News

New homework policy aims to ease student stress

MVLA board OKs new limits on high school homework

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.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Mountain View Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

"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.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

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.

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

New homework policy aims to ease student stress

MVLA board OKs new limits on high school homework

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, May 30, 2016, 11:00 pm

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.

Comments

How to we ensure it will happen?
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 31, 2016 at 2:37 pm
How to we ensure it will happen?, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 31, 2016 at 2:37 pm
13 people like this

If a tenured teacher decides to load up on hw anyway, saying "No, I think I'll decide how much homework to assign", what will the ramifications be? I've seen policy changes like this ignored elsewhere, and with no penalty for breaking it, it meant nothing.


Phil D
Old Mountain View
on May 31, 2016 at 2:53 pm
Phil D, Old Mountain View
on May 31, 2016 at 2:53 pm
9 people like this

Here's to the future crop of left behind students from MVLAHSD! They can spend even more time with their families when they don't get accepted to any universities.


Marc Vincenti
Registered user
another community
on May 31, 2016 at 3:13 pm
Marc Vincenti, another community
Registered user
on May 31, 2016 at 3:13 pm
12 people like this

Tuesday afternoon

Hi, all,

These changes are well-meant, and show wise acknowledgment of a very real problem.

But everything I know from running an English classroom at Gunn for fifteen years tells me that they won't do the job.

A policy is nothing without a tool to make it work.

Who is to enforce this policy? Department heads? Vice-principals? Who counts the minutes assigned, and the minutes worked? Does the student complain to the parent, who complains to the principal, who calls in the instructional supervisor to speak to the teacher?

Do forms and emails and accusations (with no solid evidence) fly back and forth? How does the teacher get information on minutes worked by the kids? All 150 students write down numbers on their homework papers and the teacher averages them?

Too much homework is the product of a simple, missing link: teenagers have never had a way to tell their teachers when workloads are too big.

They're too young to speak up to authority figures who hold the keys to the kingdom (grades) and too embarrassed to "whine" in front of their friends. Even parents are loath to take on teachers, for fear of repercussions.

All students need, though, is one simple thing. A confidential way to communicate actual time spent--via an online app that crunches the numbers overnight for teachers. Teachers are so busy they can't be expected to input and average numbers all the time--and such an app would give them data on all kinds of useful things.

JoJo or Nathan has been looking miserable lately in class? Just look up the numbers on how much work they're shouldering for all their classes combined? Don't know if you're assigning more minutes than your colleagues? Just look it up, onscreen.

And on the school marguee ever morning, flashes a number for "Average Minutes of Homework Done by All Students at this School Last Night." Talk about useful feedback!

These policies are directed at a genuine, longstanding burden, but don't take on what actually causes that burden.

Kids and teachers need a useful, user-friendly homework communications app: call it "ClockTalk." Our very own whiz-kids are smart enough to build it-- to the cheers of their clasmates and the community.

Sincerely,

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008 -- bringing hope to Palo Alto's high-schoolers
(Note: "ClockTalk" is one of the six, simple Save the 2,008 proposals for reducing high-school stress. For more, see: savethe2008.com)


PeaceLove
Shoreline West
on May 31, 2016 at 3:48 pm
PeaceLove, Shoreline West
on May 31, 2016 at 3:48 pm
10 people like this

I'm of the opinion that almost any homework is too much. I don't like to take MY work home with me and consider my time away from work to be mine, and precious. Why do we allow schools to colonize our children's time like that? To train them to be obedient workers when their future bosses force them to take their work home?

I start with the presumption that kids are inherently free and my job as parent is to help my kid make his way as a free and happy citizen. From this perspective, the notion that I want my child to leave his 6+ hour-a-day unpaid, non-voluntary "job" at school only to come home and be forced to do more work assigned by his "job" is quite repellent.

I realize that puts me in the minority of "people skeptical of our current school system and its effects on our children." Since most parents had to go through it and survived, many seem overly-invested in the idea that, imperfect though it might be, our school system is still a net good for our kids. I think in the age of ubiquitous information from the internet our school system more and more looks like a dinosaur, a relic from an earlier time that traumatizes kids at least as much as it educates them.

If someone wants to put forward some science showing that homework improves outcomes I might -- might -- reconsider.
Web Link



PeaceLove
Shoreline West
on May 31, 2016 at 3:57 pm
PeaceLove, Shoreline West
on May 31, 2016 at 3:57 pm
3 people like this

Mr. Vincenti,

Thanks for your suggestion, which offers a very "Silicon Valley" approach in both positive and negative ways. The positive is that is is a data-based empirical approach in which realtime numbers can be tracked and potentially adjusted. As the late activist Aaron Swartz said, "The revolution will be A/B tested."

The downside, and what makes your suggestion extremely problematic in the real world, is that your data-based approach also requires real-time ubiquitous surveillance of our kids. "When is Mary working and when is she not? This app will tell us everything!" Totalitarian surveillance by private companies is already a thing, and Google is moving quickly into the educational space where they are rapidly hoovering up all the personal data of our children. Any system that gives an outside entity -- whether the school board or an unaccountable private corporation or, frequently, the latter working on behalf of the former -- more power to spy on our kids is creepy and totally unacceptable to me.


eric
another community
on May 31, 2016 at 4:31 pm
eric, another community
on May 31, 2016 at 4:31 pm
14 people like this

current homework policy is utterly ignored. Why create a new one without teeth?


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.