STONY POINT, N.Y. — A school district in New York is reviewing its homework policy in part prompted by a petition from two fifth-grade students to get rid of the often dreaded task.
Last fall, Christophe DeLeon, a fifth-grader at Farley Elementary School in Stony Point, and his best friend, Nikolas Keeley, began a petition asking that the school do away with homework. Stony Point is about 36 miles north of New York City.
“I get stressed out a lot when I do it,” said Christopher. “I would literally cry. Math worksheets are usually what break me down.”
For Nikolas, it wasn’t so much about the work as it was about actually finding the time to do it after classes let out each day.
After school-activities, like his acting classes, affect whether he can complete assignments and he said he’s often late to those obligations since he’s trying to get homework done.
“I understand the work, but there’s just too little time,” he said of the 30 minutes worth of assignments he received each day.
For the older kids, it's much worse, Christopher said.
His older sister, who attends North Rockland High School, spends upwards of two hours each night completing assignments, he said.
Now, officials at North Rockland Central School District are exploring whether to limit — or even eliminate — traditional homework assignments and expect to have new guidelines in place by the 2019-20 school year.
A recommendation is expected to be issued to the school board by the end of the 2018-19 school year.
“When we started the ‘no homework’ thing, I never thought we’d get this far,” Christopher said during an interview May 23. "We have been sitting in on meetings, talking about how things are and now we're being interviewed by the newspaper. I’ve probably learned more doing this than doing homework.”
After circulating their petition during recess last September, the pair collected more than 150 signatures and submitted it to North Rockland's administration.
When it arrived on Kris Felicello’s desk, the assistant superintendent for educational services said he knew it was time to look into how homework was being assigned to the 8,000 students across North Rockland’s eight schools.
The student petition came on the heels of feedback from many teachers in the district, who’d sought out Felicello over the last year to say they believed kids were getting stressed out by homework and wanted to know whether different approaches could be used.
“Homework is such a controversial topic,” said Felicello. “Some people feel strongly we shouldn’t have it and some feel it’s a rite of passage. When the students came to me and were so passionate about it, it was kind of that tipping point.”
Nyack Public Schools Superintendent James Montesano said his district also is looking at revising its policies.
No timeframe has been given for when the review process would be completed, he said.
Home learning? Homework?
Around the country, there have been many districts that have abolished the longtime practice of homework after school.
Some schools in Florida have even gone so far as to prohibit any type of assignments and issued an edict that students go home, relax, play and enjoy time with their families.
What North Rockland is looking to do wouldn’t be that extreme, however.
Felicello said, “One of the big misconceptions is that we’re looking to ban homework. We’re looking into how we can do things differently to support the learning that’s going on in the classroom.”
A shift to a policy more geared on “home learning,” which is being considered in North Rockland, doesn’t necessarily mean students wouldn’t be given work.
It would just be a different type.
• Traditional homework assignments are generally worksheets, a set of problems or questions that must be done after school or over the weekend to receive credit.
• Home learning assignments are usually more open-ended tasks that involve long-term projects, such as building something, writing, conducting research or designing an experiment.
Home learning, Felicello said, “is reinforcing the day’s lessons in a different way.”
It might involve watching a quick video online at home about quadratic equations. Then, the next day in class, students could work on math problems and have their teacher available to answer any questions, he said.
“Or, if you were talking about the Revolutionary War, you could create a writing assignment asking ‘What type of Instagram post would Paul Revere put up if he was living in our times?’ or ‘What was the most important thing we learned in class today?’ ” he said.
Besides better engaging kids, Felicello said “home learning” assignments generally can’t be replicated and it would reduce the potential for cheating. Right now, technology has made it far too easy for students to plug in the answers and not really understand anything about the purpose of the assignment, he said.
“ 'Homework’ is about conformity, jumping through the hoops and checking boxes. Home learning, if done right, can get students thinking and being passionate,” he said.
A spreading movement
A growing number of schools are doing away with homework to allow kids more time to play, participate in extracurricular activities, spend time with friends and families and relax.
In recent years, there has been pushback from parents who believe homework is a chore and their children’s time could be better spent.
Banning homework has been met with mixed reactions.
Supporters believe it’ll alleviate student stress, help students retain more knowledge from the day and encourage a child’s physical, emotional and social growth, while critics argue homework is a necessary part of school and should vary depending on age and developmental levels.
At North Rockland High School, Gary Armida, a longtime English teacher, doesn’t assign daily work. Instead, students are given long-term projects that require them to plan and map out how they’ll meet the deadline – just like in real life, he said.
“You don’t have to always tell kids what to do and how to do it, you can just make sure they have the skills and you’ll be amazed at what they come up with,” Armida said. "Once you hand a kid a packet of work, you kill whatever passion they have."
Unfortunately, in most classrooms, Armida said, it's pretty common for teachers to pile on the homework, particularly when there's a dip in test scores.
"It's very reactionary and the education system seems to think 'Let's throw more work at them,' " he said. "Then, you'll see students with two, three hours a night."
Follow Kimberly Redmond on Twitter: @kr0618