Thursday, February 2, 2012

Millburn School District parents up in arms over homework

On Jan 29, frustrated parents spoke up at the Millburn School District Board of Education's forum on strategic planning for the future.  They want a policy on homework and want it now.  Who can blame them?  After all, the realities for their children are today, not next year or a few years down the line.  In the spirit of helping them out, let me suggest a preamble to whatever policy they come up with.

"We, the members of the Millburn School District Board of Education, in creating a homework policy, assert the following principle.  Since school work takes place in the class, and homework takes place in the home, on matters of classroom education, teachers have the final say, and on matters of homework, parents have the final say. We recognize that most parents trust and support the schools and their children's teachers in the efforts they make to teach their children.  We also recognize that families differ from each other in their attitudes, beliefs, and norms, and that children differ from each other in their personalities, interests, and skills.  On that basis, all homework must be given with tacit approval of the parents, who have the right to limit and waive assignments and limit the consequences limits and waivers have on their children's final grades.

With a preamble like this, the school district can then go on to define particulars: perhaps, a time limit norm (the standard 10 minutes per grade per night), a content expectation (homework must be meaningful), in-house guidelines to school personnel (e.g. that they must have inservice education on the research and practice of homework), and a penalty cap (e.g., no more than one-half grade lost on the basis of homework alone).

One key issue is to recognize that the school district will not arrive at consensus. At least as many parents want more homework as there are wanting less, and that what may be good for one family, may be quite harmful for another.  This preamble supports the parents right to act on what they believe is right for their child in their home.  It supports teachers in making professional decisions on where homework fits in their educational philosophies. And, it sets new parameters under which teachers must work in making those educational decisions.


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