Is homework evil ... or even necessary?

Bryan Elementary teachers to decide

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Word is out that Bryan Elementary School has adopted a no-homework policy.

Not true, says the school’s principal.

What is true is that Bryan teachers can give or not give homework assignments to their classes.

Last year, the school looked at studies about the benefits of not giving homework. Like anything, there were arguments for homework and against it.

“There was never a decision to not do homework at Bryan,” said the school’s principal, Kristin Gorringe.

Last spring, kids were sent home with a survey for their parents to fill out about how they would feel if their kids didn’t get any homework. Gorringe said the responses came back varied. School officials decided giving homework for homework’s sake probably wasn’t making the kids better students.

At the start of the new school year, Gorringe addressed the teachers.

“My message to the teachers was... the homework we give needs to be deliberate and with a clear purpose; not homework every day or three times a week because that’s the way we’ve done it,” she said. “The second part of my message was, if you are choosing to go without homework this year, I support you.”

Gorringe told The Press she wasn’t sure how many teachers have opted to give no homework.

At the start of the school year, Trevor Smith and his wife received a letter from their son’s second-grade teacher saying the class would not get homework this year.

The Smiths wanted him to have homework, so they promptly met with the teacher, who made an exception for their son.

Smith said that during the meeting, it became clear the whole school was supporting no homework.

“So it was the whole school doing this,” he said. “Our teacher made an exception for us, so I thought it solved the problem but we started getting concerned because he’s only in second grade. What will this look like in third, fourth and fifth grade all the way through?”

Smith is adamant that homework teaches kids responsibility and time management. He also said practicing what you learn in class improves achievement.

“My biggest concern was how this decision was made. There’s not a lot of transparency in this decision,” he said. “Apparently there are parents that are supportive of it, but frankly it doesn't matter to me. [The school] made this decision at the school level. They didn’t bring it to the public, they didn’t bring it to the board, because they knew it would have community backlash.”

Smith thinks the community should have been more involved in the homework decision. He argued it impacts the schools, the district and the community as a whole.

He said if one school offers homework and another doesn’t, parents might send their kids to a different school depending on their views of the matter. On top of that, he said, if elementary schools don’t do homework, middle schools have to start teaching students how to do it. Taxpayers should have a say about what kind of education their money is funding, he added.

He shared his views with the Coeur d’Alene School District’s Board of Trustees via email and at their meeting Monday.

“At this point, I haven’t heard from anyone else [on the matter],” said Superintendent Matt Handelman. “Of course that doesn’t mean that one person should be written off and we shouldn’t listen to their concerns. That’s the kind of decision district higher ups wouldn’t be involved in. Our professional staff have conversations like that all the time... and it’s one of those things we entrust our staffs to do when they made decisions on something that’s for an individual teacher or classroom or grade level or department.”

Gorringe said there’s still school-related work that students do at home. Through a program called “Bring it up,” parents engage in reading activities with their kids after school and on weekends. Also, some classes have take-home projects throughout the year and some classes have discussions that students have to prepare for and do research for outside of school.

Tiffany Melton, a first-grade teacher at Bryan, told The Press each grade level is taking its own approach on homework. The first-grade classes are relying on the “Bring it up” program to give the students the after-school practice they need, she said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for parents to connect with us and it helps me connect with parents better,” Nelton said. “This gives a better connection between families and it meets the needs of students.”

Nelton taught third grade for nine years before switching to first grade this year. Before that she was a reading specialist for eight years.

“It’s great having the opportunity to meet student needs instead of giving them five homework sheets on Monday and tell them to have them filled out by Friday, because some kids are above that homework level and some aren’t there yet,” she said. “I’m all in favor of a more meaningful homework approach.”

The school is hosting a fundraiser tonight so it can start after-school help sessions. The kids could stay after school and work with teachers on material with which they’re having a hard time.

“Our mission is to provide children with the help they need, if someone needs extra help learning something or extra practice at something, absolutely we’re going to provide that.” Gorringe said. “I guess what I’d like to see is that there’s a level of trust with us as professional educators, that if any one of our children is struggling with something or is indicating they need something more, that we’re going to provide that.”

“Whether it’s the school board, the administration, teachers or a patron, everyone wants the same thing,” Handelman added. “Everyone wants what’s best for kids.”

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