Less homework? Schools may give it a try

Ridgefield students who are feeling a bit crunched for time in the evening might just be in luck.

The Board of Education discussed a new, district-wide homework policy at its Sept. 25 meeting that would place greater emphasis on reducing student stress by reducing the time spent on out-of-class assignments.

“As a district, we are taking steps to shift the focus away from the discussion of quantity of homework to a focus on the quality of the assignments,” said Superintendent Karen Baldwin in an email to The Press.

The next step in the process? The board hopes to put out a survey on homework to RHS students later this fall, or in the winter.

Start times

The change in policy is meant to line up with a proposed later start time for high school students, which could go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.

“We hear all the time, ‘Don’t change the school start time if you don’t look at homework,’” said board chairwoman Fran Walton.

Teachers and parents echoed those sentiments at the board’s Sept. 25 meeting, where the board members talked about the possibility of moving high school start times back to 8:30.

“I can tell you that we have a lot of kids taking four or five, upwards of six AP courses,” said Brandon Rainbeau, an AP teacher at RHS. “I think all this talk of moving start times for the high school is fine and dandy, and there’s definitely research to support that it will be beneficial for them.”

Rainbeau, a father of two elementary school-aged children, said the extra hour would go to waste if the district does not take a hard look at the amount of work high school students receive in the classroom.

“I feel that if we are not willing to look at the course load, the after-school activities that some of our students are doing, the jobs that some of our students have as well, I do not think an extra hour of time is going to address the stress that I see, particularly with a lot of the high-achieving students,” he said.

“I really think that we should be taking some time, as a district, to look at not just the homework policy, but the course load that we’re allowing our students to take.”  

Students’ take

RHS students certainly seem to want less homework.

Speaking about school start times, RHS Student Body President Kunal Chauhan said that homework and later start times alone are only partial factors in student mental health.

“I think that establishing later start times is a step toward correcting the issue of mental health in teens,” he said. “That can really be a problem and it really fluctuates a lot between students.

“I think that, coupled with an environment that is really less competitive, less stressful — that’s really an emphasis on busy schedules, excessive amounts of homework, excessive testing, and a lot to do with standardization of a lot of courses and curriculum — I think alleviating that, along with increased sleep, will lead to those benefits that are often cited alongside later school start times.”

Minor changes

While Baldwin said the new homework regulations could be implemented as early as next summer without disruption, board member Sharon D’Orso said there were smaller improvements the board could make in the short term to alleviate strain on students.

She said students shouldn’t have to wait until 6 p.m. to receive assignments online, raising  issue with the high school’s move to computer-based assignments. She claimed that teachers posting assignments late could cause students stress.

“When the child leaves school, they should know what their homework is,” she said.

“Those are real shifts that we could do that would make a difference.”

D’Orso said student athletes have had difficulty with digital assignments.

“Teachers are not printing anything at the high school anymore,” she said. “If you go to a swim event and you’re stuck there for three hours, and normally you would be working on your homework, there’s not a printer there for you to print out your work.”

“Couldn’t you do it online?” Walton asked.

“You need wi-fi for that,” another board member explained.

D’Orso said the move to technology has created more stress.

“Those little everyday things make a significant impact to children,” she said.