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Investigating Homework Levels

School Board and parents complain about too much homework.

The Loudoun school administration will meet with principals and review the amount of homework teachers are giving students, Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick said.

School Board members Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) and Joseph Guzman (Sugarland Run) complained about a heavy workload at the bi-monthly board meeting May 24. Ohneiser asked Hatrick to mandate teachers to reduce homework by 20 minutes in response to an administrative decision to increase elementary-school days by 20 minutes this fall. Guzman spoke of the pressure his son is under because of so much homework.

Hatrick said the School Board has a policy governing the average amount of homework that should be assigned on a daily basis. The guidelines for elementary students indicates homework for primary children should not exceed 30 minutes and for grades four and five, it should not last longer than one hour. The policy also indicates that teachers should consider a student’s total class load when assigning homework in the middle and high schools. In the middle school, the assignments should not exceed 25 minutes per subject per day and in high school, 30 minutes per subject per day.

"Of course, different students may well take different amounts of time to complete the same assignment," he said. "We review homework practices from time to time with principals, and we will do so again in this case."

GINA GALLIHUGH, a former teacher and Sterling parent with two elementary-school children, said she is dissatisfied with the homework level. "I think they are bringing home too much," she said. "They deserve some free time."

Ohneiser complained about the large amount of math homework being given his son. Gallihugh shared that view, saying she does not believe her third-grade son needs to bring home 35 math problems in an evening. Her daughter’s fourth-grade homework last year was "completely ridiculous," she added

Homework should be used for practice or reinforcement, she said. When Gallihugh taught, she supported a formula with 20 minutes of homework for second graders, 30 minutes for third graders, and 40 minutes for fourth graders. "They should not be learning new material during homework."

Tracye Taksey, an Ashburn parent, said the fifth-grade homework load for her son is reasonable, but it was a different picture last year. She talked to parents of fourth-grade students who had a different teacher than her son’s and their assignments were manageable. His teacher gave a lot more projects that involved reading, writing and speeches, she said. During Christmas break, her son had to read eight chapters, and answer three questions on each.

Taksey said her son has a lot of math homework now but overall the homework is lighter than it was in second, third and fourth grades.

Kathy Blackburn, a Sterling parent of a Dominion High School freshman, said her daughter spends at least two and a half hours each night on her homework. "I’ve known her to stay up to midnight," she said.

The mother also complained about math homework, saying her daughter ends up with more work at home than in the class. In addition, the school projects are extremely time-consuming, she added. "She had to do a paper awhile back. I couldn’t believe the number of references the teacher required. It was unbelievable," Blackburn said. "My comment to my daughter was she had to have more references than I needed when I went to graduate school."

HATRICK, HOWEVER, said there is a delicate balance between the "right" amount of homework and the schools’ need for children to meet the requirements of standards-based testing. The curriculum dealing with the state’s Standards of Learning (SOL) require completion by a certain point in the year.

Krista Jensen, a third-grade teacher at Meadowland Elementary School in Sterling, said she uses homework to reinforce what the students have learned during the day and to show the parents what their children are learning. "It keeps them thinking about what we did in school," she added.

She said she believes the administration sets reasonable guidelines. "We take special care to not to give too much," she said.

School Board member J. Warren Geurin said he has not seen any evidence that teachers are assigning too many assignments. "While I understand that some parents feel this way, let’s not forget the whole point of public education," he said. "We want our students to graduate from our high schools with diplomas that mean something."

He said the middle-school curriculum of 2005 is probably similar to the high-school courses of the 1970s.

Hatrick said a debate over homework has been ongoing. "Over the years, I have probably received a equal number of complaints of ‘not enough homework’ as I have ‘too much homework.’

"In the end, though, the question raises a concern that we will investigate," he said.

Homework Policy

The guidelines for elementary students indicates homework for primary children should not exceed 30 minutes and for grades four and five, it should not last longer than one hour. The policy also indicates that teachers should consider a student’s total class load when assigning homework in the middle and high schools. In the middle school, the assignments should not exceed 25 minutes per subject per day and in high school, 30 minutes per subject per day.