A new Vancouver Public Schools homework policy aims to help families of young children spend more time at the kitchen table, but less of it on homework.
Vancouver Public Schools will eliminate homework for its K-3 classrooms beginning next year after revisions to its homework policies last month. Previously, the district recommended one to three assignments of 15 minutes each every week.
The district also changed its homework policies for fourth and fifth graders, saying their homework should be tailored to match each student’s level.
Vancouver is the latest district trending away from homework for students, citing a growing body of research that indicates it doesn’t help students learn as once thought. According to a 2007 article from the Center for Public Education, some research indicates “there is no conclusive evidence that homework provides any benefits — either academic or nonacademic — to students.”
Evergreen Public Schools implemented a similar policy, encouraging students to participate in after-school clubs or activities with their families that the district said can be more enriching.
Vancouver’s curriculum director Layne Manning said the district hopes families will turn to more personal interactions, spending more time together without the centerpiece of often frustrating homework. That can mean having meals together, reading, playing outside or any number of other activities.
“What we want to try to start emphasizing … is the kinds of ways that families can learn together that are more informal,” Manning said. “Cooking together, shopping together, just talking.”
The school will offer families lists of games and activities they can do at home instead, she said.
“We’re certainly not saying we don’t want children learning at home,” Manning said. “We absolutely do. We just don’t think it requires worksheets and chapters.”
At Washington Elementary School, where Patrick Conners is principal, the policy is already being rolled out. Teachers of the youngest grades can assign homework, but cannot punish students if they fail to complete it, Conners said. That model respects busy families’ time better than mandated homework, he said.
The school’s student body has additional barriers that can make homework difficult, Conners said. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 85.4 percent of students received free or reduced-price meals in the 2015-16 school year, and 36 percent are not native English speakers. Conners estimated between 30 and 40 of the school’s students are homeless.
Those combined challenges — no place to safely complete assignments, non-English speaking parents who may not be able to help — can make homework an obstacle for young students, Conners said.
“It creates more and more stressors,” Conners said.
First grade teacher Tiffany Martinson is among the teachers who don’t require her 7-year-old students to complete homework.
“I think they’re too young,” she said.
Instead, she sends students home with a packet of worksheets to complete over the course of a week, including reading logs, math worksheets and writing prompts. If students complete the work, they’re invited to eat lunch in the classroom while watching a video, and if the entire class does its homework, Martinson throws a pizza party for her students.
That gives students incentives to do their homework without punishing those who may not have help at home, Martinson said.
“It teaches responsibility,” she said.
Manning hopes the new policy moving further from homework will help students grow.
“I think the main thing we’re after here is just promoting well-rounded, whole-person, whole child development and trying to keep life balanced for kids,” Manning said.