By Bob Bonnar
Newcastle News Letter Journal
Via Wyoming News Exchange
NEWCASTLE — There has long been a debate over the benefit of homework, particularly when it comes to younger school children, and Newcastle Elementary School Principal Brandy Holmes told the board of trustees for Weston County School District #1 last week that she and her staff have decided to get to the bottom of the debate by finding out what works best for the kids in Newcastle.
“We’ve decided we’re going to give it a try to do no homework for one quarter,” Holmes announced at the January 9 board meeting. She indicated that notes had been sent home to parents informing them that there would not be regular homework assigned again until after parent/teacher conferences are held at the end of the third quarter.
“We’re still asking parents to read with their kids each night because research does absolutely support that,” Holmes noted, saying that some work also may still be required at home for special projects that have shown a benefit in the past — like some of the history projects that students have customarily undertaken.
Holmes explained that the decision to forego homework for a quarter was made partly in response to parental concerns about kids not getting enough family time and hours away from schoolwork, but the quarter will also be used to provide a baseline to evaluate what type of homework may be most necessary and beneficial moving forward.
“We’ve kind of been all over the board at different grade levels,” Holmes said, telling the board she and her staff have been discussing the homework issue since last year and revisiting the practice in general, with an emphasis on the staff being “purposeful in sending homework home.”
The principal explained further that the primary purpose of homework is practice, and indicated that homework produces different levels of benefit for different students. She said that in instances where support isn’t available to students at home, they may practice incorrectly and impede progress.
The hope is that the homework-free quarter will create meaningful discussions at parent/teacher conferences and allow the school to identify where and when homework produces the greatest benefit — if at all.
“We’re going to visit with parents and staff at the end of the quarter and look at our achievement data,” Holmes said.
The board was largely supportive of the trial in the elementary school, but indicated the belief that homework does become part of education at some stage.
Trustee Tom Wright said he is aware of students who have graduated from Newcastle High School and struggle to make the adjustment to the amount of work required in some college courses, but said he wasn’t certain where the homework habit should begin.
“College people that don’t do homework don’t seem to perform as well, and they struggle,” he reasoned. “If not first grade or second grade or third grade, then where?”
Board Chair Tina Chick said high school students can also struggle with the homework transition from the middle school, and said she was interested in the results of the elementary school’s experiment.
“I’m glad you’re doing it because I’m curious to see what happens,” she said.
WCSD #1 Curriculum Coordinator Sonja Tysdal said that homework can help students be more prepared when they come to class, but noted that setting a purpose for homework is the primary challenge.
“I think there’s a balance between homework that is beneficial,” she said.
Trustee John Riesland compared homework to doing chores on a ranch, and said it was important for kids to learn to put time and effort into things that are important.
“I think homework is really teaching young people a work ethic,” he said.
Holmes agreed, and said the school still has a responsibility to help kids learn how to be responsible. They hope the quarter-long trial will help them identify where a balance can be found between that and student achievement.
“This is our starting point. We will see what we’re missing at the end of the quarter and go from there,” Holmes said.