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Winter 2014

Homework Policy Still Going Strong

It's become one of those stories that has legs. Two years after we ran a feature story on whether schools should assign homework, we're still receiving letters to the editor and new tweets. On the Ed. site, the story has consistently been one of the most shared.

"Are You Down With or Done With Homework?" featured Stephanie Brant, principal of Gaithersburg Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Md., who got rid of nightly homework in exchange for nightly reading and longer projects. At the time, Brant was just a few months into the homework change. Since the story in Ed. continues to spark so much interest among readers, we asked Brant if the policy was still in place, how it was going, and whether she had been approached by other media.

"Absolutely," she says, noting that The Washington Post, Family magazine, msn living, and The Huffington Post contacted her, as did several principals and school boards, asking if they could visit the school.

And the policy continues. "What's changed is the culture and community that we created," she says. "We've really built a culture of reading, at school and at home." Of course, some parents, especially new parents, still ask questions. "They ask, 'My child isn't doing math homework?' And I get it. I'm a parent, too."

But now, instead of reassuring them with talk of what she hopes will happen, she can tell them what has happened — students are making progress.

"The majority of our kids don't go to preschool. Now, since the policy, the majority of them leave kindergarten reading," she says. "At the end of the last school year, we looked at every student who started reading below grade level. Every one of them has risen at least 1.2 levels in growth. We've also had kids who grew 10 and 11 grade levels in one year."

Brant has made it easy for kids to embrace the new reading culture. Not only does she give them the time at home to read by not assigning other homework, but she also makes books readily available: Around school, there are book baskets in the halls. During the summer, in her gray Acura RDX, she becomes a one-woman bookmobile, driving around the city twice a week, giving out free books to kids — some donated, many that she paid for herself.

It's exactly what Brant wanted when she changed the homework policy. "Reading here has become the norm," she says. "My hope when I started this was to make reading a habit. Students who read become adults who read."