SMMUSD HDQTRS — A 20-year-old homework policy that’s been criticized as antiquated and confusing saw major changes on Thursday when the Board of Education approved a set of revisions that parents hope will cut the hours spent on afterschool studies.
The modifications come nearly a year after the board formed an ad hoc committee that reviewed both the homework policy and administrative regulations following concerns from the community that students received an inordinate amount of homework, cutting into time with their families.
The blame was placed in part on confusion of the existing policy and what some believed was a lack of communication between teachers and with parents.
Proponents of the revised policy said the changes encourage collaboration among administrators, teachers and parents and directs all parties to develop together an effective homework plan specific to each school site through its respective governance council.
“This is all about communication,” Debbie Bernstein, a parent and former teacher at University High School, said. “In the past parents talked to parents, and teachers talked among themselves along with administrators on this subject, but largely parents, teachers, and administrators do not spend much time communicating formally on this topic, if discussing it formally at all.”
The revised administrative regulation also changed the amount of time that students should spend on homework every day. The old guidelines advised that first graders spend between 10-20 minutes daily, or 40-80 minutes a week, while the new regulations fixed the time to 20 minutes daily or 80 minutes a week.
Those ranges were also removed for second, third, fourth and fifth grades, replaced similarly with times on the higher end of the spectrum, which drew concerns from parents.
The length of time that students spend on homework in the middle school was clarified. For example, whereas seventh graders were previously given assignments that took 90 minutes total or 20-30 minutes a class, the revised policy states that they spend 80 minutes daily.
The board decided to remove the time allotment for the high school, believing that there is too much variation in the rigor of courses with many students taking advanced placement and honors courses.
“It really didn’t make sense to have a policy which we knew a large percent of students were basically not going to be able to follow because their choice of academic classes,” school board President Ralph Mechur said. “We felt the better way of creating an effective policy was to have high schools create their own plans that would be more closely followed than what was suggested.”
He added that there hasn’t been much research on the impact of homework at the high school level.
Parents said they would have liked to see the time limits kept, believing the homework problem could persist.
“Members of the board say that research on guidelines limiting homework is based on only one study,” Claudia Landis, a parent, said. “To turn the question around, I ask, where is the research that says intensifying homework beyond that recommended by senior staff and the homework committee is beneficial?
The revised policy has also drawn concerns from teachers who said they had little issue with the existing policy and see the changes as potentially an infringement of academic freedom.
They also had concerns on the prescribed nature of the policy, pointing out that a homework assignment might take one student 10 minutes and another even longer. In the latter case, the parent should come talk to the teacher, Sarah Braff, the vice president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association and Will Rogers teacher, said.
Braff said the homework problem only involves a small number of teachers.
“I would like to think that a teacher who has experience in being a teacher and has a B.A. and M.A. in education has some knowledge about what is good for children and what is not good for children and should be treated as a professional,” Braff said.
The lone vote in opposition to the changes came from Oscar de la Torre, who said there needs to be more discussion with teachers. School board members Jose Escarce and Maria Leon-Vazquez were absent.
He said that the revised guidelines were more complicated than they needed to be and also had concerns with removing the time limits for the high schools.
“I support the policy but I feel we need more time and dialogue with teachers who are in the end implementing the policy,” he said.