More Schools Reducing or Eliminating Homework

Published December 5, 2016

A growing number of schools and individual teachers are limiting or eliminating homework for elementary school students.

The Orchard School, an elementary school in South Burlington, Vermont, eliminated homework during the 2016–17 school year because “the principal there said he’s seen more anxiety among students in the last decade,” the Associated Press reported in September.

Illinois’ Hinsdale High School offers high school seniors a homework-free weekend once a year to give “harried seniors a little breathing room as they prepare for their futures,” the Chicago Tribune reported in October.

Boston Magazine reported in September Kelly Elementary School of Holyoke, Massachusetts instituted a no-homework policy for the 2016–17 school year in exchange for a longer school day because, “students should be spending more time with their families, chatting about the learning they did while at school, and getting to bed early.”

Revising homework policies is part of a growing trend the Associated Press reports schools and teachers having been embracing “to allow kids more time to play, participate in activities, spend time with families, read, and sleep.”

‘Trending Downward’ for Years

Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at University of Missouri–St. Louis and author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, says reducing homework has become a more widespread practice.

“The focus [on homework] has been trending downward for several years,” Vatterott said. “Twenty years ago, nobody was even limiting the amount of homework. More and more schools started to develop policies about amounts or how it accounts for grades. Over the past few years, you’ve seen more and more elementary schools limiting or even eliminating homework for elementary.”

Vatterott says the homework debate has “exposed the amount of parental angst about excessive elementary homework.” She says she supports reasonable amounts of homework that enhance learning and can be completed independently, but excessive homework, busywork, and failing students for not completing homework should be abolished.

“I’m definitely not anti-homework, but I also see a trend growing in our culture that people are getting burned out on the hyper-competitive ‘let’s practice now in elementary school for college’ mindset,” Vatterott said. “People are ready to slow kids down a little bit and let kids be kids. I think we’re moving culturally in that direction.”

‘Most Parents’ Lack Choices

Tyler Koteskey, an education policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, says as the homework discussion gains traction, access to school choice and parents’ inclusion in education should be the real focus of the debate.

“Controversies over how much homework to assign are just another of several educational debates that we think are about the specific issue at hand but really tell the story of how many choices most parents lack,” Koteskey said. “It shouldn’t matter how much homework a school assigns or how it teaches if a parent can choose from a variety of options to pick the school that best meets their kids’ needs. Allowing a child’s education funding to follow them to the school of their choice—whether at a public, charter, or private school and whether the school is brick and mortar or virtual—is key. Enabling competition in education unleashes market forces that will reward success, hold schools accountable to parents for failure, and help educators better determine what kinds of homework strategies and teaching techniques work best for different kinds of kids.”

‘Kids Learn Differently’

Koteskey says it’s unrealistic to think there is one right way to educate a diverse population of students.

“All kids think and learn differently, so why should we have the hubris to expect that we can find the one ‘correct’ amount of homework or teaching style that we should force every single student to learn by?” Koteskey said. “With more choices for parents and more autonomy for principals, more schools can better meet the individual needs of their students by experimenting with curriculum and being directly accountable to parents for their results. Competitive market forces in action mean more choices with higher quality at lower cost. We know this is true of every other industry, and there’s no reason it should be any different in education.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.


Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast, “How Important Is Homework for Student Achievement?” Rewards: How to Use Rewards to Help Children Learn—and Why Teachers Don’t Use Them Well, August 15, 2015: