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School Board reforms homework philosophy


School Board Policy 6154 and Administrative Regulation 6154, which were first adopted in June of 2012, serve to explain and enforce Palo Alto Unified School District’s philosophy on homework: that any assignments should be able to be completed in reasonable amounts of time, are assigned to protect homework-free vacations, and that every homework assignment should be effective in deepening a student’s understanding of the material, rather than serving as busy work.

The policies, whose main influence has been in the form of a limit on the number of hours of homework assigned by teachers, showed up on the agenda for the Board’s Dec. 4 open session portion of the bi-monthly Board meeting.

This is the first mention of the matter since May, when the Board of Education held a study session to evaluate the progress made in district-wide homework quantity and intensity since the initial approval of the policies. As the issue required no action, the item on the meeting agenda allowed for only an open  discussion of the implementation and subsequent effectiveness of these Board guidelines especially  in regards to alleviating unnecessary student stress.

The main concerns presented by Associated Student Body representatives were with the generalizations in certain items of the policy.

“While we liked the fact that there was a numerical limit to provide a cap on homework time,” Board representative and PALY senior Caroline Furrier said, “ASB was concerned with the fact that this suggests that every child learns and completes assignments at the same pace, which is not true.”

Additionally, Furrier said many people think there should be a distinction between homework standards for PAUSD middle-schools and high schools. Currently there is not one.

“Middle-school and high-school are completely different in terms of one’s academic workload, relationships with teachers and outside life activities. Following that logic, homework expectations and regulations should be tailored to work uniquely with each stage of schooling.”

ASB Board Representative Caroline Furrier

According to Furrier, ASB favors a system that accounts for each subject and its specific requirements.

“One huge thing that could be done to fix this issue would be to assign a more specific policy to each department within each PAUSD school,” Furrier said. “It varies by subject how much homework is necessary, and one policy cannot accurately address all those variables with one blanket policy.”

Although not expressly related to the amount of homework assigned, ASB representatives  also say the homework policy should also take into account the issue of course alignment.

“Another problem that is not accounted for by the Board policy is the varying unit schedules across many departments that oftentimes overlap. For example, many students feel they deal with certain weeks that are stacked with tests and homework assignments, when others that have barely any– which attests to a lack of department collaboration.”

ASB Board Representative Caroline Furrier

Furrier, who said she plans to follow up with Superintendent Don Austin regarding the issue, said course alignment may be the missing puzzle piece to creating effective homework reform.

“If there was a way to account for that in the board policy, that would be the most beneficial change we could make for students,” Furrier said. 

Though Furrier said the Board seemed to appreciated student feedback on the homework policy, no action will be taken to change the policy or address these issues as a result of this open forum discussion.

According to Furrier, in the case of information items like this one at Board meetings, discussions such as these are used by the Board to give them insight into student opinion and school climate and to gauge what changes could be implemented should action be taken in the future.

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