Elementary school students in Marion County won't have any homework to do this school year.
Instead, the newly elected superintendent of the central Florida school district is asking families to read with their kids for at least 20 minutes a night.
WUSF's Cathy Carter recently spoke with Marion County School Superintendent, Heidi Maier, about why the district is eliminating daily homework for younger students.
Carter: “Superintendent Maier, when did you begin thinking about this no homework policy?”
Maier: “Well, prior to becoming superintendent, I was the lead professor for a teacher preparation program at the College of Central Florida here in Ocala and it was when I was designing and then teaching the program that the research of Dr. Richard Allington came to my attention. He did great research on not only the benefits of reading, but that homework as we know it: that traditional homework; the worksheet, the didactic exercises that ultimately end up in arguments between the child and their family just to get it done, do not promote school success or cognitive gains. It's that reading aloud to a child at least 20 minutes a night that does promote academic achievement cognitive gains and lifelong intrinsic love of reading. So that's when it first appeared on my radar. So after I became superintendent of Marion County Public Schools, it was just a natural choice to implement this research that we have and to promote more family engagement through reading aloud.”
Carter: “I imagine you're getting many questions from parents. What are some of the prevailing questions that you're hearing from them?”
Maier: “Basically, why are you doing this? What is the rationale behind this? And so I share the research. Coming into office our school district was ranked 57th or 59th ninth overall out of 67 school districts, depending on which poll you look at. Our district performance was not exemplary. So, in looking at what we can do, by going to this initiative we are not only strengthening family involvement and strengthening the child's love of reading, but we are providing the teachers with more time to teach and in the end, that's what's going to make a difference. All three of those coming together.”
Carter: “So this no homework policy applies only to elementary school kids. Why not for middle school or high school?”
Maier: “Because once children hit that middle school time they are cognitively ready to do independent work at home that does lead to better academic performance. Again, this is not just something we pulled out of the air. All of our decisions are based on sound research in response to our community need here."
Carter: “You haven't heard much pushback. But let me play devil's advocate for a minute. What would you say to folks that might say, 'Well. let's look at kids in Singapore who are the highest rated students globally, they do up to six hours of homework a night.'”
Maier: “Respectfully, I don't teach children in Singapore. I'm charged to look after the children of Marion County Public Schools and that's what we're doing, and we are basing these decisions on sound research knowing that the bond between a family member and that child and reading together, is going to increase that child's academic performance.”
Carter: “Have you heard from other educators? What did they say about this policy?”
Maier: “We have, and in fact, Dr. Michael Hynes, who is a superintendent in New York, who is my hero, gave us a big thumbs up and that was like winning a gold medal in the Olympics. But the decisions that we are making here in Marion County Public Schools are for the children. And as we make the best decisions for the children in our school district, they're not always the easiest decisions for adults to accept but our goal is to make decisions for these kids."