New homework policy aims at ‘balanced lifestyle’ for students

Relief might be coming for students who struggle with the amount of homework schools currently assign. A new homework policy — meant to shape the regulations that govern when work can be assigned, and how much of it — is currently being discussed by the town’s Board of Education.

“We have a community that is very concerned with the amount of stress … in students. And a part of that is the amount of homework assigned to them,” said school board Vice Chairman Doug Silver at a May 29 meeting.

The new rule “seeks to develop a lifelong passion for learning in all students through a healthy approach to students living a balanced lifestyle,” according to a one-page draft that was read aloud at that same meeting.

The board hasn’t voted on implementing the change, but is set to discuss the policy more at its next meeting Monday, June 11, in the town hall annex.

Focus groups

On June 5 and 6, the district held six focus groups for parents and members of the public to extract feedback on the proposed changes.

Assistant Superintendent Kim Beck said the feedback the schools will be seeking from parents comes from “listening in on conversations that have been taking place in the community over time, and then matching that up with what we might characterize as the shortcomings of the current regulations — as well as just ongoing conversations with school-based professionals already.”

Alison Villanueva, the district’s humanities supervisor who has also worked on the homework policy, also suggested that parent feedback wouldn’t be a case of majority rule.

“What’s collected in the focus group … it doesn’t necessarily mean that if there’s a large majority saying, ‘this should be the time limit,’ that this will be put into the regulations,” she said.  

The previous homework policy was written in 1983. It was only reviewed again in 1995. The regulations based off of that policy deal only with the amount of time homework may be assigned for, according to board member Sharon D’Orso.

Start times

The acting superintendent, Dr. Robert Miller, said at the May 29 school board meeting that the new homework plan is still slated to go into effect in the fall of 2018 — one year ahead of the district’s proposed shift to later start times.

But start times didn’t come up at all at a parent focus group on homework Tuesday morning.

Several of the seven parents at the meeting raised raised concerns about students using their school-issued laptops to work on assignments, since many places in town do not have reliable access to wifi.

One parent said that in the wake of the most recent storm, she drove around town trying to find Internet access for their high school student to do their homework assignments, since the storm knocked out power and Internet access for many residents.

The focus group meetings — the schools held six in total on Tuesday and Wednesday — were intended to gather feedback from parents about the role of homework in their children's lives.

The school administrators who facilitated the focus group did not offer any response or solutions to specific issues raised by parents.  

Parents also said they were concerned that teachers at the high school assign students homework on their laptops hours after school lets out. That means that if students go out to an after-school event — like a younger sibling’s little-league game — where there is no access to the internet, they might not learn that they have more homework due the next day until late at night.

Policy and regulations

The policy is part of a two-part effort to change how the district assigns student homework. The other half — the homework regulations which will determine when and how homework will be assigned at each grade — will be based off of the homework policy that the school board eventually votes on.

The draft of the policy the board viewed on May 29 includes the stipulation that educators consider an assignment’s “time required for completion,” as well as the “timing of when homework is assigned and to be completed (vacations, school activities, holidays, etc.).”

Teachers should also consider the objectives of the class, age of the group, and “accommodate the individual abilities and readiness of the students,” the draft states.

“The policy sets the framework for how the teachers and the administrators work on developing the regulations themselves,” said Miller.

He said the district will present the regulations to go with the updated policy at the June 11 meeting.