Making Homework Optional
By RACHEL HIRSCHHEIMER
Third Place, Feature-Local — Long Island Press High School Journalism Awards 2016
Recently there has been increased discussion about homework in the Jericho School District after Jericho Middle School Principal Dr. Donald Gately offered the idea of optional homework to the Middle School faculty. The term “optional homework” refers to a practice by which teachers assign homework and students are given the option to complete it or not after considering the usefulness of the homework assignment to their learning.
Fifth grade teacher Scott Bedley inspired Dr. Gately to try to suggest an “optional homework” policy throughout Jericho Middle School. Bedley and Gately have conversed about the benefits of optional homework. Bedley discovered that optional homework has dramatically increased the level of student engagement in his classroom. His policy is what it sounds like. Students in Bedley’s classroom have the choice to either complete or not complete homework. The assignments he distributes enhance the amount of material learned at home because students can explore the topic freely without being nervous that they’re going to lose points for getting something wrong. Bedley’s optional homework allows students to choose how they would like to learn information. Therefore, according to Bedley, students in his California classroom know more material coming into class than they would have without the homework being optional.
Stanford researcher Denise Pope found that too much homework has a detrimental effect on students. Pope said, “The findings address how current homework practices in privileged, high-performing schools sustain students’ advantage in competitive climates yet hinder learning, full engagement and well-being.” Pope discovered that many homework assignments are typically counterproductive and excessive. Too much homework leads to “greater stress, reduction in health and less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits.” The Stanford researcher saw that in high-performing schools like Jericho, students with excessive amounts of homework to complete end up spending most of their time alone which hinders a student’s social development.
Dr. Gately hopes to address such findings in part by making homework optional. “I want to make the assignments more meaningful. I especially want us to stop keeping score.” For instance, if a math teacher assigned a student 20 word problems for homework and the child only completed 17 problems, the student shouldn’t get penalized. Gately doesn’t see the correlation between deducting points from homework and learning. He stated, “What does that have to do with learning? It has nothing to do with learning.”
Gately has spoken with some middle school students about such a policy. Seventh grader Matthew R. said, “If the assignments were key to a test, I would do my homework.” Jericho Middle School student Jonathan C. agrees with R. He stated, “If the homework was going to help me for a test, then I would do my homework.”
Jericho High School students have similar views. Freshman Deborah M. feels homework isn’t a beneficial practice for learning. “I feel as though I have better things to do, and believe that test prep is a more effective way of learning,” she said. Deborah claimed that instead of doing repetitive homework, she would much rather take practice regents to prepare for final examinations. Sophomore Adrianna M. thinks optional homework would be an excellent policy for Jericho. She said, “I think homework should be optional because I don’t think students have enough time in their day to do it all.”
Gately isn’t looking to eliminate homework completely. He feels that he has found a compromise between “a lot of homework and no homework.” He believes teachers should be assigning homework that has meaning and value, minus the point system.
Jericho High School Assistant Principal Dr. Dagoberto Artiles is excited about Dr. Gately’s ideas regarding optional homework.
In fact, he feels that since Jericho is such a prestigious district, this is an excellent place to try a new policy. He said, “This is the perfect place where the school can become a laboratory. We can reinvent education, reinvent the way people learn, and then send it out and share it with others.”
Jericho High School Principal Joan Rosenberg believes that homework is meant for the student to review what has occurred in class. She said, “I don’t know that saying homework is optional overall will change the system that dramatically.” Rosenberg believes that depending on the student, optional homework could relieve some stress. However, making homework optional could be too extreme when trying to reduce the amount of homework. Rosenberg stated, “If it’s quality homework and not necessarily quantity homework, then there are ways of lessening the load.”
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Barbara Bauer doesn’t think a district-wide policy of optional homework is realistic. “I think individual teachers giving options for certain activities or certain performance tasks is a possible way to go.”
The District’s homework policy currently states, “The Board of Education acknowledges the educational value of homework as an adjunct to and extension of the instructional program of the schools. For the purposes of this policy, ‘homework’ shall refer to those assignments to be prepared by the student outside of the school or independently while in attendance at school.” On occasion, the Board will review polices that need to be revised, but Mrs. Bauer doesn’t feel a need to change the homework policy in Jericho. Bauer stated, “As you can see it’s pretty general, and I really don’t see a need to change the policy as it stands now.”
If optional homework was implemented throughout the school district, some high school teachers would question its effectiveness. High school math teacher, Suzanne Jacobsen is against an optional homework policy. “I am not in favor of it. Part of your learning process is to do homework. You’re not going to meet with much success if you don’t practice.”
Science teacher Timothy Strout believes that homework acts as a reinforcement and can be used as feedback for students. “Homework is important to see what you have done wrong,” he said. When asked if he would be open to making his homework optional if he had the choice, he immediately replied, “No, I wouldn’t do that. If I’m going to assign it and I’m going to have you spend the time doing it, making it optional makes it seem unimportant. If nobody is grading it, then what’s the point of doing it?”
The JerEcho invites our readers to weigh in on this issue. Share your views on optional homework by commenting in the box below.