May 27, 2011 / 7:42 PM / in 7 years

School's out as districts weigh lightening homework loads

MONTCLAIR, New Jersey (Reuters) - School districts from coast to coast are weighing the elimination of homework on weekends and holidays, part of a move by educators to rein in student workloads.

<p>Students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School use their laptops during a class in Dorchester, Massachusetts June 20, 2008. REUTERS/Adam Hunger</p>

Officials at public schools in Galloway Township, New Jersey, this week proposed no more homework on weekends and holidays for their 3,500 students, and the Pleasanton Unified School District in northern California suggested drastic changes to homework policy for the 14,500-student district.

The moves come in response to complaints from parents that children spend too many after-school hours buried in work, and concerns from teachers that test preparation trumps learning.

Some, like Grant Elementary School in Glenrock, Wyoming have eliminated homework altogether for primary school children. But others are just trying to lighten the load.

“Kids need to be given balance in their lives,” said Jane Golden, Pleasanton’s district director of curriculum and special projects.

Parents there said they were outraged that middle school students were spending four hours a night on homework in the high-performing Bay Area district.

Under the proposal, there would be no weekend or holiday homework for elementary students, while middle and high school students would get a reprieve on holidays and vacations.

The new policy in Pleasanton would set time limits on how much homework children can be assigned and require teachers to coordinate tests and projects so students do not get too many assignments at one time.

In Galloway, in southern New Jersey, the suggested changes would limit the time children spend on homework by using a formula of 10 minutes a day multiplied by a child’s grade. Thus, a child in second grade would have no more than 20 minutes of homework a day, with nothing assigned on Fridays.

“This is about homework being meaningful and making it manageable,” said District Superintendent Annette Giaquinto.

The issue of stressed-out students overloaded with homework as well as tough academic commitments and extracurricular activities drew attention among parents’ groups with the release of a documentary film “Race to Nowhere” last year.

“Homework is messing up the balance of kids’ lives in terms of having downtime and playtime and family time,” said Cathy Vatterott, associate professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the author of “Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs.”

Schools have found that cutting back on homework does not harm students’ performance and may even improve it, she said.

But not everyone thinks cutting back is a good idea.

Critics of the trend say that by scaling back homework, students will fall behind because they don’t have the time in the school day to cover all the material needed to prepare for standardized tests.

And school board officials in Galloway noted that some parents do not object to weekend homework because it’s time they can spend with their children helping them study.

The issue goes before the school boards in Galloway and in Pleasanton for further consideration this summer.

Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton

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