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Last spring, when Public School 11, a prekindergarten through fifth-grade school in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, banned mandatory traditional homework assignments for children up to fourth grade, you might have expected universal acclaim. Rather than filling out worksheets, students were encouraged to read nightly, and a website offered tips for parents looking for engaging after-school activities.
Instead, war broke out among the parents. Those who wanted to keep homework accused the anti-worksheet group of trying to force through a policy supported by a select few. Some privately called the plan “economically and racially insensitive,” favoring families with time and money to provide their own enrichment. There was a series of contentious PTA meetings and jockeying to get on the school’s leadership team, a board that some schools have had trouble getting parents to join. At least three families left the school.
Researchers who study academic history said they were not surprised that debate over young children and homework had resurfaced now. Education and parenting trends are cyclical, and the nation is coming off a stress-inducing, federally mandated accountability push that has put standardized testing at the center of the national education debate. Further, many parents say that homework has become particularly stressful since the arrival of Common Core, a set of rigorous and often confusing learning goals adopted by many states.
The focus for many anti-homework parents is what they see as the quality of work assigned. They object to worksheets, but embrace projects that they believe encourage higher-level thinking. At P.S. 11 in Manhattan, even parents who support the no-homework policy said they often used online resources like Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that provides free educational videos. The school’s website also includes handwriting exercises, scientific articles, and math and reading lessons. Sophie Mintz, whose son is in second grade at the school, said that the no-homework policy had afforded him more time to build elaborate Lego structures.
But parents with fewer means say the new policies don’t take into account their needs and time constraints, and leave them on their own when it comes to building the skills their children need to prepare for the annual state tests.