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School's Plan to Dump Traditional Homework Gets Growing Support

 P.S. 116 has decided to do away with
P.S. 116 has decided to do away with "traditional" homework in exchange for play, the principal said.
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DNAinfo/Heather Holland

KIPS BAY — A principal's plan to do away with traditional homework is getting support from education leaders around the borough, as one community board plans to discuss whether schools in its district should follow suit.

Community Board 2’s schools and education committee will discuss whether P.S. 116's new policy should be expanded to other schools in its district at a meeting Monday evening, committee co-chair Jeannine Kiely said.

Principal Jane Hsu made waves at P.S. 116, which is in CB6's jurisdiction, when she and her School Leadership Team decided to phase out "busy work" this year to give students more time to play and spend time with their families.

 P.S. 116 rolled out a new homework policy this year in the form of bingo charts (pictured).
P.S. 116 rolled out a new homework policy this year in the form of bingo charts (pictured).
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Simone Levin

"There is only so much time in life for play and it is such an important way for children to express their feelings and explore their imagination and I embrace the administration's efforts to allow our children to learn creatively with enough flexibility to just be kids," said Simone Levin, co-president of P.S. 116's School Leadership Team, which spent a year researching the effects of "traditional" homework, and spearheaded the effort to reinvent the homework policy.

CB2's schools and education committee oversees P.S. 3, P.S. 41 and P.S. 130. Speakers expected at the meeting on Monday include: Kelly Shannon, the principal of P.S. 31; Sarah Sanchala, chief of staff for Assemblymember Deborah Flick and Briget Rein, the Manhattan Political and Community Schools liason for the United Federation of Teachers.

Community Education Council for District 2, which covers P.S. 116 along with 32 other elementary and middle schools from the tip of Manhattan to 59th Street on the west side and up to 96th Street on the east side, also praised the new policy as a way of redefining education by shifting away from narrow subjects like math, reading and science toward a more interactive learning approach that could improve the quality of children's lives.

“I like the approach taken by PS 116, especially when the policy fosters interaction among family members,” said to Shino Tanikawa, president of CEC2.

"I think learning should always be interactive, experiential, relevant and 'holistic' — meaning, not narrowly defined by subject areas," Tanikawa continued. "I often find the conventional definion of ‘learning' too narrow (e.g. math, reading, writing, science, etc.) and yearn for more ‘unstructured’ but guided learning (such as when a child explores the outdoors).”

P.S. 116 rolled out the new homework policy this year in the form of bingo charts and menus that allow kids to choose what they want to do for homework and when they want to do it.

The menus for younger grades include activities such as visiting a park with a friend or playing chess with a parent. 

Older students can pick from activities such as writing a poem about snow or measuring the perimeter of a household object.

Although each teacher’s method is different, children generally are allowed to choose a few options to complete within the course of a week, and the activities are time-bound and not based on completion, which means students are only expected to spend 20 minutes or so on an activity even if they haven't finished the assignment, according to Levin.

It is unclear whether P.S. 116 is the first school to drop traditional homework, but many parents and comunity members said they'd never heard of it being done elsewhere. The Dept. of Education does not keep track of the different homework policies of each school, a spokesman said.

While Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina encourages rigorous teaching, the agency said it puts its faith in teachers and principals to know what's best for their students.

Others in the community were wary of getting on the bandwagon out of concern that it would do more harm than good.

"These activities have great experiential value, but they are not helping my kids practice and cement skills they will need later in their educational lives in the way homework does," said Joe Fiordaliso, president of Community Education Council for District 3, in an email. 

"Here's an analogy: my kids are taking piano lessons," Fiordaliso said. "If they don't practice in between lessons, how are they going to advance beyond Yankee Doodle and ever think about playing something by Chopin?"

The schools and education committee of Community Board 2 will be discussing the new homework plan at the executive session of its meeting taking place at P.S. 41 at 116 W. 11th St. on Monday at 6 p.m.