Less homework? New rules create time limits

What’s a reasonable amount of time for the average fifth grade student to spend on their nightly homework? How about a high school junior taking three AP classes? That, along with revisions to when homework can be assigned, is the thrust of a new set of homework rules meant to reform how the schools give out homework.

Elementary and middle school students will see the biggest change, with work assignments reduced in favor of reading.

Kindergarten through second grade students would have a nightly task of 10-20 minutes of reading. Third through fifth grade students will read from 25 to 35 minutes, and have to complete a related task — like responding to an open-ended question, or completing a math word problem.

Middle school students would see nightly assignments that take about 40-55 minutes (depending on grade level), along with 20 minutes of reading for all grades.

High school students, meanwhile, will not get shorter assignments, but courses offered by the school will now be marked with a three-tiered ranking system to inform students how much homework they’re signing up for.

The first tier will see homework assigned up to three times a week, with an average completion time of about 10-20 minutes per assignment. The second tier would see assignments of about 20-35 minutes three to five times per week; and a third tier — AP classes — would have assignments of 35-50 minutes, four to five times per week.

So-long busywork

The schools also want to change how they look at homework philosophically.  

“We’re moving away from the idea that homework is assigned just for homework’s sake, so that there’s a clear purpose behind why that homework is assigned, said Acting Superintendent Dr. Robert Miller on June 19.

Miller presented the regulations at the June 11 school board meeting.

For elementary students and middle school students, homework will not factor into a student’s end-of-year grade. Middle school students will receive a separate evaluation based on their homework at the end of each quarter marking-period.

For high school students, homework cannot make up more than 10% of a class’s quarterly grade.

Start times

In response to concerns raised by parents, teachers are now required to discuss assignments in class, rather than simply posting them on Google Classroom — the file sharing service students have access to on their school-issued laptops.  

Teachers will now have until 3:30 p.m. to post assignments, 30 minutes earlier than before. They should “aim to post homework online by 2:30 p.m.,” according to the regulations.

In a nod to the district’s plan to shift start times later in the 2019-20 school year, the regulations also emphasize a renewed interest in student sleep. That’s likely since any plan to push start times back would maintain the length of the school day, meaning students will have fewer hours to do homework.

“We’re asking teachers to monitor when work is turned in,” Miller said.

If a teacher sees student work consistently being turned in late at night on Google Classroom, “then we can have teachers have a talk with that student and their parents about healthy choices,” he said.

Weekend work

For high school students, the regulations also direct teachers to have due dates for assignments “determined by the teacher according to research on healthy sleep habits for adolescents.”

That also means changing when homework can be assigned over holidays and weekends.

Under the new regulations, elementary students will not be given homework over weekends, holidays, or school vacations. Middle school students’ homework “will NOT be assigned over weekends, school vacations and days off identified on the school calendar,” the regulations state, and homework due after days off cannot be due on the day students come back to school.

High school students can be assigned homework over extended weekends or holidays if a teacher assigns it two days in advance, and it is due two days after the students return to school. School vacations or religious holidays are homework-free for students, with an exception for AP students who can be given long-term assignments at least two weeks in advance of a vacation, so long as it’s not due on the day of return.

The regulations also prevent middle school and high school teachers from assigning homework during snow days, or other “emergency school closures.”

Some members of the school board voiced concern over the amount of work the regulations allowed teachers to assign high school students.

Vice Chairman Doug Silver said he was concerned that students who are taking multiple AP exams end up with seven hours of homework, five nights a week — something he said is not relevant to actually preparing students for college.

“Students who take four or five APs because they can ... they go home with seven hours of homework a night,” he said. “I reject that notion.”

“Look at a first-year bio class in college, it looks nothing like AP,” he added. “They meet two-three times a week and then there’s a lab, they don’t meet five times a week with this kind of homework each night … it’s not a college program, let’s just be clear.”