Draft Homework Policy from Davis, California
In Davis, California, a committee that had been working on a draft policy submitted its report to the Board of Education for review last week. Take a look at the report. It has many family friendly recommendations and, where the people in the committee disagreed with each other, they wrote their own dissents. Here are just a few of the provisions I especially like:
- * Weekend and holiday homework shall not be assigned. New assignments given on the last school day of a school week may not be due on the first day of the next school week. The intent of this clause shall not be circumvented by assigning homework for a later due date when additional assignments are planned prior to the due date, and the accumulation of assignments exceeds the maximum amount of homework allowed by the policy, or requires some completion on the weekend. For example, homework should not be assigned on Friday which is due the following Tuesday when a teacher plans to assign additional new homework on Monday and when one homework day (in this case Monday) would not be sufficient to complete the homework assigned the previous Friday.
* Teachers are encouraged to develop an agreement with students about when it is appropriate for the student to cease working on the day’s homework (for example, it is taking too much time or the student is unable to complete the assignment independently).
* Consequences for lack of homework completion shall not include exclusion from recess.
* The family shall:
5. intervene and stop a child who has spent an excessive amount of time on the day’s homework;
6. not allow students to sacrifice sleep to complete homework;
7. communicate with the teacher(s) if the student is not consistently able to do the homework by him/herself or if challenges or questions arise. Families of older students should encourage the child to communicate with the teacher in order to foster independence and personal responsibility
Before the end of the school year, one of the parents on the committee will write here about how she got involved in organizing for a better policy and her experiences in doing so.
by Heidy Kellison
co-chair of Homework Committee
June 24, 2010
After nearly three years, a 144-page report, and four school board meetings later, the Davis Joint Unified School District has a new homework policy. The final draft received a 5-0 vote on the first official day of summer. The symbolism is fantastic! A great day for kids made even better for their health and all forms of their development.
Davis is a university town of 65,000 people, just 15 miles from California’s State Capitol. The University of California at Davis is one of the nation’s top research universities, so the demographics aren’t surprising: According to the California Department of Education, 93% of parents with school-aged children have attended college, with a full 60% having attended graduate school. Despite chronic state budget deficits, Davis voters continually pass parcel taxes and raise private funds to maintain healthy schools. Volunteerism is high, and serving on the Board of Education probably deserves hazard pay. It’s safe to say, Davis places a high value on education.
On the surface, Davis seems an unlikely place to call for a reduction in homework. After all, if we value education so much, what’s wrong with doing whatever it takes to get the grade? (A lot, as it turns out.)
I was lucky to co-chair a 12-person committee comprised of teachers, administrators, and parents (I’m a parent). We met for 14 months and developed recommendations where research and consensus intersect.
Is the policy everything I’d hoped for? No. Did anyone get everything they wanted? Absolutely not. But do I believe our process was sound and worthy of being duplicated in other school districts? You bet.
I’ve learned a lot, including the need to approach all stakeholders with an open heart and mind. I’ve acquired more patience, much knowledge, and a great deal of respect for people who invest their lives serving children parents and professional educators alike.
I know there are bad parents, teachers and administrators, just as there are bad insurance agents, doctors, chefs…you name it. It makes no sense whatsoever to paint any profession with a broad brush, any more than it makes sense to perpetuate racial bias. When we stop pitting ourselves against each other, come to the table and release all our preconceived notions, we will finally serve kids well.
Many blessings to all who advocate for children.
- Diane says:
but, but … this makes too much sense, therefore …
May 11th, 2010 at 9:24 pm
- FedUpMom says:
Well, it’s a start. I’d be curious to hear from someone in an affected school next year whether the situation has really changed.
The fact that there’s a subsection entitled ‘The family shall:’ bugs me. Why does the school think they get to tell parents what to do?
The family shall:
1. read in the family’s first language
What if the family is illiterate?
2. provide a suitable environment, i.e. workplace, block of uninterrupted time
This is the advice that won’t go away. I believe we’ve all heard it by now. Enough already!
May 12th, 2010 at 8:14 am
- PsychMom says:
It’s insidious….this belief that homework is a part of school.
The part of this document about weekend work looks like it was written by a lawyer..
Yes, this is a start but in my hard heart, allowing any leeway ….ie acknowledging that homework is a given…just doesn’t sit well with me anymore.
May 12th, 2010 at 8:38 am
- Cynthia says:
I’m glad they emphasize that the student should be able to complete the homework independently. Pet peeve of mine, and it also helps to keep homework minimal (especially if you consider that they need to be able to understand the directions independently as well. No more first grade homework with that criteria!).
May 12th, 2010 at 9:19 am
- HomeworkBlues says:
I agree with FedUpMom. It’s a start. At least they are taking the homework problem seriously.
But I too cannot look past the condescending tone towards parents. ‘The family shall…’ I’m only taking this advice if we parents can draft a similar creed entitled ‘The School Shall.’ After all, they get paid, we don’t, so why shouldn’t I be allowed my own shopping list? If anything, we should be scrutinizing them, not the other way around.
May 12th, 2010 at 9:58 am
- FedUpMom says:
I think some of this ‘the family shall …’ is the result of various studies people have done showing that family background is the strongest predictor of how kids do by every available metric. That is, the child of middle-class, educated parents will do better at school, and has better prospects, than the child of poor, uneducated parents.
The exception to this general rule is that sometimes children of poor immigrants can do extremely well if their family culture supports hard work and education (e.g., Asians.)
The schools look at this and say, ‘See? It’s not about us, it’s all about the parents!’ and think they can guarantee good outcomes by nagging the parents.
