School banks on no-homework policy, longer school day to fight underperformance

There are two words all students love to hear from their teacher: ‘no homework’.

A Massachusetts school is saying just that to students as they are returning to classes, but it’s not being done entirely to create extra time for after-school fun in the last few days of summer – it’s part of a bid to turn around less-than-stellar performance.

“At my school, it was like ‘go big or go home,’” said Jacqueline Glasheen, the principal of Kelly Full Service Community School in Holyoke. “We have to do something different.”

The kindergarten through eighth grade school in western Massachusetts is part of a public district that went into receivership in April 2015 after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education labeled it chronically underperforming.

“My school in particular has made slight gains, but my kids are well below the proficiency line,” Glasheen told Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said last year that only one in three children in Holyoke public schools are reading at grade level, while Glasheen noted that 98 percent of the student body is enrolled in a free or assisted lunch program.

Now the school hopes that the no-homework policy, coupled with an extended, eight-hour school day – which for some of its younger students is two hours longer than past years – will raise performance in the classroom.

“We are doing this not because we don’t think kids need homework, but because we think we are giving kids very rigorous instruction for eight hours,” Glasheen told “We want them to hang out with families, have dinner, do extracurricular activities and go to bed.”

“We constantly hear from educators that they need more time”

— Jacqueline Reis, media relations coordinator for Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

In addition to extended recess periods, the school is intending to provide more targeted learning time for struggling students in the form of small group instruction and one-on-one sessions with teachers.

The changes made from the way instruction was handled in past years are key as to whether or not the program will succeed, according to Thomas Hatch, an associate professor of education and co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at the Teachers College at Columbia University.

“The essential thing in all of this is not necessarily how much time you spend in school or out, but what you do with that time,” Hatch told “You can’t say just because your school day is longer your kids are going to perform better.”

A 2006 study published in the Review of Educational Research journal found that the average student in classes where homework was given would score 23 points higher on tests compared to students in classes where homework was not.

A classroom at the Kelly Full Service Community School. Administrators there hope that a new no homework policy, combined with a longer school day this upcoming year will improve students' performance in the classroom.

A classroom at the Kelly Full Service Community School. Administrators there hope that a new no homework policy, combined with a longer school day this upcoming year will improve students' performance in the classroom. (Kelly Full Service Community School)

“If a district or school discards homework altogether, however, it will be throwing away a powerful instructional tool,” Robert Marzano, who leads an educational research company, wrote in an article for Educational Leadership magazine.

“Perhaps the most important advantage of homework is that it can enhance achievement by extending learning beyond the school day,” he added.

Students aren’t the only ones seeing changes this year, as teachers in Holyoke are facing an extended workday as well.

Glasheen says the switch into receivership “took away many of the powers of the local unions” regarding how the district would operate going forward, but added that the two union representatives on her staff were in favor of the no homework policy. Teachers will be getting extra compensation out of the school’s budget as part of a deal worked out with the state receiver, she added.

Hatch says the added time in the classroom could relieve some pressure teachers are facing.

“If students are doing better and they find out kids are making progress in ways they didn’t know before, that could go a long way in terms of helping out teacher burnout,” he told

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said it isn’t aware of other schools in receivership having a no-homework policy, but the shift to a longer day is “an effective ingredient for school turnaround.

“We constantly hear from educators that they need more time,” Jacqueline Reis, the department’s media relations coordinator, told

The Buffalo Academy of Scholars, a private school that already has a no-homework policy, says its structure where students complete assignments under supervision by teachers during the day is getting positive feedback from parents.

“Completing the work in school eliminates the frustration students and their families have when a student lacks the knowledge to complete the work without adult help, the challenge parents face when assigned work differs from the work they completed as students, and ultimately removes a major stressor for the student and family,” Executive Director Meg Keller-Cogan told

In Texas, a teacher at the Godley Elementary School in Johnson County wrote in a letter sent home to students that there would be no homework given in her class this year because "research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance." The note has since gone viral.

The changes at the Holyoke school this year will be evaluated next summer.

But for now, the switch to a no-homework policy will make it easier for parents as the school year begins.

“It’s one less thing off parents’ plates,” Glasheen said.