Five years ago I wrote an article about the stress of homework, that not surprising to me, was incredibly popular. Parents (and their children) were excited to be validated that homework might actually be more harmful than good.
Over the past five years, studies continue to show that homework actually provides no measurable benefit, particularly in the elementary years. It is nice to see that some schools, school boards, and even the country of Finland have reduced or eliminated homework, however; most schools have not changed their homework policies.
In fact, I’m seeing more articles sharing strategies for managing homework stress. I find this phenomenon so distressing. As a society, I keep wondering why are we pushing our children past their breaking points, and for what end?
If we’re looking towards the “why” of this drive for homework, I’m assuming it points squarely towards this: good grades. But are “good grades” a goal still worth striving for in this modern era?
Pondering the answer to this question and many others revolving around how do children really thrive and learn at their best in school I came to what I thought was a crazy, but not shocking conclusion: we need to get rid of tests, grades, and homework. We also needed to put the needs of children first instead of bureaucracy. Oh, and a content-acquisition style of schooling had become outdated with the invention of the Internet – but let’s stay focused on the first point.
I started off by pulling my children out of public school and homeschooling them. I’ll just put my hands up in defeat and admit that was a horrible experience for our family. With my ten years of teaching, Master’s in counselling psychotherapy, and parenting education/ writing, I thought it would be a breeze. But it wasn’t! My utmost respect goes to families who are making homeschooling work.
Without a system in our area that fit our benchmarks for modern education, my husband and I felt compelled to open our own school. We had been searching existing systems to see if it was possible to not have to reinvent the wheel and were thrilled to discover Acton Academy.
After going through their rigorous selection, orientation, and start-up process, our Infinity School had seven smiling children walk through the front door seven months later.
I was petrified. These four families handed their children over to us and said, “We trust you with our children’s lives. Go for it!”
I’ll be truthful and say there were bumps that year, including moments where I’d come home shaking and full of tears. Some days I’d think we were crazy, but I always felt strongly that the system would work and we’d see amazing things once these kids were set loose in a supportive environment.
By the end of the first year, I started hearing comments from adults like: “You should have seen him a year ago – what have you done? He is a different person!” And: “My child has never been this excited to go to school!”
We tested them at the end of the year using the IOWA Assessments, noting where they were at in their personal education journeys and carried on. The next year we moved to a bigger facility and greeted another five students on the first day of school.
At the end of the second year we tested them again anticipating we’d see some fascinating results. Looking at their writing, spelling and reading abilities, and where they were in their individual math modules over the past two years, we knew special things were happening. But we had NO IDEA we’d see the results we did!
I sent the numbers over to my husband and said, “Does this say a growth of TWO grade levels in this one year?!” Yes, it did. WHAT?!
We started getting emails from other Acton Academy schools around the world with similar results. I just couldn’t believe it.
Some of our students have learning challenges and some have had medical issues that prevented them from being in school, but regardless of that as an entire school, the average number of grade levels advanced in the last year was 1.4. Three students moved up more than two grades. Unbelievable.
The phenomenal thing about this to me is that they did this without tests, grades, or a single moment of homework. They DID do this with a process-driven system that values who they are and supports them to be their best. And they certainly did this because they are learning to dig in to learning: to have grit.
We joke with the students that we’re the running-with-sticks, dodge-balling, climbing trees, be who you are school, but honestly, we’re the get out of the way and let kids be awesome, school.
You might be thinking: But what about no grades?
When we looked at the Acton system, one question that was bothering us was how our students (including our own children) would get into post-secondary programs without grades. We discovered the fantastic answer to this question: they don’t need to be admitted through the grades stream – they can go through the portfolio one!
Last year every Acton Academy graduate got accepted to every post-secondary program they applied to, which included Ivey League schools (please note that there were a small number of graduates).
The Acton program’s graduates are handing over an incredible portfolio of work that includes graduate level, mind-blowing projects, and abilities far advanced for their ages.
All this without homework, grades, or tests.
As we start our third year, we have more than double the number of students we saw walk out the door in June. We’ve actually had to temporarily pause accepting more elementary and middle school students (we can still take four more four to six-year-olds) to make sure all our new students are making the transition well.
We are so excited for a year that we know will be filled with both celebrations and tough moments, but ones certainly worth experiencing together on this wild education hero’s journey together.
-Andrea Loewen Nair, M.A., CCC
Infinity School co-founder/ Head of School