After Donna Cushlanis’s son, who was in second grade, kept bursting into tears midway through his math problems, which one night took over an hour, she told him not to do all of his homework.
“How many times do you have to add seven plus two?” Ms. Cushlanis, 46, asked. “I have no problem with doing homework, but that put us both over the edge. I got to the point that this is enough.”
Ms. Cushlanis, a secretary for the Galloway School District, complained to her boss, Annette Giaquinto, the superintendent. It turned out that the district, which is northwest of Atlantic City and serves 3,500 kindergarten through eighth-grade students, was already re-evaluating its homework practices. The school board will vote this summer on a proposal to limit weeknight homework to 10 minutes for each year of school — 20 minutes for second graders, an hour for sixth graders, and so forth — and ban assignments on weekends, holidays and school vacations.
Galloway is part of a wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high-stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, particularly in elementary grades.
“There is simply no proof that most homework as we know it improves school performance,” said Vicki Abeles, a mother of three from California, whose documentary “Race to Nowhere,” about burned-out students caught in a pressure-cooker educational system, has helped reignite the antihomework movement. “And by expecting kids to work a ‘second shift’ in what should be their downtime, the presence of schoolwork at home is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”
So teachers at Mango Elementary School in Fontana, Calif., are replacing homework with “goal work” that is specific to individual student’s needs and that can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace. The Pleasanton School District, north of San Jose, Calif., is proposing this month to cut homework times by nearly half and prohibit weekend assignments in elementary grades because, as one administrator said, “parents want their kids back.”
Ridgewood High School in New Jersey introduced a homework-free winter break in December. Schools in Tampa, Fla., and Bleckley County, Ga., have instituted “no homework nights” throughout the year. And the two-year-old Brooklyn School of Inquiry, an elementary program for gifted and talented students, has made homework optional: it is neither graded nor counted toward progress reports.
“I think people confuse homework with rigor,” said Donna Taylor, the Brooklyn School’s principal, who views homework for children under 11 as primarily benefiting parents by helping them feel connected to the classroom.