Savannah > School Board Considers Limiting Homework

| April 20, 2015

Early-childhood-education

Savannah Morning News

When it meets next month, the Savannah-Chatham school board will consider a proposed policy that would limit the amount of homework students are assigned each day and would require teachers to coordinate test and assignment dates to lighten students’ daily workloads.

School Board President Jolene Byrne said she had the idea after receiving input from frustrated parents who complained of sitting up all night with tearful, stressed out children so bogged down with daily assignments they have no time for anything else. Byrne referenced a December Facebook post in which she provided a link to a Huffington Post article called, “Am I the Only Parent Who Thinks Today’s Homework Load is Insane?” Her Facebook followers gave the post 45 likes and nine comments. In March, Byrne contacted Ann Levett, the school system’s chief academic officer, to request a policy to limit homework.

“My current hope is that we eliminate homework for K to 3rd, limit it to no more than 30 minutes for 4th and 5th, one hour for 6th to 8th, and two hours for 9th to 12th,” Byrne wrote in the March 23 email. “This recommendation is based on research that shows there is no added benefit for homework beyond these limits and that there are diminishing returns for any additional work.”

Byrne said too much homework is counterproductive and robs families of quality time. She said she has her young son pack up his books and worksheets if he hasn’t finished his homework in 10 minutes. Then she explains to the teacher that he did as much as he could.

“Some parents feel obligated to do it all,” Byrne said. “This policy will give all parents the freedom to set those limits as well.”

Administrative staff ultimately developed a policy proposal that would restrict elementary schools from assigning homework more than four days a week and setting time limits that would increase by 10 minutes per grade level — 10-15 minutes for kindergarten and first grade, 20 minutes for second grade, 30 minutes for third grade and so on.

Although middle and high school students could have homework up to five days a week, the proposal says middle-schoolers should be limited to 20 minutes per core content course and high school students to 30 minutes per core content course.

Students in advanced-level courses may be assigned long-range projects, weekend, holiday and summer work, according to the proposal.

“If we overload them at home, we’re teaching them to hate homework,” Byrne said.

But reaction was mixed when the policy was presented to the rest of the board for review at a school board meeting earlier this month.

Some board members said they’d like to relieve homework pressure while others seemed to think the policy would cross the line of micromanagement and would ignore the fact some students and subject matter require more homework time.

“I really don’t know why we’ve gotten involved in homework,” said board member Larry Lower, who preferred to leave assignments up to teacher discretion. “I have a problem with drawing out guidelines that really didn’t need to be fixed and putting an extra burden on teachers and principals.”

Board member Shawn Kachmar warned that a cookie-cutter policy dictating homework time limits could create unnecessary problems in Savannah-Chatham’s diverse district.

Some teachers can be heavy handed when it comes to homework while others don’t seem to offer students enough of an academic challenge, he said, and one student may knock out an assignment in minutes while another labors over the same amount of work for hours.

“How is the policy going to work practically? Should we be micromanaging at that level?” Kachmar asked. “And what happens at the end of day when one teacher says, ‘No one else give homework because I’m assigning a test that the kids need to spend all 30 minutes studying for?”

Chief Academic Officer Ann Levett told the board her staff was simply complying with Byrne’s request. When developing the policy proposal, she said, they tried to leave as much discretion as possible up to teachers and principals and include guidelines that most schools already adhere to.

“As we did research, most school districts do not have homework policies. The school boards leave it to the administration to decide how homework is to be handled,” Levett said. “Our local private schools do not have policies either. Most of our schools already have plans and expectations for homework, and in the case of an extreme, principals will handle it.”

The homework debate

If the school board is divided over the pros and cons of homework, they’re in good company. Parents and education officials throughout the nation have grappled over homework for years.

Critics insist excessive homework crushes academic curiosity in young children, limits family time and leads to anxiety and depression in older students.

Proponents argue that strict state and federal mandates for raising public education outcomes have created a testing craze and forced teachers to rely on homework as an extension of the school day.

In recent months, the pressure to perform academically in Georgia has only gotten worse as Gov. Nathan Deal has pushed legislation that would allow schools to be closed or taken over for failing to meet rising state academic benchmarks.

Research hasn’t helped settle the debate.

There are more than a decade’s worth of contradictory studies on the subject. A 2006 study by Professor Harris Cooper of Duke University called “Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement” found that homework doesn’t affect test scores significantly and points out that the world’s highest-scoring students, like those in Denmark and the Czech Republic, have little homework.

