A Math Teacher Speaks Out–Why I Stopped Assigning Homework and Am Petitioning for a Homework-Free Week

Today’s guest blogger, Jeff Valure, a math teacher with 12 years’ experience, the last 10 at a public middle school north of New York City, is the father of two boys, one of whom just started nursery school. He’s upset to find out that his local kindergarten assigns homework four nights a week and is “dreading” next year. Jeff has started a petition for a homework-free week to coincide with TV Turn-Off Week at homeworkfree.org.

A Math Teacher Speaks Out – Why I Stopped Assigning Homework and Am Petitioning for a Homework-Free Week
by Jeff Valure

The past few years I’ve been experimenting with my little guinea pigs – er – students. Three years ago I decided that so much time was spent on homework, checking it, reading answers, going over problems, that I would be able to get much more done in class if I did away with it. After all, I get a precious 46 minutes a day with these kids. Do I want to spend that time on bookkeeping or do I want to interact with them in a more educationally profound way? How often do you get to work with the guidance, aid, and encouragement of an “expert” in the field? Why waste that time?

Of course my students are used to homework, they barely grumble when they get an assignment over the weekend. The idea of not having homework is as scary as it is exciting. There are lots of uncertainties. Will they be able to keep up with the coursework? Will their grades be impacted? How will it affect their performance on standardized tests?

They were concerned and rightly so. This whole thing is to do what is best for them. Sure, maybe I put making them better people above making them experts at applying the Pythagorean Theorem, but I mean which would you rather inherit the world?

To allay their fears I talk to them about my reasoning and my ideas. I explain what I believe will be accomplished. I show them some articles on the topic. We go over the research. Now that I’ve done it a few times I can bring in former students to share their experiences. See, not only am I trying to teach them math more efficiently, but I want to teach them how they can affect their world and how to deal with contrary beliefs in a fairly rigid and established system. I want to teach them that they are not small.

But let’s put that aside because what you really want to know as parents and educators is how does not having homework affect students’ grades? Did their grades improve or decline?

Well as much as I wish I could say definitively that they improved, I cannot. For one, any evidence I have is anecdotal. This was not a scientifically designed and controlled experiment. These are students – not guinea pigs after all. Secondly, giving students no homework in one class will not have enough impact on their free time to really affect change. Students will not be able to fully explore their world, their relationships, and themselves because they didn’t spend twenty minutes on math homework. In fact when I shared with my plan with colleagues, another teacher was happy that our students would have time to tackle additional homework for him. I believe he was joking but you wouldn’t put it past him if you knew him.

So did they improve at all? No. Not their grades – but possibly their quality of life and then indirectly their quality of character. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? Chances are the quadratic formula is going to play no role in their life but the intangible things they learn in school, it’s those things that will shape them into adults that thrive.

Here’s the thing though. Their grades didn’t decline either. Mostly. What I found is for the majority of students, homework had no bearing on their grades. C students remained C students. A students continued to get A’s. And the D- students, those that really could use the practice? They weren’t doing homework anyway.

Now there were a handful of students whose grades slipped. Some students slack off towards the end of the year anyway so I can’t say for sure it was the lack of homework, but I can’t say it wasn’t. Comparison to a control group would be helpful but how controlled can a group of adolescents be anyway?

I had a few students say they wanted homework, that they wanted to make sure they knew the material. And in that statement lies my point. I told my students that just because I didn’t assign homework doesn’t mean they can’t do work at home. They have a workbook, they have a textbook. They could open up either and do some problems. I’m not telling anyone not to do work. I’m just not telling them they have to do work.

You see, by taking control of our kids’ time we’re really stealing their lives. We’re keeping them from being self-sufficient, from learning how to survive in the world, from being able to decide for themselves what needs to be done and what is worth doing.

Is tonight’s homework worth doing? Are you going to get something out of it? Is it going to enrich your education or better you as a person? Is there something more worthwhile you could be doing with your time? If there is, do it. Then tomorrow explain to your teacher what you decided and why. And if they had a good solid childhood, having been buried in homework or not, they will be able to look past the perceived slight and congratulate you on a life well led. I know I would.

