpita’s students are assigned a new list of spelling words weekly. This work can vary from writing each word five times to writing sentences using the words.

“I don’t want my kids to have tons of homework,” Korpita said.

Doing the homework is a learning process for students and the act of remembering to put it in the homework folder is an organization skill, according to the teacher.

“(Students) learn how to multitask,” she said.

Not all elementary school teachers agree. In August, the no-homework policy of a second-grade teacher in Texas went viral after a letter she sent home to parents was posted on Facebook. In the letter, teacher Brandy Young announced a new policy for her class: no homework. Only assignments students did not finished during school hours would be finished at home.

“Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance,” Young wrote in a letter to parents. “I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside and get your child to bed early.”

This year, a growing number of schools are following the “no-homework” trend.

Kelly Full Service Community School in Holyoke banned homework after the school’s district extended the school day by two hours, and a similar move was made at Essex Elementary School in northeast Massachusetts. The idea behind both policy changes is to let young students just be kids after school.

Korpita is careful to say that the decision to ban homework should be determined by individual schools based on student needs. She said it makes sense that the Kelly school would stop assigning homework given length of the school day.

Research, debate

The question of how much work children should be doing outside of school remains controversial, and plenty of parents take issue with no-homework policies, worried their kids are losing a potential academic advantage.

In what many education experts say is among the most comprehensive studies of the issue, Duke University researchers in 2006 concluded that the correlation between homework and achievement was much stronger among secondary students than with those in elementary schools.

The study, led by physchology professor Harris Cooper, focused on how homework impacts academic achievement. His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills.

On the other hand, some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. He concludes that a small amount of homework is useful for all students, though elementary students should not be doing two hours of homework a night.

Local reaction

Locally, many schools and teachers say homework prepares students for the future.

Teachers at William E. Norris School, a kindergarten through sixth grade school in Southampton, assign students about 10 minutes of homework per grade level, said Principal Aliza Pluta. That means third-graders are expected to complete 30 minutes of homework daily, while sixth-graders do an hour.

“We don’t want them struggling all night long,” Pluta said.

Homework in elementary school prepares students for middle and high school, according to Pluta.

“We post homework online just in case a student forgets,” Pluta said.

Additionally, sixth-graders have academic support from 2:40 to 3 p.m. where students have the opportunity to work on homework and ask teachers for help.

Lisa Rice, a sixth-grade science teacher at William E. Norris School, said many of her students work on their homework during academic support.

Sixth-grader MacKenzie Cote, 11, said she does homework during this time and finishes almost all it on the bus. Her mom is the bus driver, so she rides until the bus is dropped off at the depot.

Other students take homework assignments in stride.

Connor Morrison, 11, plays video games and waits until his mom comes home at 5 p.m. to start his homework. When he forgets to complete an assignment, he tries to get it done in the morning.

Riley Smith, 11, said her mom checks the school’s website for the homework assignments and is good about making sure she completes all of them. Smith said when she takes a test she thinks back about her homework.

And sixth-grade student Mason Mish, 11, said he gets a good amount of homework done during academic support. At home, he spends about 45 minutes working on homework. “I try to always do it,” Mish said. “My brother is a different story.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.




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