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Thursday, September 8, 2016

South Burlington School Bans Homework, Urges Kids to Play

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 12:18 PM

click to enlarge DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime
Students who hoped for an end to homework got their wish at Orchard Elementary School in South Burlington. 

“It’s true,” confirmed principal Mark Trifilio. “We just went to being a homework-free school this year.”

Trifilio announced the no-homework policy in a newsletter to parents last Friday. The school enrolls almost 400 children in pre-kindergarten to fifth grade. South Burlington has three elementary schools, and so far Orchard is the only one to go homework-free. 

Teachers voted to ban homework for the year at a training shortly before school opened, with Trifilio’s approval. The superintendent of schools also OK’d the change.

Orchard School in South Burlington - COURTESY: MARK TRIFILIO
  • Courtesy: Mark Trifilio
  • Orchard School in South Burlington
Homework does not help elementary school students learn, and instead robs them of time to play outside, pursue their passions and enjoy relaxed evenings with their families, Trifilio said.

“There is little or no research that supports any kind of academic achievement with homework,” Trifilio said. “If that’s true, what is the purpose of homework?”

So far, parents seem enthusiastic, Trifilio said. He’s received about a dozen emails, most of them with a thumbs-up. Many parents agree with the philosophy that children should not do a “second shift” of academic work at home after spending a full day in school. If there’s any concern, Trifilio said, it’s that the policy might weaken student preparation for middle school.

He will address that and other questions about the no-homework rule Thursday night during a curriculum session with parents.

Other schools are experimenting with the no-homework approach both in and outside Vermont. Last year, Bellows Free Academy Fairfax in Franklin County stopped assigning homework for middle school students. There are several books on the topic, including The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn. Trifilio mentioned that title in his newsletter to parents.

Not everyone agrees that homework is pointless. A Duke University review of 60 research studies on homework concluded that homework helps spur student achievement. The benefits are more clear for students in grades seven through 12, and less so for younger students, according to the study.

Orchard will revisit the policy in six to eight weeks. 

Students will still be asked to read at home. 

One more assignment, directly from the principal: “We also are asking everybody to get outside and play.”

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Molly Walsh

Molly Walsh

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Molly Walsh is a Seven Days staff writer.

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