New district committee investigates homework

As part of a multi-year initiative to combat student stress, the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees has established a committee with the primary goal of reviewing the district’s homework policies with the possibility of recommending district-wide guidelines. The committee is comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and students who will come together four to six times over the 2017/2018 school year while continually updating the Trustees on their findings.

Deputy Superintendent Kirk Black updated the trustees on the committee’s goals, organization, preliminary findings and its proposed timeline during the Sept. 14 meeting. The creation of the committee was a result of a 2017/2018 goal to  "create a district wide homework policy with broad input from stakeholders."

English teacher Michael Ferguson said the committee is “less focused on policies and more focused on learning where the district as a whole is, in terms of homework policies.” Ferguson did admit that the focus of the committee may shift with time, but warns that “it will be slow going, probably one to two years.”

The committee will “survey teachers, students and parents” in addition to a review of outside research and current policies in place at various district campuses to access the need for new guidelines.

The committee will also work to “consider quality control practices for homework” which they hope will reinforce the idea that homework should be assigned in an effort to “reinforce class learning,” which the committee claimed was an acceptable reason for teachers to assign homework.

The committee's goals and preliminary findings that were presented to the board during the September meeting were derived from research conducted by universities and experts in the educational field. Cited sources spoke to both the educational impact and the social and emotional impact that excess homework has on students.

According to Jeffrey C. Valentine’s 2001 article in the journal “Educational Psychologist,” which was cited in the committee’s presentation, “HW should be no more than 10 minutes times grade level per weeknight.”

An independent spreadsheet developed by Denise Pope’s Challenge Success broke down the average amount of homework per class. This research has been presented to District parents and employees during her presentations. Her research found that the average student who participated in no more than two Advanced Placement classes would far exceed the aforementioned guideline.

The committee presentation suggested the possibility of “homework free holidays” being part of their recommendations to the board and the administrators of individual schools. Burlingame Principal Paul Belzer instructed teachers at Burlingame to refrain from assigning homework over the Thanksgiving holiday. The success of this initiative was questioned by students who have mentioned unintended consequences of such an action.

“The idea is good, and in theory, beneficial to students. The problem is that teachers frontload students with works and tests in the time leading up to the break to make up for the lack of assignments that could have been assigned over the break,” Sophomore Jason Shevach said.

The committees research will seek to balance student wellbeing and academic performance, ensuring continued student learning and success while reducing stress.

The committee has met twice so far this year and will convene again after winter break.

Posted on December 19, 2017 .