Promises of no homework are often accompanied with a plan for more sweets in every vending machine and a guarantee of two-ply in every stall. But in Marion County, the no-homework pledge is not just typical class president campaign speech fodder.
School District of Marion County Superintendent Heidi Maier announced Wednesday that the district was eliminating traditional homework for elementary school students next school year. Maier, who was elected Marion superintendent last August, said research has shown that 20 minutes of reading every night is more beneficial than homework.
That sounded like a great idea to a group of Manatee children at the Rubonia Community Center on Friday.
Wynter McDuffie, 8, spoke for many of the kids playing Uno on a picnic bench when she said she would love it if Maier’s bold plan moved south to Manatee.
“I would be happy. We can watch TV and play, and we don’t have to do anything while we are home,” said Wynter, who attends Blackburn Elementary School in Palmetto.
“Homework takes hours and hours and days and days,” said Manatee Elementary School student Carriana Robinson, 8. “(Without it) I would play and mostly sleep.”
But Trey Brooks, 9, wasn’t so sure.
“I think homework is good for you because homework makes you better at things,” Trey said. “Like if you have trouble with math, it will help you with math; if you have trouble with reading, you can read a book 20 minutes every day and then that gets you better at reading.”
Manatee County School Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy agrees with Wynter and Carriana on this one.
It doesn’t really built anything. It's just busy work.
School Board of Manatee County Chairman Charlie Kennedy
“I think for the most part it is kids getting sent home with busy work and homework just for the sake of homework,” said Kennedy, a former teacher. “It doesn’t really build anything. It’s just busy work.”
‘A great idea’
Kennedy, who unsuccessfully pushed for the district to scale back its testing earlier this year, tweeted his support Friday for Marion’s decision, asking Manatee Superintendent Diana Greene to consider the idea.
“A great idea whose time has come — parents reading to kids is much more useful than homework — what do you think @Dr.DianaGreene?” Kennedy wrote on Twitter, directing his question to superintendent Diana Greene.
District staff was off on Friday and could not be reached for comment.
According to the district’s 2016-17 Student Progression Plan, Manatee schools “acknowledge the educational validity of homework as an extension of the instructional program.”
The plan instructs teachers to “provide appropriate, graded feedback in a timely manner to students” and to “collaborate, whenever possible, to ensure that the amount of the homework assigned to any one student is not excessive.”
Kennedy said he didn’t know what Greene’s stance on homework was, but he believes a shift to a policy of no homework in elementary school could be done by Greene without the board having to approve it.
Practice makes perfect — I was taught that as a young kid, so I really think homework is something that’s needed.
Rubonia Community Center’s Derrick Randall
Ralph McElhiney, who has taught special education at Moody Elementary School for 39 years, said homework shouldn’t be viewed any differently than practicing an instrument or training for a sport. But, he said, when students are not being made to do it at home, it can become pointless.
“The problem is we have a lot of parents that don’t pursue it and don’t expect it,” McElhiney said. “Everything is kind of put back on teachers and the schools.”
Derrick Randall, who runs the after-school programming at the Rubonia Community Center, agrees. In the Rubonia neighborhood, almost all of the elementary-school aged children attend the after-school program where staff require the children to do their work each day. But in neighborhoods without a community center, or in homes where parents do not hold children accountable for their work, daily worksheets, math problems and reading assignments amount to little more than busy work — for the teacher.
“Practice makes perfect — I was taught that as a young kid, so I really think homework is something that’s needed,” Randall said. “But it has to go back to the old school where the home and the school and the community are on the same link.”
Manatee Elementary School teacher Dawn Pierre said she even assigns homework to pre-kindergarten students. Students practice writing their names or listen to a story. But, she said, it is essential the work is something the student can do on their own. And, she raised one key issue with Marion’s policy that went beyond the standard debate over how effective homework is.
“If they don’t begin early, then it does become like pulling teeth,” Pierre said. “If you are waiting to introduce them to homework in middle school, that’s a big mistake.”