It took 18 months and plenty of feedback from parents, students and teachers, but the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District finally has a new homework policy in place to prevent students from getting overloaded by a deluge of school work.
Last year, the school board gave the go-ahead for district staff to draft a new policy for homework that can give students designated periods of reprieve from assignments, allowing them more time to relax and spend time with family and friends. At the time, board members said that student wellness ought to be a top priority for the district, and managing teen anxiety and stress means getting a better handle on just how much homework is being assigned.
The policy, which was revealed at the May 23 board meeting, makes it clear just how much homework is too much. Students are expected to have two to three hours of homework per class per week for college preparatory classes, and four to five hours per week for each Advanced Placement (AP) class. Long-term projects also roll into the total time spent on assignments outside of school hours.
The time limits mean that a student enrolled in several AP classes could still easily spend more than 20 hours a week working on homework. The policy states that parents and students need to understand the rigors and demands that come with an AP classes, which "by their very nature" have curriculum requirements outside of the control of the district, according to the new policy.
Associate Superintendent Brigitte Sarraf said it's taken 18 months of hard work for school staff at both Mountain View and Los Altos High School to draft a policy that everyone could agree on, and record feedback from thousands of students and parents in order to "bring some sanity" to the homework question. Sarraf said the new administrative restrictions on homework reflect a greater mindfulness on the subject of student wellness.
"Stress from the students comes from feeling overburdened by homework they were asked to complete on a daily basis into the summer, over breaks, and over weekends," Sarraf said.
While the new homework policy has some wiggle room, it states in no uncertain terms that assigning homework over vacations is no longer allowed. Thanksgiving weekend, winter break, and the week-long vacations in February and April will all be homework-free, and no big tests can be assigned on the Monday after a break. Homework assigned over the weekend should not exceed a single night's worth of work.
Superintendent Jeff Harding said that the district is breaking new ground with the homework policy, which he said does not borrow from existing policies in other school districts and had to be adopted from scratch. At the board meeting Monday, Harding said he believed the district had reached a "real milestone in educational leadership" by adopting a comprehensive homework policy for the first time.
Harding later told the Voice that the new policy marks a big shift in accountability, and that assigning homework has always been the purview of teachers with mostly no direction from administration.
"This is a significant shift from the traditional model," Harding said.
Board member Debbie Torok commended the district staff for spending months taking in feedback from parents as well as students, and said it will will be interesting to watch how homework assignments and student wellness changes at Mountain View and Los Altos high schools.
"I'm hopeful that we're setting some kind of foundation (and) making some kind of statement that other schools will pick up on," Torok said. "It was a major task, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the results are next year."
Samantha Rubenstein, the student trustee for Mountain View High School, said it's important to make sure the new homework policy is available to students so they can see it. Not knowing what the actual guidelines are can be stressful in itself, Rubenstein said. The full homework policy is now available on the district website.
Knowing the new homework policies is going to be critical for students. The regulations leave it up to students to notify teachers when concurrent deadlines across multiple classes are going to coincide and exceed the homework limits. Rather than force teachers to coordinate deadlines, the policy states that students must approach teachers about crushing deadlines and ask for an extension or an opportunity for test corrections or retests.
Administrators at both high schools will be in charge of ensuring that teachers comply with the rest of the new restrictions on homework, as well as providing professional development on assigning homework and providing support programs to make sure students have all the resources they need to complete homework assignments.