Texas Math Teacher Makes Homework Optional and Only 5 of 45 Parents Request It

The other day, I was thrilled to receive an email from Jason, a 4th grade math and science teacher in Houston, Texas, who told me that, after doing a lot of research and thinking, he had decided to make homework optional in his class. This was quite a turnaround for the Jason who posted several comments on this blog last spring. (He also posts as ACP Texan.) In one of his early Comments in March, he wrote:

I teach 4th grade math and science. Much of what I teach is basic skills. As any athlete or musician will tell you, developing basic skills is about practice, practice, practice. If I assign my class to complete a sheet of two-digit by two-digit multiplication problems for homework, I do not care what their motivation for completing it is…. [T]the students will be better at the skill after having completed the work.

By May, he was really grappling with new ideas and he wrote in one of his Comments:

I want to assure you I do not have an ego attached to any of these ideas. I’m completely willing to throw away everything I’ve always thought and try to do better. I’m still new to this teaching thing so I was kind of operating on the, “just do what has always been done and make it through the day” approach. Now that I’m finishing up this year I think I’m ready to make some changes in the way I do things.

Jason told me that this summer he did more reading, including The Homework Myth, Understanding By Design, The Trouble With Boys, A Framework For Understanding Povertyand Getting To Got It. “As a result I asked my principal for permission to make homework optional for my students this year. To her credit, she had read Rethinking Homework and was very open to new ideas. Of my 45 students, only 5 parents responded asking that the homework continue to be sent home. Here is the letter that went home with my students at the beginning of this school year”:

Dear Parents,

I have asked permission from my administration, and have been granted the freedom to institute a homework policy for my classes that is more aligned with current research. I have done this for several reasons:

1. It has come to my attention that homework often encroaches on “family time.”
2. I understand that parents, after a full day of work, may not want to spend the limited time they have with their children acting as task masters to see that the homework gets done.
3. The frustration, anxiety, and fighting that often results because of homework outweighs any benefit homework might have.
4. Research indicates that group homework (same homework for all students) may have little to no academic value at the elementary level.

Here is how the policy will work:

· The district math and science homework will not be sent home except by parent request.
· Whether a student completes or does not complete the district homework will have no impact on their grade.
· There will be no rewards or negative consequences for completing or not completing the district math and science homework.
· All students will receive an “S” under the conduct heading “completes homework.”
· All district math and science homework will be available for download on my website at all times.
· On occasion students will be asked to finish, at home, assignments that were not completed in class.

11 thoughts on “Texas Math Teacher Makes Homework Optional and Only 5 of 45 Parents Request It

  1. Good for you, Jason! I hope you’ll post again and let us know how the year is going.

    It’s so interesting to me that only 5 of 45 parents asked to continue with the homework. It puts such an interesting spin on the, “but other parents want homework!” line that we’ve all heard from teachers and principals. OK, some parents want homework, but how many? And will they continue to want it after they see how well the kids are doing without homework?

    I hope you and your kids have a wonderful year. I bet you’re popular with them already.

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  2. Amazing! I like that he left a choice, for parents. All of my 3rd grader’s homework is due, on Friday. Over the course of 4 days, he is required to complete 4 math worksheets, 2 reading comprehension worksheets (read story and answer questions), 3 spelling assignments (15 words), and must log reading, for 20 minutes per day. The spelling assignments in particular, are especially lengthy, and cannot be completed, without a good deal of assistance. I would be ECSTATIC if I could choose which (or when no) homework would be helpful, for my son, and our family. I’m jealous of the parents who have the benefit of collaborating with this well-read individual. Thank you, Jason, for being open-minded. Hopefully, more in your profession will take your lead.

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  3. Jason — I was looking back over your comments and I found the discussion about family tree projects.

    Here’s an idea — how about working through the family tree of Queen Victoria? You could show how hemophilia spread through the royal houses of Europe. At the time, it was understood that women were carriers of the disease and males suffered from it, but the mechanism was unknown. You could talk about the discovery of modern genetics and our modern understanding of how hemophilia is carried on the X chromosome.

    If it’s not too scary for the kids, you could tell the story of the last of the Romanovs.

    You can ask the question, how did Queen Victoria get the hemophilia mutation in the first place? This is a historical mystery, btw. Her mother’s husband was not hemophiliac. Thus, either she had a spontaneous mutation occurring in her gene supply, or her actual biological father was someone else, and the entire line of British kings and queens is illegitimate.

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  4. Congratulations, Jason! I am very impressed at not only your research and…dare I say it…free thinking but your courage to break out of the rut and charge ahead.

    Hats off to you! Will you come to Austin and shake up my daughter’s school?

    Please keep us posted. We’d love to know how this works out and whether or not the ones who choose to do homework come out academically different than the ones who don’t. And how many “Homework” parents change their minds as the school year progresses.

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  5. I soooo wish that the school day was enough to teach all students what they need to know. In a perfect world, with perfect students, perfect parents, perfect teachers and perfect school administrations homework would seem silly. But from what I can see, so many classrooms are filled with kids functioning at different levels with the expectation that they will all “exit” their grade levels fully ready to successfully take on the next level of learning. That said, I also suspect that parents aren’t the best “teachers” to bring a struggling student up to the standards of the rest of the class. What a dilemma? A blanket vote “for” or “against” homework is difficult because there are so many factors that influence the outcome.

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  6. Judy,

    If the school day isn’t enough to teach all students what they need to know, then there’s a problem with expectations. What is it the “need” to know and why isn’t the school day long enough? IMO, it’s too long.

    Classrooms have always been filled with children functioning at different levels. For instance, my daughter is quite gifted at math, excels at anything physical (especially gymnastics), is an average reader, and struggles with writing.

    Some in her class are reading long, chapter books but struggling at math and can’t keep up with her running the track, well, no one can, she’s the fastest in her class.

    I have much respect for teachers. I used to be one. They don’t sign on to that job expecting all children to be at the same level at everything. They expect, and are trained to handle, many children at all different levels. It’s part of the job description.

    What are these children supposed to be getting in that extra hour at home that they can’t get in the classroom? IMO, the time management problem is not with the children but with the teacher. If they can’t cram everything in to the time allotted, they need to either change their expectations or their methods.

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  7. I have a 9 year old daughter who is in grade 4 now I am very busy everyday with their homework almost in all subject area I,m already tired working for the whole day then at night I see to it to attend her homework but then we can’t finish it until midnight sometime I was only the one who answering the question its useless because I want my daughter to have a sleep

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    Like

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