12 Apr School Board makes big changes to homework policy and regulation

Recent changes to the Clark County School District (CCSD) policy and regulation on homework are “long overdue” and a boost to students and teachers, according to Chief Student Achievement Officer Dr. Mike Barton. The Board of School Trustees approved amendments to P-1643 and R-6143 during their regular meeting on March 31 that better align to what skills students need to build, to what is being taught and that is reasonable for specific grade levels.

Barton said the language concerning the district’s homework rules had not been “changed or touched” since 1981. The new rules took effect immediately and affect all K-12 schools in the district.

A number of meetings with teachers, principals and parents preceded the changes. Barton said, “We started the discussions about eight months ago, gathering feedback to ensure we were making the right changes.”

So what are the changes? For one thing, homework assignments will take into consideration the individual needs and academic abilities of students. Routine work on skills that have already been mastered will be avoided.

As the regulation states, “Homework assignments should generally be an outgrowth of classroom interests and activities. Holidays and weekends should ordinarily be free for outside activities. The student should always understand the purpose of the homework assignment and be certain as to what to do or what to look for.”

The new rules suggest 10 minutes per grade level of after-school homework for elementary students. A time element is not given for secondary students; instead, teachers should consider the time their students spend in outside activities when assigning homework.

The new rules call for an end to homework that is not aligned to academic content standards. Noting that homework has never been an actual requirement in CCSD, Barton said, “Giving homework just to give homework is not productive.”

Citing an example of how the new rules will work, Barton said there may be a fifth-grade classroom where students are taking mathematics and learning order of operations. That evening, however, they may be given homework related to something that is totally off topic. He said, “That’s where we really want to try to align homework with what’s being taught in the class. We’re trying to change the thinking that homework is an across-the-board, automatic requirement for all students, just because historically we’ve been assigning that homework.”

Too much homework can take its toll on students and harm their academic achievement. Barton said, “As adults can burn out with stress, the same thing can happen to children. If a child is spending several hours a night doing homework, and it’s not related to daily instruction, that can be a real problem.”

Nonetheless, Barton said homework still has its place in CCSD. He said, “Obviously there’s a need for homework if students are not mastering the skills or concepts in class.” He also spoke of honors and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate students who often have extra homework simply due to the rigorous nature of their classes.

Additionally, homework remains a possibility for holidays and weekends. Barton notes, however, that such assignments should be an extension of an already assigned, ongoing, long-term project in the classroom. He also warns against last-minute projects assigned on a Friday. He said, “Weekend time is valuable family time.”

The topic of homework also leads into a discussion of grade reform and how grades are calculated for students. Barton said, “Homework is part of that, and we have to make sure that teachers aren’t counting homework as a large part of a student’s grade.”

It’s quite possible the new policy and regulations will result in less homework for students. However, it is also what Barton calls a “smarter approach” to homework that ensure it is more aligned with what students are learning.

The new rules also require that all students have fair and equal access to resources for completing assigned tasks. To help illustrate this point, Barton said, “I’ve heard stories where parents have spent $50 to $100 for a project. For many families, that can be a lot of money and it will take away from other priorities in the home.”

Barton added, “There is little proof that homework improves student achievement. We hope these changes will allow teachers to optimize classroom instruction and be respectful of family time.”

CCSD Trustee Deanna L. Wright echoed Barton’s statements, saying she has heard from many constituents about students feeling overwhelmed and stressed due to homework. Wright said, “I am hopeful that the new rules will help students find a balance between school and activities.”