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Elementary School Dumps Homework and Tells Kids to Play Instead

 P.S. 116's principal announced that students will no longer be assigned traditional homework.
P.S. 116's principal announced that students will no longer be assigned traditional homework.
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DNAinfo/Heather Holland

KIPS BAY — A public elementary school is abolishing traditional homework assignments and telling kids to play instead — outraging parents who say they may pull their kids out of the school.

Teachers at  P.S. 116 on East 33rd Street have stopped assigning take-home math worksheets and essays, and are instead encouraging students to read books and spend time with their family, according to a letter the school’s principal, Jane Hsu, sent to parents last month.

“The topic of homework has received a lot of attention lately, and the negative effects of homework have been well established,” Hsu wrote in her letter, which was sent home with students.

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“They include: children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities and family time and, sadly for many, loss of interest in learning.”

Hsu explained that the school spent more than a year "analyzing studies focused on the effects of traditional homework" and decided that it was more important for the Pre-K through fifth grade students to do activities that “have been proven to have a positive impact on student academic performance and social/emotional development” such as reading at their own pace and playing.

"In fact, you may be surprised to learn that there have been a variety of studies conducted on the effects of homework in the elementary grades and not one of them could provide any evidence that directly links traditional homework practices with current, or even future, academic success."

The letter recommends limiting the time kids spend on TV, computers and video games, and told parents with concerns to speak to their children's teachers.

A Department of Education spokesman said the city does not have an overarching homework policy, so principals and teachers can use their discretion in assigning homework.

The change in homework policy is not going over well with parents, who have threatened to yank their kids from the school for fear they won't learn enough.

“They didn’t have much to begin with, but now homework is obsolete,” said Daniel Tasman, father of a second-grader at P.S. 116. 

“They’ve decided that giving homework to younger ages [elementary school students] isn’t viable. I don’t necessarily agree. I think they should have homework — some of it is about discipline. I want [my daughter] to have fun, but I also want her to be working towards a goal.”

Tasman has already begun looking for another school for his daughter and recently entered her in a lottery for a charter school, he said.

"I was just thinking maybe I'll keep my daughter here for another year, but this pushed me over the edge," he said.

Angry parents said they have begun filling in the gap by creating their own homework assignments for their kids.

“This is their time to learn now, when they have good memory," said Stanley, a 33-year-old Murray Hill resident with a third-grade son at P.S. 116, who declined to give his last name out of concern for his son.

"I give him extra work, though. I go to Barnes & Nobles and give him my own homework."

The changes were supported by P.S. 116’s School Leadership Team, which is made up of staff and parents, according to Hsu's letter and minutes of a December 2014 meeting.

According to the minutes, the group became worried last year because so many kids were forced to sit out at recess after failing to turn in their daily homework assignments.

The School Leadership Team created a Homework Committee, which did research and found there was “no link between elementary school homework and success in school,” according to the minutes.

In response to DNAinfo's inquiries, Hsu released a statement defending the new homework policy — insisting that the playtime, conversations with relatives and unstructured reading was key to education.

“We are excited that we are redefining the landscape of homework — but we are certainly not eliminating homework,” Hsu said.

“We are creating opportunities for students and their families to engage in activities that research has proven to benefit academic and social-emotional success in the elementary grades. We look forward to seeing the positive impact our newly-designed homework options will have on our students and their families.”