RMS to Reassess Homework Policy

Homework. Like skinned knees, bedtimes, and finishing your vegetables, it’s a typical part of the collective childhood experience. The Rochester School Committee, however, wants to revisit the topic of homework, investigate how it is assigned, determine what students are really getting out of it, and decide whether the current homework policy is adequate or antiquated.

On June 14, School Committee member Anne Fernandes raised the question on homework, saying she vaguely recalls a prior conversation the committee had pertaining to a tentative survey of families and teachers on the subject of homework.

“The reason that I raised this question at all, “ Fernandes said, “Is there are two sides of the fence … and I’m not sure if we’re updated enough to reflect family thinking or teacher thinking or stakeholder thinking about that.”

The standard homework policy is for teachers to assign roughly 10 minutes of homework per grade level – which means a range of, for example, 30 minutes per night for a 3rd-grader and an hour for a 6th-grader.

“I was curious more than anything about where we are with homework,” Fernandes said. But, she added, or course, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I guess.”

Superintendent Doug White said there is an existing homework policy, but perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at it and study it to determine what value homework has within the district for teachers, students, and parents.

The Center for Public Education, a national resource for current research, data, and analysis on education issues, says research on the subject of homework has produced mixed results. Some studies suggest that homework under certain conditions does indeed benefit certain children; other studies show no benefit, while others suggest a negative effect.

For example, some research suggests homework benefits older students more often than younger ones, and some of the data suggests lower-income students with fewer resources, including technology, do not benefit as much as students of high-income families. Another study suggested that too much homework might diminish homework’s effectiveness.

The homework policy in the Rochester Memorial School student handbook currently reads, “Homework is an integral part of the learning process and necessary for student success. Students are responsible for completing all assigned work by teachers. Grade level teachers will inform students about their homework policies.”

“It’s pretty open-ended,” White said. “Even more so for each teacher.”

White said, should the committee so desire, perhaps the joint school districts’ policy subcommittee should take up the policy for review.

The three elementary school districts tend to share the same policies across the board, White said, for cohesiveness and consistency in the expectations of students as they all converge at the junior high school.

White suggested a review of the current research and for the committee to consider, “[Does] the policy really drive the work that we want to see happen in our schools?”

“I agree,” said School Committee member Robin Rounseville. “I think it probably needs a little bit more investigation.” She pointed out that the policy has not been looked at in years. “And it probably is time to look at … [whether we are] doing kids a service or a disservice in the amount of homework that they get, given that some kids may complete it in the allotted 10 minutes per grade and others may not.”

Life happens, as Rounseville pointed out, “And sometimes a night is just not meant for homework in some houses.”

“I would certainly like to see it looked at more,” said Rounseville. “I think a survey is also a great idea … [for] both staff and families.”

School Committee member Sharon Hartley agreed.

“It is an interesting topic and it definitely has some strong feelings on various sides,” Hartley said. “It’s time to take a look.”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos said the conversation “struck a chord” with her.

“You mentioned the idea of parents, and it strikes me that homework in itself is kind of a three-way endeavor — it’s a parent’s responsibility, it’s a teacher’s responsibility to assign and promote meaningful homework and to really understand really why they’re assigning it … and the student has a responsibility as well for the completion of it in a way that’s timely, neat,” said Frangos. “It’s really a three-way opportunity in that homework can never be issued as a punishment or ‘busy’ work or something that’s meaningless.”

Frangos continued, “There’s a purpose and a function for it, whatever that may be,” whether it be creative work or a long-term project. She suggested that teachers have a responsibility to never ask for homework that must be completed using any resources or materials that are outside the average scope of typical materials available to all families, including technology, “… and assuming there’s a digital device where there might not be,” she added.

Frangos concluded that, perhaps, the district’s homework policy is antiquated and should be updated, keeping feedback from parents in mind.

“Doug and I have not heard of these challenges from parents, but we are always mindful of the digital divide and thinking about what we need to lend to kids … to support kids who may not have them,” said Frangos.

Rounseville said she is familiar with the opposing attitudes of different teachers, saying, “[Some teachers] have said, ‘I want you to keep at it until it’s acceptable,’ versus … ‘I want to see what your child struggled with.’”

“So it sounds like it’s going back to the policy subcommittee,” said School Committee Chairman Tina Rood.

The next meeting of the Rochester School Committee is scheduled for August 30 at 6:30 pm at Rochester Memorial School.

Rochester School Committee

By Jean Perry


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