A 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education by the Brookings Institution challenges the assumption that students are being overloaded. They found that, for the most part, the amount of homework assigned to American students has been the same since the mid-1980s and parents are more likely to say their children have too little homework than too much.

On the other hand, Denise Pope, a researcher at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, found that high-performing high schools in upper middle class communities assign large amounts of homework to maintain academic advantage and competitiveness.

In her article “Hazardous Homework” Pope reports that homework becomes counterproductive after about two hours per night and should be purposeful and designed to cultivate learning or it could hinder a student’s learning, full engagement and well-being.

Some research indicates disadvantaged and poor-performing students need extra homework to help close the achievement gap. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment concludes that homework reinforces the achievement gap between the rich and the poor internationally.

They found that all students get homework, but those with greater economic advantage spend an average of 5.7 hours per week while disadvantaged students average spending 4.1 hours per week on homework. And students at schools that assign more homework — Hong Kong, China; Japan, Macao, China; and Singapore — averaged 17 points more on their math assessments than schools that assigned less homework.

One policy fits all?

Although Savannah-Chatham has several high-performing schools that serve upper and middle class overachievers like those Pope researched for her Hazardous Homework study, the majority of Savannah-Chatham’s students don’t fall into that category.

In 2014 Savannah-Chatham had 32 elementary, middle and K8 schools performing below the grade-level reading proficiency targets on all grade levels tested. Just six schools met the reading targets on all grade levels tested.

That same year, 34 elementary, middle and K8 schools fell below the grade-level proficiency goals for math on all grade levels tested compared to just two schools that met the goals on all grade levels tested.

Savannah Federation of Teachers President Theresa Watson said a policy governing homework times for so many students who need academic reinforcements is not realistic.

“If students don’t understand something, teachers have minimal time to go back and re-teach. Homework helps reinforce those lessons,” Watson said. “This policy would create more work for teachers, and right now teachers are already feeling the heat to collect and analyze data, raise test scores and meet all of the CCRPI guidelines.

“This homework policy is not a positive or realistic solution for students who are behind or for families that feel overwhelmed by homework.”

Watson said a better solution would be to go to a Teacher’s Senate and ask the district’s top teachers what would help.

But Byrne, who said she did extensive research before suggesting the proposal for homework time limits, insists the policy would prevent students from disengaging from academics and ensure that lessons are well planned and meaningful. It allows for exceptions for students who may need extra or specialized instruction, and Byrne even thinks it will lighten the burden on teachers who won’t have to spend as much time grading papers.

“I understand there is some concern, but I think it’s a way to help teachers communicate,” Byrne said. “It doesn’t tell them what assignments they have to assign. It just says be reasonable.”

PROPOSED HOMEWORK POLICY

The Savannah-Chatham Public School Board will vote on a homework policy proposal at its May 6 meeting. The policy would limit homework by grade on a sliding scale and would require teachers to coordinate test and assignment dates to lighten student workloads.

Primary grades

Homework may be assigned three to four times a week.

• Kindergarten and first grade: up to 10 to 15 minutes per night

• Second grade: up to 20 minutes per night

• Third grade: up to 30 minutes per night

Upper elementary grades

Homework is inclusive of assigned reading. It may be assigned three to four times a week and may include long-term projects.

• Fourth grade: up to 40 minutes per night

• Fifth grade: up to 50 minutes per night

Middle grades

• Average of 20 minutes per core content class, three to five times per week

• Periodic assignments in non-core courses

• Long-term projects may be required

High school

• Average of 30 minutes per core content class, 3-5 times per week

• Periodic assignments in non-core courses

• Long-term projects may be required

Gifted and honors courses

Homework will have greater depth and complexity and may require additional time to complete.

AP and IB courses

Courses may include significant study or research requiring homework in excess of 30 minutes per academic class per night. In addition, there may be weekend, holiday, summer and long-range assignments.

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1 Comment on "Savannah > School Board Considers Limiting Homework"

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  1. Nate Jones says:

    Easily one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever read. Homework cuts into family time? Homework is supposed to be a part of family time! For goodness sakes, we are producing graduates who can’t do simple math without a calculator, don’t know the bare basics of civics and government, don’t know geography, and so forth. Less homework, they need more! I can maybe understand 30 minutes for K through 3rd grade, because of attention span issues. But a highschooler needs to be hitting the books, not Facebook and instagram. This is another bad idea by our school systems.