After a long discussion and much public comment, the Davis school board voted 3-2 Thursday to allow an increased homework load for elementary students. Ten more minutes nightly, on up to four nights per week, were authorized.
The new policy won’t take effect until the fall, after teachers have been trained in best practices for giving students assignments to be completed outside the classroom.
Trustees Tim Taylor, Susan Lovenburg and Sheila Allen comprised the majority, with Nancy Peterson and Gina Daleiden voting no.
When the new school year starts in late August, homework maximums for students in grades K-2 will be 20 minutes; grade 3, 30 minutes; grade 4, 40 minutes; and grades 5 and 6, 55 minutes. This includes time for reading, math, social studies and science (depending on grade level).
The amended homework policy also will “strengthen language for ongoing professional development that focuses on the quality of homework,” “strengthen language related to homework assignments in advance for greater flexibility in time management of the student and family,” and “clarify increased homework related to Advanced Placement and honors courses” in grades 9-12.
District staff maintained that the current homework policy did not provide time for both reading and math for elementary students, describing “resultant concerns about reading fluency and widening the achievement gap.
“These additional 10 minutes provide some time for the formalized social studies and science classes that begin in fourth grade … this additional 10 minutes will support the individual learning responsibilities of social studies and science curriculum and the reading/project time involved in those courses of study,” the recommendation said.
Pam Mari, director of student services, said the 10-minute increase was “the tiniest increment we can think of that would make a difference” in student performance.
Montgomery Elementary Principal Sally Plicka spoke of “quality homework” as consisting of “the practice of skills already known (by students) … homework that they don’t have to have help from parents completing. It shouldn’t be something they don’t know how to do (on their own) and need parent assistance. It should be homework they can complete on their own.”
Plicka added that the extra minutes of reading and review through homework are important, saying, “It is through (additional) reading that you get mastery (of grade-level material)” — including students who are English learners who are developing their language skills.
But many parents attending Thursday’s school board meeting warned that the additional homework time would discourage students who already have trouble completing their take-home assignments. Parent Alex Cooke said one of his children “does seem to be getting stressed” under the current homework policy. Cooke said that while one of his younger children should theoretically be able to do his homework in half an hour, “it often takes longer than that.”
Another parent said, “I do not see how more homework would help. Quality homework rather than lengthy homework leads to the outcomes we want. If we just increase the amount of homework, it will just increase the problem. Please don’t burden families with children who are already overburdened with work.”
Another parent described a child “who cries once or twice a week about homework. (Assignments that are) 45 minutes of work for other kids is an hour and a half for him. Adding 10 minutes is more like 30 minutes for him. He plays the trombone (at school) and is often too tired (after homework) to practice.”
Parent Hiram Jackson, a frequent advocate of music programs, worried that “I find students too stressed with too little time to finish their English and math homework to have time to practice, These are often slower students to finish their homework. They are also the kind of students who appreciate the opportunities to develop in other areas. … The students who might gain the most by participating in music are the ones who struggle a lot in other areas.”
Several parents complained that the swelling of class size in recent years has prompted some teachers to give students homework that sometimes isn’t graded or returned.
Dianna Henrickson said “the main problem (with existing homework policy) is that there “hasn’t been buy-in” on the part of some teachers, particularly in terms of “best practices, what kind of homework is going to help the kids the most. Reading is super-important; let’s encourage kids to read for fun.”
Trustee Taylor expressed disappointment that incomplete implementation of the homework policy adopted 2 1/2 years ago “did not produce harmony over time.” However, he also noted “this is a 10-minute change” and added, “this has been a very divisive point,” generating more emails to the board than almost any other issue in recent months.
“We are down (in the number of instructional days (due to budget cuts), we have class sizes that are bigger, and we’re stuck with larger class sizes, because we don’t have money for smaller class sizes,” Taylor said, adding that an increase in homework time is a “necessary step” as a result.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8055.