SMMUSD HDQTRS — Despite months spent overhauling the district’s homework policy, a new set of guidelines might not be ready in time for the start of the school year after a concerned Board of Education on Wednesday sent a draft version back to its staff for more tinkering.
The board had issues with a number of areas, including a formula for the number of hours that students should spend on assignments, and certain verbiage that was reportedly removed by the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association over issues of academic freedom.
A committee of school administrators, teachers and parents have spent the past several months reviewing and modifying the existing policy after the district received concerns from parents and the Health and Safety District Advisory Committee that students receive an inordinate amount of homework, arguing that it takes children away from valuable time with their families.
School board members directed staff to facilitate more meetings with the homework committee, placing an emphasis on a collaborative process between teachers and parents to address concerns over several specific areas that were originally included in a draft revision but removed in the most recent iteration. That included language which emphasized quality over quantity when handing out assignments, and that teachers may receive training in designing relevant, challenging and meaningful assignments that reinforce classroom learning objectives.
Board members asked that the committee consider adding the language back.
Several parents at the meeting expressed concerns that the language was taken out.
Claudia Landis spoke of how her son’s homework took time away from the family.
“By eighth grade, we had no family dinners,” she said. “We certainly had no weekends.”
She emphasized that quality be given consideration over quantity.
“I have to tell you there was a lot of busy work or work that was really mindless work that my son said ‘why should I do this?’” Landis said.
Sarah Braff, a third grade teacher at Will Rogers Elementary School who served on the committee, said that homework has always been a tool used by teachers, and just in the same way that a principal would not tell a teacher to change a grade, they also wouldn’t instruct what type of assignments to give to students.
“Of course we want to give them meaningful homework,” Braff, who is the vice president of the teachers union, said. “Who among us is going to judge what is effective and not effective?”
Some school board members also expressed concerns with the formula developed for homework assignments.
The existing policy stated that there be no more than 5-10 minutes or 20-40 minutes a week for kindergarten, while the revised version states that 10 minutes a day be given for that grade.
The modification also proposes adding 10 minutes daily per grade level — 20 minutes daily for first grade, 30 minutes a day for second grade and so forth — while the existing policy gives a range — 10-20 minutes a day for first grade, 20-30 minutes a day for second grade.
Sally Chou, the chief academic officer, said that there were concerns about the set amount of time allotted, adding that one student might spend 10 minutes on an assignment while another might take half an hour. She added that the time formula could raise issues for schools like Edison Language Academy, which instructs classes in both English and Spanish and would struggle with splitting homework in both languages by five minutes a piece.
Some school board members said they had concerns with the proposed time schedule for homework in high school, which suggests 100 minutes daily for grade nine, going up 10 minutes a day, peaking at 120 minutes daily for juniors and seniors.
School board member Jose Escarce said that there is a lot of variance in high school where students take a different number of courses and different types, with some enrolled in honors and advanced placement classes that might come with more homework.
“Students who choose to take a harder course load need to go into it with an understanding that they have more homework than others,” he said.
Staff plans to spend the next 120 days looking over the policy with the committee, bringing it back to the board sometime after September. Chou said that many administrators and teachers are already unavailable because of the summer break.
Harry Keiley, the president of the teachers union, said that he believes the discussion should be extended into the next school year.
“We think it’s very important that teachers at the school sites have an opportunity to talk about what homework means to them and what their philosophy is depending on their grade level,” he said.