Is Homework Dead?

Why hitting the books after school might soon be a thing of the past.

is homework dead

Photograph by Ken Richardson. Model, Antonia Patton-Bowe/Model Club. Hair, Laura Dillon. Makeup, Es Moon

Last school year, Melissa Tremblay Brimmer’s daughter stepped out of the car every Monday afternoon with more than just an empty lunch box: Included in the Woburn first grader’s backpack was a packet of eight reading and math worksheets, plus sight words. “It felt like busywork,” Brimmer explains. “She comes home and wants to do activities. It’s a struggle.”

As an elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Brimmer has seen the benefits of a homework-free childhood firsthand: In 2014, the Cambridgeport School stopped giving nightly assignments altogether, focusing instead on open-ended family reading and storytelling without rigid expectations about quantity or due dates. So far, it’s paid off. “Our school may be giving less homework, but we have more students engaged in more meaningful learning activities at home than ever before,” principal Katie Charner-Laird wrote in a report for the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The Manchester Essex Regional School District took similar steps over the past year, concentrating on self-directed independent work rather than deadline-driven tasks. “We’re trying to model work-life balance, so we’re not overloading kids,” says superintendent Pam Beaudoin.

So should you expect a decline in homework at your little one’s school anytime soon? Anything’s possible. “What’s happened over the past three to four years is that superintendents and principals have tuned into the socio-emotional side of learning,” says Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “People have felt that the pendulum has swung too far in terms of how much pressure kids are experiencing around academics.”