To me, the larger question is, what value does the school add to this equation? If my middle-class kid would do just as well in terms of life prospects whether she attended the public school every day or just sat home and played games on the computer, what is the school doing to justify the enormous investment of money, energy and time that goes into it?
Conversely, if the child of poor, illiterate parents is doomed to failure whether he attends school or not, what is the point of school?
Instead of nagging parents, schools need to take a hard look at what they do and ask why their efforts make so little difference to children’s lives.
May 12th, 2010 at 10:36 am
- Sara Bennett says:
Take a look at the report. There is a ‘superintendents shall’ section, among others. Of course I would love to see a policy where homework isn’t a given, or where parents have the absolute right to opt-out, but, in the meantime, I think this policy is a huge step in the right direction.
May 12th, 2010 at 11:01 am
- PsychMom says:
FedUpMom makes a very good point…and I never thought about it from this angle. If one’s success really boils down to socio-economic status (as so many things do) then what is the point of school?
The common belief is that children who come from single parent families are bigger behaviour problems, and do less well in school. But did that include this growing cohort of older single moms having children, and adopting as single parents? I would say that those kids do at least as well as kids from two parent families..if not slightly better.
May 12th, 2010 at 11:32 am
- northTOmom says:
I agree with FedUpMom and others that the ‘family shall’ wording is kind of patronizing. In the Toronto policy, it says, ‘Teachers are responsible for . . . Students are responsible for . . . the family is responsible for, etc.’ Not sure if that’s any better. But what I do like about this Davis document is that it’s specific for example regarding weekend homework. One of the problems I have with our (Toronto) policy is that it is so vague that it allows teachers to go on doing what they’ve always been doing, and still consider themselves to be complying with the policy. My own opinion is that homework policies should not give too much wiggle room to teachers to over-assign homework, and that they should include an opt-out provision (which ours does not).
May 12th, 2010 at 12:24 pm
- Disillusioned says:
Interesting points made by all. As I read through this obtuse, complicated document; again I start to dream about school vouchers instead of government run schools.
May 12th, 2010 at 1:44 pm
- HomeworkBlues says:
Disillusioned, it seems as if state run schools have outlived their usefulness. They just don’t seem to work anymore. Once you get politicians running schools instead of real educators, there’s bound to be trouble. This is not working…They will try to fix this, tinker with that, endless ‘reform,’ endless ideas and it’s all not working on a grand scale because the wrong people are making the decisions.
As more content is available on line, we’ll see more defectors, more families retreating to homeschool. When the economy improves, more middle class families will also vote with their feet in search of private school.
And more and more, when politicians talk about public education, they will continue to address what they see as the impoverished kids. The more they talk about ‘narrowing the achievement gap’ the more others will be clamped down. Which begs the question: just who is served here?
May 12th, 2010 at 3:34 pm
- Disillusioned says:
All true. But who are the real educators? The rigid, controlling, moralistic, one size fits all ‘educators’ I have dealt with so far don’t give me much hope for teacher driven schools.
May 12th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
- HomeworkBlues says:
I thought of that too. Who are the real educators? Given what we’ve experienced, as you say, we don’t want ‘teacher driven’ schools either.
In a perfect world, we’d have a whole different brand of teacher. The kind I had when I was a kid. Yes, I had some tough no nonsense ones. And they were awesome. So what sets them apart from today’s rigid controlling teacher? They truly loved us, cared about us, and ‘I entered teaching to make a difference’ was not just some idle blather. Whenever teachers write in to say their hands are tied, I’m always left thinking, just whose needs are you serving here?
It’s our tax dollars. Time to put the public back in public education. Because from where I sit, the children often come dead last.
May 12th, 2010 at 4:29 pm
- Disillusioned says:
When I hear teachers say ‘I love children and my hands are tied.’ I think, then why are you doing a job that causes so much conflict and unpleasantness within families. How can they not see the irony in that statement? I am not trying to be sarcastic. Do teachers ever feel guilty over the stress and tension homework overload causes?
May 12th, 2010 at 4:54 pm
- Barbara Finkelstein says:
This policy sounds sensible. I knew a high school boy who felt so overwhelmed that he began working on a Monday homework assignment on Friday afternoon. Kwazy.
May 12th, 2010 at 5:09 pm
- HomeworkBlues says:
Disillusioned, I must ask that teacher who purports to love children (I must ask and yet have never had that opportunity), then how can you overload them?
I’m specifically addressing teachers of gifted programs that also attract high achievers. There are benefits to attending places like these because these kids crave the peer group, are often nerds who don’t fit in elsewhere. I used to see the rationale behind such environments. I still see the need but why work them so hard? Why is the price so high? It’s that price I keep coming back to. Surely our children don’t have to trade sleep for a program that meets their needs.
As you said, Disillusioned, despite what some teachers here have accused us of, this is not asked in a spirit of sarcasm. It’s real and heartbreaking. If I could just talk to you, teacher, honestly, forthrightly and yes with anger because I’m angry. I’m worn out. And angry. And why can’t I openly express that without fear of retribution? I assert myself but there’s always a price. Why can’t we talk?
If you purport to love these children, why do you overwork them so much? Why do you tell us parents on Back to School Night that your math or physics class requires two daily hours of homework when you know full well they have six other classes. How can you expect young people to go to school all day, only to come home to a second job in the evening, with even longer hours than the first one. If you love our teenagers so much, how can you not see that they come to school so seriously sleep deprived? Surely you must know! How do you sleep at night, knowing your students are not? This is love?