Please visit HomeworkFree.org if you’d like to learn more and help petition congress for a National Homework Free Week. Sure it’s not much, but it’d be a start.

20 thoughts on “A Math Teacher Speaks Out–Why I Stopped Assigning Homework and Am Petitioning for a Homework-Free Week

  1. Jeff said:
    “Here’s the thing though. Their grades didn’t decline either. Mostly. What I found is for the majority of students, homework had no bearing on their grades. C students remained C students. A students continued to get A’s. And the D- students, those that really could use the practice? They weren’t doing homework anyway.”

    This was the best paragraph in your essay, as far as I was concerned. I also liked this one:
    “You see, by taking control of our kids’ time we’re really stealing their lives. We’re keeping them from being self-sufficient, from learning how to survive in the world, from being able to decide for themselves what needs to be done and what is worth doing.”

    I kept saying, “YES, YES!” as I read this.

    The piece was written with high school students in mind, I guess, but it makes the case for an even more toxic effect of homework on younger children. The eduation system is robbing them of even DEVELOPING thinking skills by
    legislating prescribed tasks day in and day out.

    Thanks…

    Like

  2. hi Jeff,
    I think your right and there should be no homework. It adds to much stress to kids and they should relax. By Mr.Valure

    Like

  3. I believe that there should be no more homework because then kids can focus more on their school work and they will get better grades. and this why there should be no more homework. (:

    Like

  4. I think that children should have no more homework because if they have no more homework then they can focus more on their school work instead of doing homework. And this is why there should be no more homework only studying assigned when test are coming up

    Like

  5. We NEED homework we are the next generation and we need to make a change…I belive we need homework to keep our grades up

    Like

  6. Dr.V-
    You are soooooo right. There should not only be a no-homework week, but a no-homework YEAR. Homework should be banned all across the nation

    Like

  7. you are the best teacher mr.valure! I agree we should never ever have HW in school. No teahcer will ever be better than you!

    From your favorite student,
    Ryan Tutwiler

    Like

  8. Thank you Mr. Valure you are a very nice teacher. You are my favorite. I agree with your plan to limit homework for us kids. We have enough to do for other classes and it just adds stress and frustration to not only the students, but also the parents trying to help the students with their additional work. I enjoy being in your class. It is very fun to learn and also have fun instead of just sitting and listing to lectures. I think it is fun to do hands on activities. you are by far the best seventh grade teacher! 🙂 2012

    Like

  9. Dr. V- You are the best teacher ever! Thank you so much for teaching me i am so honored to meet you and be your student 🙂 It is very fun to learn from your experience as a math teacher and the ways you teach us. I will always remember how to do math because of the fun ways you taught us like fire monsters and water monsters! You never give hw, unlike other teachers! hw puts so much pressure on students and it stresses them out too much and they do bad in their classes and they get bad grades, and end up doing bad in that class. That’s the effect of hw. No teacher will ever be better than you Dr. V!

    From your favorite student again,

    Ryan Tutwiler

    Like

  10. I also think that we do not have to do homework because it does not effect your learning skills or how fast you learn.
    :0 🙂

    Like

  11. My daughter is in a school filled with children from low income homes. I had no idea I was poor until i sent her to school b/c i live in an affordable home in a nice quiet neighborhood. She has no books or homework and is in advanced level classes in 7th grade. I have to create homework and when i do my C/D student without homework becomes a A/B student with it. It’s frustrating and I often cry about it b/c the school system has low expectations for these kids before they give them a chance so they respond in the way that they are treated. In zones like this, if your a quiet introvert, a type A student or have a parent that is constantly at school like myself you will advance to advanced classes. The rest are left in core … advance doesn’t mean harder work and higher expectations, it’s just a way to separate the classes. I’m looking to move outside of this district and will have to take a 2nd job to do so but my child will not succeed in college or after if she stays this course. Please don’t judge a child before truly understanding them, just b/c you think you’ve seen one like them doesn’t mean you are right. Raise the expectations for the child’s sake, PLEASE!

    Like

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